Our rot is beyond Zainab’s murder

Intoxicated with imagined ‘moral values’ and so-called pro-family traditions, we hardly have any legislation on child protection, while an administrative set up enforcing child protection is simply non-existent

The past week has been characterized by the Pakistani people’s collective rage over the rape and murder of six year old Zainab in Kasur. When the incident was initially reported, the police proceeded with typical lethargy and attempts to downplay the incident. Zainab’s disappearance failed to get the attention it needed from the police and provincial administration, right until angry protestors started rioting in the streets. The electronic media also jumped on the incident, broadcasting one sensational bulletin after another.

Rape and murder, especially of a minor, doesn’t need an adjective to convey how terrible the crime is. However, the way some people, most of the media and almost all of the political parties have tried to so clumsily exploit the unfortunate incident to pedal their vested interests is another sign of how petty Pakistani society and its institutions have turned out to be. At the state and institutional level, there was a spree of ‘notice-taking’; first by the Punjab Law Minister, then from the Chief Minister, followed by the Chief Justice of Punjab High Court, the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, and finally the Army Chief, who very patronizingly instructed an apparatus under him to cooperate with police in nabbing Zainab’s rapist and murderer.

Representatives of the PML-N’s political opposition left no stone unturned in fanning the protest. They even exploited the poor girl’s funeral; some even had the audacity to do a presser urging people once again to bring down the government of Punjab. For instance, two of the PML-N’s rival parties have a government in each province. Just a few months back, an innocent girl and her family are still running from pillar to post for justice in the DI Khan area of PTI led KP province. The perpetrators were linked to a PTI MPA as well as the provincial minister. The PTI chairman, who loves to personify a holier-than-thou character, refused to present himself for investigations when a woman MNA from his own party accused him of sexual harassment. One can easily see our politicians using Zainab’s tragic fate for their own motives and designs.

One can easily see the ruling party’s opponents exploiting Zainab’s tragic fate. An innocent girl and her family are still running from pillar to post for justice in the DI Khan area of PTI led KPK province. The perpetrators were linked to a PTI MPA as well as the provincial minister

Sadly enough, in the guise of warning against events like Zainab’s, regressive groups have launched an anti-women campaign on social media and Whatsapp, essentially urging people to impose stricter vigilance against girls’ individual liberty, their right to movement and participation in public life. In a typical fashion, while this campaign failed to condemn the perpetrators, it urged women’s male family members to virtually lockdown girls and women in order to save them from being raped and killed, and their families from dishonour and grief.

But then this is what our religious right is known for; instead of standing with the victims and rallying against the perpetrators, they prefer to remove women from public life, which only encourages predatory behaviour. We saw a similar message campaign on social media a few months back when there was a man on the loose in Karachi, stabbing women.

Many also read this with immense shock and pain when newspapers reported that Zainab’s father had expressed reservations about having an Ahmadi police officer as the head of the joint investigation team that the provincial government had constituted in Zainab’s case. It was shocking that a man who had been through such a tragedy was still full of sectarian bias and hatred. One could not have been stunned more on anything than this reaction from a father who in the first place was responsible to protect his daughter rather than heading for an optional Umra pilgrimage thousands of miles away.

Intoxicated with imagined ‘moral values’ and so-called pro-family traditions, we hardly have any legislation on child protection, while an administrative set up enforcing child protection is simply non-existent. Any set up that does exist is there thanks to UN agencies and private NGOs, which our government wants to throw out of the country. Elsewhere in the world, social welfare departments cover and enforce the wellbeing of children through their presence at the community level. While we love to blame government for failing to protect our children, almost all among us will find it offensive if any of the state functionaries asked him about how well he’s raising his children.

The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao1

Published in Daily Times, January 18th 2018.