One Step Away From Becoming The Next #Justicefor Hashtag In Pakistan

Young girl holding a sign that says “Women March 2019 – we the women” in Urdu.

By Sijdah

[TW: honor killings, mention of violent acts]

When I was a child, I was told the world is a warm and welcoming place, and I will get everything if I am a kind human being. I was given hope to believe in the sentient beasts around me because, after all, we humans are the superior creatures. 

I loved and grew, I grew and laughed, oblivious of the future that awaited me. The more I made my way towards reality and my 20s, the more I understood that I had been played. Life was not beautiful and humans, even less so. 

My parents started getting protective of me and my body. I needed to hide from others for my own protection. It wasn’t until university that I stayed quiet and blamed myself when a cloth merchant harassed me with a yardstick in his shop, while my parents checked the cloth quality right next to me. I was squeamish and shifted seats but he kept poking me with it near my chest. I was covered from head to toe, with a headscarf and my school shalwar kameez.

I was in 5th grade but it didn’t stop him from showing me how vile certain men could be. After that, I just stopped paying attention to anything enough to paint it as harassment or wrong. I remember walking with my friends outside our college and someone flashed us. They knew it happened, and I passed right by that man without any knowledge of what was happening around me.

I never told my parents about the cloth merchant incident until last year, but they did tell me stories after stories of women being abused one way or another throughout my adolescence. In both Pakistan and India the media often reports on numerous stories about violence toward women, but the segment always ends up asking the viewers to “stay safe”, essentially normalizing the crime by placing the burden of responsibility on the victims. We need to stay safe and stay at home or not go to certain places and not trust friends etc., because humans inherently are bad and out to get us, girls, so we were told. 

Despite my adolescence being free and distant from such activities and conservative thoughts, we did know what honor killing was. We did know that women are attacked sometimes by heartbroken men and other times by random ones. We understood what rape was, we were scared of even talking rudely to boys our age because who knows when one might come after us with a bottle of acid hiding in the hand behind his back. 

Source: Instagram (@mystapaki)

Femicide & other female hate crimes in Pakistan: one hashtag after another

While everyone was prepping for Eid ul Adha, planning socially distant family gatherings and the sweets for the next day on Chaand Raat, 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, was being murdered brutally by an ex-lover in the capital city, on 20th July 2021. 

Zahir Zamir Jaffer, the Chief Brand Strategist for a private company called Ahmed Jaffer & Company Limited and owner of multiple other private companies like Jaffer Brothers Limited and AJCL Travel & Tours etc., was banned from the UK due to his involvement in a rape case and being disrespectful to women on several accounts. When asked, his parents would always cover it up blaming mental health issues.

Zahir had detained Noor in his house after convincing her to say goodbye one last time before he left the country the next day. He had tickets ready to flee which makes you believe it was premeditated. Noor reportedly tried to jump from the balcony to run away but failed. She managed to let one of her friends know and when they turned up to the house to try and her rescue they had to back off, as Zahir led them to believe she wasn’t there, as per Zara Haider – a mutual friend of all the parties involved. 

Later that evening, the neighbors called the police who informed Noor’s father of the crime. When the police arrived, Zahir was playing football with her head on one side of the room while her body was lying still in the other. Zahir’s parents knew what he was doing and did not alert anyone but TherapyWorks to come and take him away after he murdered Noor to make a strong case regarding his mental health. TherapyWorks (accredited in the UK) where he was also working as a therapist and student counsellor, is under a lot of heat at the moment. The case investigations are still underway but sources confirm that his parents are trying to help him flee the country due to his dual citizenship (Pakistani and American). As per the latest reports, his name has been placed on the Exit Control List to ensure he doesn’t flee the country. 

Source: Sarah Jehaan Khan (ig: @sarahjehaan)

Before this event, we were already witnessing a new hashtag every day. #JusticeforQuratulain was when the news of a mother of 4 came out. Quratulain Baloch was brutally murdered by her husband after being tortured for hours. Khalid Umer Memon, the husband, changed his clothes as well as hers after she died and then took her to the hospital after some time to cry wolf. The doctors declared her dead and the postpartum revealed a series of inhumane acts her body was subjected to. Quratulain was murdered on July 15th 2021.

We also learned about a horrifying murder where a police constable, Raza Ali, killed his wife and injured his son and daughter. He is a drug addict with anger issues, and his father had already disowned him due to this fact. He first opened fire at his son, Danyal, and when Saima, his daughter, tried to help him but ended up getting injured as well. He shot his wife at the end and managed to run away in his getaway car.

Parents started asking their daughters to stay at home after a video went viral where Usman Mirza broke into a hotel room and assaulted a couple with 4 or more other men with him. They had weapons and a camera, and Usman asked them to strip for them. The couple was later beaten by him. He further blackmailed the couple over the video, which doesn’t show us if he also raped the girl or not, and received Rs. 1.3 Million. 

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is reported in Pakistan. The common theme in all these cases is that the men were well-settled or had a very good social status. They seemed normal and most of them are even influential. They were educated and liked by peers outside the home. This has led to an increase in the stress levels in women and young girls especially. 

Brief History of Femicide in Pakistan

Even though Pakistan Penal Code Section 375 criminalized rape against wives since 2006, such incidents still go unreported most of the time. In 2019, Farhat Hashmi a religious scholar declared sex to be a husband’s right by twisting the words of the actual scriptures and blamed women for being too educated for increased resistance against marital rape.

