Justice for Zainab; What To Remmember Before You Forget


These past few weeks have been rather trying. On the one hand, the barking news has been particularly tumultuous. Chiefly because the brutal murder of a young child, and the usual calls of “justice for” have been making headlines. On the other hand, there have been some grievances in my personal life which have taken their toll.

In large part, I really didn’t want to write this post.

When something tragic happens, my immediate reaction isn’t to present my opinion as the gospel truth. There are those that do so on the internet, and they are entitled to their delusions.

Also, I don’t really like writing doom and gloom op-eds about the monsters that we share our world with. Neither one of these have ever offered me any kind of hope or even foresight. Hence I don’t want to inflict them on other people.

My immediate response is almost always trying to understand what happened. Not to explain it to anyone else, just for myself really. And that is kind of why I felt the need to write something about this recent case.

I feel that the media is doing its media thing. Masking around as the fourth estate and simultaneously milking a grieving public for all its worth. Be it the net’s most inappropriate responses or what morning TV shows were doing in the aftermath, everything has been written about.

Which is fine, I suppose. But while some continue to miss the forest for the trees, I did want to take a minute and reiterate some things. There will be some opinions here. But for the most part this is just a rundown of what we know so far. And what we can’t forget.

Justice for Kasur, Still Delayed, Still Denied

If you read the news every so often, then you’d know this case is painfully familiar. Why then, one has to wonder, is the public outcry so very loud this time? I can only hazard a guess, but I feel that the reason for this is the location.

In 2015, reports of hundreds of children in Kasur being sexually assaulted and blackmailed surfaced. There have since been more harrowing reports. This recent murder is the twelfth incident of child sexual abuse reported within a two-kilometer-radius. Evidence has also indicated that the this is the eighth murder committed by the same individual, who has yet to be apprehended. It has also been revealed that this “serial killer” first came to light in 2015.

These are the facts. But how they have been presented isn’t as unambiguous. My problem with doom and gloom op-eds is that they voice the public’s anger and grief, but don’t really offer any kind of insight.

Which is why I found this piece by Umair Javed to be a godsend. His main argument is that what happened and has been happening in Kasur, displays institutional failures. This I feel is an important thing to remember.

A lot of people have used their platforms to illustrate just how tragic the incident was; with dramatic music in tow. I can’t really blame them. But, if the media is going to pat itself on the back for getting the facts to people, shouldn’t it do that first? Without the histrionics?

And really there is one fact that we all have to remember; the police failed to do its job. When the early cases were reported, civilians complained that the authorities were “turning a blind eye” towards the incidents. There were also early reports of hackneyed raids which didn’t amount to much apart from harassing civilians.

And when the people of Kasur took to the streets after this recent incident, officers reportedly fired at the protestors. Killing two people. Since then, most updates haven’t been promising.

So the ultimate issue is that there has been no justice for Kasur. And part of the blame must be shouldered by the police.

Listening to ‘Experts’

While most demand justice for the victim, other have attempted to explain the psyche of the man responsible. These have ranged from the obviously ludicrous, to the more subtly problematic. There is an infamous commentator who linked this case to Jack the Ripper (no, really). His argument? That children are assaulted because women aren’t dressing modestly (and again; no, really).

But something that bothered me a bit more was this video, which talks about children performing on suggestive songs.

Now, do not for a minute think that I am okay with the sexualisation of children. Quite the contrary; I think we need to have some serious conversations about something that is becoming rampant, globally. From fifteen-year-olds modelling lingerie to film franchises sexualizing a children’s toy; something is amiss.

But if you watch the video, you’ll notice that it is projecting a causal link. This, I feel needs to be dissected.

It begins with a clip showing a child dancing to a suggestive Bollywood song. Right after which it mentions an alarming number of children in the country being sexually assaulted. Following this, it states, “psychologists believe sexualizing kids can stimulate pedophiles”. To iterate its fact, the video includes the screen shot of an article titled, “80 million Pakistanis suffering from physiological, mental illness”.

The main argument is difficult to miss, but how much of this is based in fact?

First, let’s talk about the article shown in the video. If you read it here, you’ll see that while it gives an alarming number to Pakistan’s mental illness, it doesn’t provide a source for it. The figure is quoted by a Dr. Ayesha Ali, but we’re not told where she’s gotten it from. And the article is actually about the unveiling of some institute.

