Recently, I was asked by a reporter to comment on the recent case of rape and murder of a young girl in Kasur. Our exchange may be of some help to those struggling to understand the regular cases of child abuse and murder in Pakistan. We first discussed whether the feelings of revulsion and sorrow upon such a case are experienced by all humans or it is specific to Pakistani culture. Of course the protective and maternal instinct is not innate to only humans; it exists in animals as well. But like many other feelings, ours are more evolved and complex. On the other hand, our evolved and more mature intellect also allows us to divorce or compartmentalize our feelings in many ways e.g. when hearing of a poor, child’s rape or murder, we may say “must be the parents’ fault, they let their children run wild’ or ‘maybe the child was doing something to make it more likely since all these poor people are immoral/criminal anyway’ etc. Feelings of sorrow and revulsion all relate to feeling ‘bad’ in some way which is a natural reaction. We may see equivalent feelings in an animal if it finds its offspring injured or dead. Culture, of course, does play a role anytime feelings or their public expression is discussed. So in our quite ‘bipolar’ society (lot of religiosity and lot of obsession with sex, lot of praying and religious rituals and lots of sexual harassment/abuse including children etc), we both idealize children as pure and innocent (all societies do to some extent) while taking no concrete efforts to change the material conditions which expose children to trauma and abuse and then we cry and breast beat if a child gets run over by a bus because they were not in school or gets raped or killed. We also discussed why this case attracted so much media attention. We all know that the incidence of child abuse is high in Pakistan so what made this case different in terms of the outcry. Our priorities are, generally, skewed. We are spending an obscene amount of money on the “Orange train” in Lahore while neglecting healthcare, education and the environment Actually, the Zainab case is not different from ones that appear in the media all the time; there have been several reported since the Zainab case. There was a hue and cry when APS happened, when the Kasur child porn ring was busted, etc. The recent social explosion in Kasur happened because people living there are sick of the epidemic of sexual abuse and murder under the noses of the police and administration. It’s well known now that the police and local administration including the serving MPA/MNA were well aware of the porn ring activities going on for years and did nothing (at best) and were actively complicit (at worst). Even today the families of the victims are being threatened and told to drop their cases. Many victims and families have left the area to avoid reprisals. What happened in this (Zainab) case is typical. The same thing will likely happen again until the next child is victimized. In retrospect, it is also obvious that solving the case was not too hard. Zainab obviously knew the person who led her away (it’s on video) and statistics show that the perpetrators are disproportionately members of family or close friends. In addition, in a still ‘closed’ society like ours, how likely is it that no one saw or heard anything? And, in fact it turns out that the perpetrator actually lived in close vicinity of the victim’s house and knew the family quite well. What measures are being put in place by police and civil admin to prevent this from happening again? You can form community patrols, have child/parent education/awareness classes, register all ex-convicts and sex-offenders, make sure all kids are either in school or with parents etc. Is this being planned or done? If not, it means no one in govt or local authority is interested. They just want to make this one go away and wait for the next one. We also discussed the social apathy regarding this heinous crime. Compare the public demonstrations that were held when Salman Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri was hanged or more recently when the government tried to clear away Mullah Khadim Rizvi’s illegal dharna to the social reaction in this case (other than in Kasur). No protests in other cities other than the usual candlelight vigils with a handful of people. This shocking level of apathy exists around all social and political issues. Take the case of smog. For months now, air quality monitors (installed by private citizens since the government has refused to monitor air quality) show pollution continuously at dangerous levels, especially in our big cities. How many protests did we see? You can name any number of issues including clean water, food, medical services, education and of course law and order. As a society (and this is a global phenomenon) we have become apolitical and as a result totally apathetic. The last 2-3 decades have seen a total collapse of political awareness and our current generation of young people has no knowledge of what political activism looks like beyond going to a jalsa where the same people make the same speeches. The absence of a strong Left party/movement has played its part (helped along by regular abductions and murders of activists) in collusion with the state. Until there is a resurgence of activism (which needs political leadership which so far does not exist), nothing will change. We have never (unlike say the USA) had a strong tradition of community /local activism around small local issues so that doesn’t help. What about child sexual abuse specifically. Should we putting in extra effort to eradicate this crime first? The answer is that it’s rarely helpful to “rate” or “grade” crimes. Of course we should be putting in extra effort to eradicate it. But then we should be putting in effort to eradicate crimes against women and many other social ills also. Our priorities are, generally, skewed. We are spending an obscene amount of money on the “Orange train” (in Lahore) while neglecting healthcare, education and the environment. Part is our disdain towards research based long term planning. And part is our anaemic sovereignty and inability to assert any meaningful measure of independence. We are always to-ing and fro-ing according to the latest IMF or CPEC or Saudi bailout. And it doesn’t look like it’s set to change anytime soon. Of course children should be a priority. Their health, their education, their safety, we must ensure all that. Otherwise what are we doing? If we haven’t ensured a future for our coming generations, what have we accomplished as a society and as a nation? The writer is a psychiatrist practicing in Lahore. He taught and practiced Psychiatry in the United States for 16 years. He tweets @Ali_Madeeh Published in Daily Times, February 26th 2018.