The stories never end and we haven’t even talked about FGM or conversion marriages yet!

Trauma in Womxn: Handed down from one generation to another

Whenever I sit with a group of women, be it virtually or in person, the first and last thing we talk about is safety. How we all should let each other know as soon as we get home or how someone felt threatened on their way to the meetup. What baffles me the most is how, when such things are brought up in front of men, they think we are over-reacting. 

A man beheaded a woman and planned to flee the country with his parents at home and being complicit in the murder in the 21st freaking century and you dare to tell me to calm down? To look away? To talk about something else? 

Noor’s case wasn’t the first but it sure was a trigger point for over half of the population. Every girl I know personally is searching for a good pepper spray, asking their therapist to prove they are mentally stable enough to not kill them, rethinking going somewhere with guy friends, because who knows when someone’s ego will force him or them to kill the next girl. 

I could be calling a potential rapist or murderer my friend until I am his next victim. We are all just one step away and this sort of constant fear and paranoia isn’t something that will help us bring any generational change. 

On 25th July, I did a poll on my Instagram and asked women how many male friends/acquaintances asked them how they were doing given the rising femicide reports. Eighteen hours later 80% of women polled that NO men checked up on them to ask how the recent events were affecting them. 

There’s an outcry, there are constant vigils and protests to bring justice after justice every other day for a new woman. People keep sharing and asking the Government to take a step and serve justice until it’s time to mourn for the next female – whether she’s a baby, teen or adult.

Anti-Domestic Violence Bill to help women & the role of Government in being a buffer

A domestic violence control bill was proposed by Shireen Mazari on April 19, 2021, and accepted by the National Assembly on the same day until the Imran Government pushed it under review on concerns raised by some extremist groups.

While women keep dying an HRCP’s 2020 report showcases quite a predicament for women who stay at home and go outside. The bill that was supposed to be a hope for us was shut down to keep some men happy. They feel it goes against religion when in reality in no religion are women thought of as goats that can be butchered whenever they feel like flipping. 

I am angry, we all are. Because while we can’t do much, the government can, the police can, the court can. However, the most we see come out of such incidents is victim-blaming and ‘hang the rapist’ chants. How is that going to help us have safe futures? How is that going to help us get over the trauma such news brings to us every single time? 

It’s like a scar so deep that it keeps getting opened to sprinkle some chilli flakes and salt on constantly, and we see no one doing anything about it until a national outcry reaches the PM’s ears and he acts like he cares for a day or two and then it’s back to radio silence again. 

Source: Instagram ( @isloomediablog)

Aurat March

Each year, despite hundreds of women come out to join the Aurat March – a movement where women march for their rights – and despite living in the 21st century, it seems like Pakistan is only moving backwards. The PM who got votes on the platform of change and innovation has only left us even more disappointed.

Up until 2021, we were still conducting two-finger tests on rape victims to see if the victim had been forced on for the first time or if she had had sex before. This meant that if she was already ‘loose’ that case against the rapist must be a trick and she might have said yes. The only reason she has come to court now is because of some sort of revenge plot. Despite the test being finally banned from the Lahore High Court – people still assume that if a woman steps forward and talks about her abuse she’s lying until her body is found and all her lies turn to truths. We have to die just to be heard!

According to Wikipedia: “There are at least 10 rape cases reported in Pakistan every month with over 22,000 rape cases reported to police across the country in the last six years out of which 85% reported in Punjab, according to official statistics. However, only 77 accused have been convicted which comprise 0.3% of the total figure.”

This means that every day 10 men are unable to control themselves, 22,000 or more men rape women every month to establish their dominance no matter what they might be wearing. And when asked the PM said ‘they’re not robots’. Does that mean we are robots? Do we have no hearts and emotions? 

My religion does not ask men to rape me, my religion doesn’t even ask them to humiliate me for my existence and yet they go on to translate scriptures in a way that it benefits men and only men alone! 

Source: Leftistan

I don’t know how we’ll overcome this plight for women, I don’t know how we are going to let go of paranoia and fear as women but I do know who I won’t be voting for next term. After spending his entire youth in foreign countries with women wearing whatever they wanted – if you have the mindset to say that ‘men aren’t robots’ and victim-blaming us over what we wear or why we were not in our homes at some particular hour of the night, then dear sir – you have failed us! 

The only request I have to the men and women in my country is to call out misogyny whenever they see it. No need to keep quiet, no need to stroke anyone’s ego. CALL THEM OUT before they think it’s okay to dehumanize someone so much that they can just harass, murder or rape them. 

The narrative should no longer be ‘Why she was there? What was she to him? What type of woman was she” it should be ‘Why did he do this? Is justice being served? What are we doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again without locking women in their homes?’

Do something. This is not the time to stay quiet. Stop promoting extremist ideologies. 

Help us believe in humanity again!

Photo courtesy of Sijdah

Sijdah Hussain is an author, social activist & a hardcore feminist who completed her English Literature degree in 2017 and started working as a Digital Marketer to feed all 7 of her cats and work towards her ambition of opening an animal shelter one day. She aspires to be an author/ poet like Sylvia Plath and Charlotte Bronte. You can connect with her via LinkedIn or Instagram and read more of her work on Mashable Pakistan.