Dr. Ayesha isn’t even a psychologist, she’s a parapsychologist. And please don’t think that I’m belittling her credentials. But the video claims that “psychologists” have made an argument, and I’d like a psychologist to back this up.

And About That Explanation

It does include quotes from a “psychology scholar”. Again, no disrespect intended, but what exactly does this mean? Is she a PhD candidate, a Masters’ student, what esactly does her title mean? And while her argument sounds reasonable, here is the problem; the video inserts a consensus where there isn’t one.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines pedophilia as a sexual attraction towards prepubescent children. This is a widely accepted definition, but the DSM itself has recently updated its criteria. The most recent version makes a distinction between those that feel such urges but acknowledge that they are wrong versus those that act on them. The idea is to classify some as dangerous individuals, while others as not.

What’s more, in 2016 David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Centre at the University of New Hampshire, said that “most child molesters are not pedophiles.” He was basing his argument on the data available and the arguments presented by psychologists. Based on cases, he claimed  that most people who assaulted children were not sexually attracted to them. They might have done so because they didn’t have access to other sexual relationships, or because of easy access to children. He also mentioned that it was difficult to make definitive claims, because it is difficult to gather data about pedophiles.

So what can we say about what happened in Kasur based on all of this? Nothing. As I mentioned, the investigation is still going on. We don’t know why this man did what he did. We can’t know until he is apprehended.

But here’s a question; why do you want to understand the motivations of the perpetrator? Because essentially, you are trying to understand the mind of a man who kidnapped, raped and murdered a child. And really, is that a rabbit hole you want to go down?

I can understand why students of psychology would find this case interesting. But for others, shouldn’t the focus be ensuring that institutions protect our children?

Because here is a causal link that is based in fact. At a hearing of the Lahore High Court, Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah was presented with the history of the killings. When he heard that the first case was reported in 2015, he said, “If you had taken action at the time, Zainab’s case could have been prevented.”

Scavenging for Hope

This is a bleaker post than our regular readers are used to. But let’s all admit it, these are bleak times. What I will say is that there have been some hopeful developments. But I warn you; you have to really want to see the light.

Firstly, the public outcry and attention has put the spotlight on Kasur. Yes, this has happened and died down before. But if there continues to be scrutiny, there is a greater chance that the authorities will take action.

Simultaneously, there is greater openness with regards to reporting similar cases. Political parties of course want to project the blame onto their opponents. But the reality is that every nook of the country has these skeletons. And the truth needs to come out, everywhere.

Second, let’s talk about trends of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. According to statistics reported by the NGO Sahil, in 2016 most children were sexually assaulted by acquaintances. And in light of this, many have been trying to encourage families to educate themselves and their children.

I realize that this is something that many feel isn’t very important when it comes to abuse. But when you are that young, part of the problem is that you don’t know that what happened was wrong. And, even if you feel like something was amiss, you don’t have the words to say so. Talking to your kids gives them those words.

Recently, the Sindh government announced an educational plan that would do just that. And I’m not going to congratulate them for doing what is essentially their job. But I will acknowledge that this is a positive step.

Breaking the Silence

There is of course another problem, and we all have to acknowledge it; this desperate and persisting need to keep things quiet. Many a family has a problem with victims of abuse speaking out. And how severe this issue is only matched by how many people have been trying to speak out.

A long time ago someone wrote an anonymous blog post for the Express Tribune about being sexually assaulted as a child. And the comment section was flooded with similar stories. All of these people opted to stay anonymous, but they also wanted to share what had happened to them. For all its faults, the ‘Me Too’ movement did the same for women. And in the wake of this recent case, many have spoken out again.

So, what we can all do in an individual capacity is listen, and maybe even share. Contrary to what most people think it isn’t easy to talk about. A lot of people haven’t said anything for so long. Probably because they didn’t feel it would amount to anything. But ultimately, justice for all of us maybe a bit easier to come by if we faced the truth first.

Ultimately, this is an undeniably diffuclt time. And as I said, the silver lining is rather tough to spot. But as always there is an oportunity to do better. I’m hoping we remmember this, and don’t waste the opportunity again.

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