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Zainab: Our Thirst for Blood


By Kamila Hyat

January 18, 2018

The outrage expressed over the brutal rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab in Kasur has essentially turned into a cry for blood. People have demanded that the perpetrator should be publically executed, castrated and slowly tortured, among other drastic punishments.

One social media page after the other carries demands for such medieval punishments that follow the flawed principle of an eye for an eye. If ‘an eye for an eye’ was truly practised across the world, everyone would be blind and no one would gain anything. This mentality is not a new one. We seek instant solutions and instant vengeance. Unfortunately, such acts serve no purpose. Various reports suggest that hangings, beheadings and other forms of capital punishment – especially when they are carried out publicly – serve to further brutalise society.

The problem is that our society is already terribly brutalised – and this is what enables us to carry on with life as we move from one horrendous crime to the next. In only a few places would Mashal Khan have died the death he died. In only a few nations would a teenager like Malala Yousafzai have been vilified simply because she has earned a name for herself across the globe. There is something vicious and essentially brutish in the society that we have become.

Research has demonstrated that capital punishment, no matter how it is delivered, does not bring down the crime rates. The Nordic countries, which have some of the lowest recorded crime rates in the world and do not practice the death penalty, are examples of this. Before it was lifted in December 2014, a moratorium on the death penalty had been put into effect in 2008. By the middle of 2016, Pakistan had quickly executed 465 persons and the process still continues. There is no evidence that this spree of killings by the state, which has resulted in the execution of people who were convicted as juveniles and others whose crimes are mired in doubt, has in any way brought down the rate of crime.

The death penalty for rape and gang-rape was enforced in Pakistan since the late 1970s when General Ziaul Haq made it a part of his Islamisation campaign to publicly hang rapists and, in several cases, leave their bodies on display until sunset. However, this has not brought down the statistics for rape or other forms of sexual violence. Instead, such crimes are continually on the rise. This is partially because more victims are reporting them – possibly because more incidents of this nature are taking place.

There is, in fact, a paradox here. Legal experts have argued that the existence of the death sentence for gang-rape means that people committing such crimes are more likely to also murder their victims as those who survive could testify against the people responsible for the offence. Experts have also pointed out that when criminals plan a murder, they do not consider precisely what the punishment will be. The motives behind the crime are driven by very different factors.

The findings in a report released by the Justice Project Pakistan in mid-2017 suggest that the death sentences in the country are often politicised, with more people being hanged after a terrorist attack or other major crimes. This gives us something to think about. Such forms of bloodlust seek to shed blood to pacify the hoardes that are hungry for it.

The problem is that we only seek immediate or short-term solutions where there can be none, even in a case as tragic as that of Zainab. It is the broader narrative surrounding her death that we need to look at to understand precisely why our society is becoming increasingly indifferent to death and why thousands of women are subjected to violent crimes each year.

Across social media pages and on other forums, people have suggested that Zainab might somehow have brought terror and death upon herself by failing to dress appropriately. The question of dress is not relevant to rape no matter what the age of the woman is. But questioning why a seven-year-old was not wearing a Dupatta over her frock and leggings or why she was allowed out of her house at all by her parents, simply takes the matter towards ludicrous dimensions. In the first place, we need to understand that nothing can justify rape, regardless of how a woman is dressed or where she goes.

The insistence that Zainab is a Shaheed (martyr) is also part of the narrative. This would suggest that she willingly gave herself up for death. The idea is nonsensical and simply attempts to undermine the horror of the crime committed against her. Tackling sexual abuse and rape requires efforts that could amend such notions. Zainab was a victim of the society that she lived in. This is true not because there is anything particularly unique about our society. Sexual abuse is not uncommon in other places too.

The ‘#Me Too’ campaign – which at first triggered revelations about widespread harassment, molestation and abuse in Hollywood and is now being used to highlight similar allegations in America’s sport industry, notably gymnastics – is an example of this. The long silence observed in this regard emphasises how difficult it can be to detect sexual abuse even in the more developed countries where it is spoken about and brought up within school environments.

In a country like ours – where the same band of protesters who have been leading the mobs in Kasur are vehemently against any attempts to either include knowledge about sexual abuse within textbooks or educate children about this issue – the problem is, of course, aggravated. It is aided also by hypocrisy and the refusal to discuss how commonplace the problem is in a repressed society where expression has been systematically removed by censoring the arts, clamping down on dance, theatre and other forms of entertainment and replacing these elements with a misguided sense of reality. Silence helps no one. Children, parents and teachers need to be educated about the desperate need to speak out.

The political game surrounding the case has simply contributed to various problems. It is shameful that a PML-N MPA who was found to be involved in the horrendous child pornography racket, which broke in Kasur in 2015, has not resigned from his post. But it is also equally shameful that this failure is being used for political purposes – as is the death of Zainab herself.

Strange complications, such as the allegations about the release of a false video over the Internet, simply add to the problems. The demand made by Zainab’s father to replace an officer from heading the JIT formed to probe the incident because of his faith only convolutes the picture. What we essentially need is not vengeance but consistent justice. The man who committed the crime that ended Zainab’s life must be punished. Along with him, the many others who are responsible for sexually abuse of some 11 children should also be taken to task.

Yes, the figure is correct. Countless children on average are raped or sodomised every day in our country. This also needs to draw equal outrage. The problem is not limited to a single case. It involves something that spreads across a far broader expanse. It is the entire expanse that we need to look at. We must work towards reducing the brutality that exists within it so that we are better equipped to tackle child abuse and evenly punish all those responsible to make our children are a little safer.