Monday September 20, 2021

Never the victim’s fault

August 01, 2021

In the midst of such grave matters as the raging fires of the Delta variant and impending upheavals in Afghanistan, we have a bit of good news this week. Finally, Prime Minister Imran Khan has delinked the rise of rape cases and sexual abuse in the country from vulgarity and how women dress.

In his PBS Newshour interview, Imran Khan was quite impressive in his elucidation of the emerging situation in Afghanistan and the role that Pakistan is playing. That, of course, was the focus of the dialogue. But journalist Judy Woodruff also referred to some problematic remarks that the Pakistan leader had recently made about rape and about women. She asked him about his reported views and asked if he believes that women bear a large part of the responsibility for the rise in the number of rape cases in Pakistan.

This time, Imran Khan’s response was as it should be in the perspective of our sociopolitical and moral imperatives. He said: “Anyone who commits rape solely and solely that person is responsible. So, let’s be clear about that….No matter whatever – how much ever a woman is provocative or whatever she wears, the person who commits rape, he is fully responsible. Never is the victim responsible”.

This statement would find the approval of social activists who are fighting for the rights of women in a patriarchal and deeply misogynistic society. But a sense of relief that these remarks may engender would not in itself be enough. We have to wait and see how the present government invests this declaration into sustained policy and action.

If Imran Khan has genuinely changed his mind – and this would be a propitious U-turn – then we should expect a new social action plan that covers the whole gamut of social organisations and human behaviour to launch a ‘naya’ Pakistan.

Apparently, nothing is likely to happen on the ground, though the situation that has been triggered by the ghastly murder of Noor, in the follow-up to a surge in violence against women, demands an urgent response on the part of the rulers. One reason for this sense of resignation and apathy is that Imran Khan’s previous, controversial, statements cannot be summarily ignored. They seemed to reflect a certain mindset.

A few reminders should help. In his Axios on HBO interview aired on June 20, the prime minister told Jonathan Swan: “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the man, unless they are robots. It’s common sense”. This rather imaginative analogy between humans and robots is very interesting. And we know that men do become robots in their traditional conduct as feudal lords or wielders of power as masters or husbands or fathers.

In April this year, in a Q&A session, Imran Khan gave a long answer to a question about an increase and in rape cases. He likened rape and child abuse to corruption and stressed the role of society in dealing with these crimes. But he also said: “Not every person has strength or willpower. If you keep on increasing ‘fahaashi’ (vulgarity) in society and not take precautions against it, it will have effects”.

I was particularly disturbed by an event that happened in April last year. There was this Ehsaas Telethon in which Maulana Tariq Jameel offered concluding prayers. In the presence of the prime minister, he asserted that Covid-19 had been unleashed on humanity because of the wrongdoing of women. Again, he was pointing his finger at the modern, liberated and educated woman as the cause for society’s moral decline. And it seemed fine by the prime minister. Or he would intervene or say something.

Consider the difference between what you would call victim blaming and what the concept of ‘never is the victim responsible’. The two, obviously, are antithetical. Ah, but there is this George Orwell adage of doublethink, the act of simultaneously accepting two contradictory beliefs as correct.

But the time has come to resolve this contradiction and make a resolute new beginning to heal the wounds inflicted by extremism, obscurantism and intolerance. We have to humanise the Pakistani society and its various systems that relate, specifically, to women and children – the most oppressed segments of our society.

Let us hope that the categorical remark made by the prime minister about the victim not being responsible is born of some soul-searching and a reflection on how he can abide by his mandate for change. Perhaps he could have avoided the explanation that he was previously quoted out of context. This has ceased to be a valid excuse when video recordings are available.

Ideally, citizens have the right to be aware of their leader or their ruling party’s ideological persuasions and plan of action. That is what manifestos are meant to specify. The U-turns that are taken have to be justified – to whatever extent. Sadly, Imran Khan lacks clarity in this respect to a larger measure than is usual for our politicians.

One example is his doublethink on women’s issues. He called Osama bin Laden a martyr – and it should not have taken months for someone to call it a slip of tongue. His foreign minister, never at a loss for words, was tongue-tied when asked by a foreign journalist if he considered Osama a martyr or not. But let this pass.

Fortunately, Pakistan’s leader knows history and knows the world so well that he has a choice of models for this country, from Riyasat-e-Madina to Communist China. Hopefully, our path to the future will now be better charted and we will know where exactly we are headed. Let this be one signpost in our journey: that never is the victim responsible.

And let us apply this to not only rape and violence against women. We have numerous victims of social injustice, spread across the lower depths of this society.

The writer is a senior journalist.

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