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Activists and campaigners have expressed grief and rage through hundreds of thousands of tweets

Photo by Rahat Dar
Photo by Rahat Dar

Noor Mukadam’s gruesome murder has sparked a wildfire on Twitter — because, “We have not heard of a murder this brutal outside of Taliban,” says Sadaf Khan, co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy.

Noor’s friends, activists and campaigners have expressed grief and rage through hundreds of thousands of tweets (mainly through #Justice for Noor and #ZahirJaffar). The response has been unique. “For something this outlandish, this inconceivable to happen in a community that distinguishes itself as elite, has been shocking,” Khan adds.

The incident has come as a grim reminder that gender-based violence (GBV) happens across socio-economic strata. So, she says, “for people like me (and I am speaking as a middle class, educated, relatively independent and empowered woman), to have this graphic evidence of the fact that violence transcends class and education, and threatens us in a way that we had previously seen as being restricted to ‘others’, is shocking.”

Strangely, the society is hardwired to blame the victim. Therefore, some of the anger expressed through a barrage of tweets has also been directed in the direction of blatant and appalling victim-blaming. Those determinedly tweeting feel the heavy burden of dealing with the hideous backlash. On July 21, Leena Ghani, a social media activist and feminist posted a trigger warning on Facebook. “When we show any kind of emotion or outrage towards the way men have treated us in this country, we are called crazy and hysterical.”

Part of the problem is that people still use religion, culture and tradition as excuses in cases of GBV. “Where Twitter became an avenue of society’s revulsion at the crime, the same platform is used by another section of the same society invoking ‘boyfriend-girlfriend’ issues and to advocate restrictions on women’s freedom of movement,” says Abbas Nasir, a senior journalist.

Not many of the twitterati can survive or fend off this pressure though. Every feminist active on Twitter that Sadaf Khan personally knows has either given up space or continues to face serious mental health challenges. “They face abuse, threats of sexual violence and death, they are degraded, accused of everything from being simply characterless and immodest to being agents for the West, or India or the devil. When they report, they are advised most often to mute and block. When they raise a collective voice, like women journalists did last year with a statement and in the National Assembly’s human rights committee, they are laughed at and targetted for further abuse. So, I am not sure any of us have an effective way to fend off the backlash yet,” says Sadaf Khan.

Whatever Twitter maybe, we know through algorithms and experience, it is a platform for women’s causes.

However, there’s camaraderie among this community. Jahanzeb Hussain, a multimedia journalist, tweeted on July 24: “Reading about the murder of Noor in Islamabad has made me distressed. Feel like reaching out to everyone I know just so we don’t feel alone. So much to say about the deep-rooted culture of violence in the country. Hope you’re doing okay.”

Twitter is indeed a fascinating new world. It’s funny, absorbing and angry. It is intimate; everyone must know everything about you. It’s addictive; inhabitants sit in front of the flickering screen from sunrise to sunset, not wanting to move, shooting words from their fingertips upon discovering a topic of interest or a controversial new item. It creates warriors that fight battles to win a world equal and fair for all. It explodes with outrage, almost like wildfire, and then the flames subside, till they erupt again. The cycle never breaks.

Whatever Twitter maybe, we know through algorithms and experience, it is a platform for women’s causes. Still, “guaranteeing justice or even a semblance of it for GBV survivors [via Twitter] is a long way off,” says Abbas Nasir.

He adds that social media, and the immediacy of it and the access it provides to a far greater number of people than conventional media, makes it easy to identify an issue. “However, shining a spotlight on a case, or a number of cases, and establishing that there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed is not the same as doing anything about it. We seem a million miles away from that.”

He sees the attainment of justice for survivors/victims of GBV as an uphill battle that will need to be fought with great tenacity inch by inch – “As long as there are signs that battle in underway, there is hope.”

For now, at least, people are astounded by the activity Noor’s murder has generated on Twitter. “Seeing the conversation, so prominently blaming someone who has literally been butchered makes this tendency stark in ways that other cases haven’t. It feels like an all-out declaration of hate against women who choose to go beyond the walls that society has erected for them,” Sadaf Khan concludes.

The author is a former staff member

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