Saturday January 29, 2022

Nothing’s changed

January 18, 2018

It is difficult to hold on to the virtues of positive thinking when it comes to Pakistan. The entire country is being run on a one-minute reactive mode. One calamity is followed by another one within days and all we get to hear are the reactions of our ruling class either expressing their regret and surprise or promising on TV to rectify the situation in the shortest possible time.

More than 100 male children were repeatedly sexually abused while being videotaped and then blackmailed to bring in more children and, of course, money if they did not want the recordings to go public. The nation had expressed its disgust when the issue became public. But more than 18 months have passed and no concrete measures have been taken to handle the issue. Now we have suddenly discovered Zainab’s ordeal as if it is something that has come out of the blue. Zainab is not the first girl in Pakistan to be sexually abused and then killed and, regrettably, not the last one either.

The media, of course, has a short attention span. New events overtake the old ones that eventually get buried in layers of protestations and lamentations. Our judges have discovered a new plaything called suo motu. The media lands in the courtroom and a hearing that should not take more than a few hours lingers on for days and sometimes weeks as some start to enjoy the media attention and coverage. Even this would be palatable if something concrete comes out of it. But it seldom does.

Some strong remarks are made and this is about all. Those in power are always much too engrossed in taking commissions that such developments come as a rude shock to them and disturbs their routine of making a few hundred thousand each day.

People are too busy with their struggle to survive and earn a living. Those who are concerned and can manage a few hours out of their busy schedule to devote to public causes stand in front of press clubs to hold placards and light candles as a sign of protest.

Nothing changes. Life goes on. If you compare the newspaper and the TV coverage of one incident to another you will not find much of a difference. We tend to witness the same kind of statements, articles and editorials and the same people come to the fore to express their ‘anger’. Only the faces of the victims and survivors change.

Child sexual abuse exists in every society. The government cannot be blamed if it happens. But the government must be answerable when proper laws do not exist to control this menace. The same applies when victims of abuse are ridiculed in courts. no legal or judicial mechanisms exists to sensitively handle such cases and when the police fail to act diligently and professionally while handling these abuses.

If you are an optimist, you would hope that each incident involving child sexual abuse will bring about a change in our apathetic line of thinking. Pakistan is currently passing through a semi-anarchical situation and hardly any institution appears to be in functioning in a satisfactory manner.

The two chambers of our parliament and the provincial assemblies seldom fulfil the quorum stipulation and only meet for a few hours for a few weeks during the whole year anyway. The judicial institutions are more concerned about their own reputation and procedural technicalities. The sole aim of the executive branch, assisted by the bureaucracy, is to survive and complete its five years and make as much money as possible in the shortest possible time as they may not be in power tomorrow. Anybody who comes across a problem in such an anarchical state of affairs is definitely unlucky and must be loaded with hard cash to emerge triumphantly at the end.

The abuse of male children in Kasur had continued since 2007 when most of the victims were school students. It is estimated that between 400 and 500 children were abused. Had the police done its work, most of these children could have been rescued from abuse. This time, Zainab is the twelfth girl child to be abused and killed in a small span of time. The police decided to take action only after the news of the twelfth child’s death appeared in the media.

The government has already announced what it is good at: a judicial inquiry. This appears to be the new panacea for any ill afflicting our nation. What is this inquiry going to reveal after a few months of proceedings? Will it make a difference?

What the government should do is roll a few heads for failing to take timely action and draft proper laws to handle this problem. The public wants the trial to take place in the military courts, which goes to show their lack of faith in the current legal system. Some want the rape survivors to be compensated as if this will cure the trauma and emotional damage that they have gone through.

Zainab’s perpetrator must be punished. Harsh and swift punishments may not solve the sociological and social problems. But they will at least serve the ends of justice. This is the least we can do for the families of those who have experienced such abuse.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court