While switching from ARY to Express to GEO to ARY again, I caught an insightful promo of a play called Mujhe Qabool Hai. Some female character was complaining about some male character to another male character. Her words were, "Koi bhi shareef mard aisay nahi dekhta!" to which the man she was complaining to replied, “Acha? Tum bara jaanti ho mardoon ke baray mein?"
My reaction was to cringe, frown, and cuss, all in that order, to recognize a complete WTF TV moment.
I cringed because the man’s comment was rude and totally shaming her. I frowned because, of course, that shouldn’t have been his response. Hello! Rude and pointless, too! What if she was right? And he was making nothing of her instincts? Lastly, I cussed because the promo ended there, freezing the woman’s petrified face in the frame, and I’m pretty sure had it not frozen there, that woman wouldn’t have gone on to give that man a piece of her mind because that’s not what nice Pakistani girls do.
Nice Pakistani girls keep their mouths shut.
That scene had me thinking. Exactly in how many ways do we tackle that single statement, that single grievance that a girl might have against an ogling, lecherous stalker? In how many ways do we shut her up?
Statement: "Koi bhi shareef mard aisay nahi dekhta!"
(What it means: No honorable man ever looks at a woman in that manner.)
I came up with 8 different responses to this 1 protest:
(What it means: So, you must’ve known a lot of men to know so much about men, hmm?!)
That’s the one that play chose to use. This is how you feed (yes, feed, not kill) two birds with one stone. One bird called doubt and the other called victim shaming. You create doubt by victim shaming, discrediting the accuser’s character/intention/objection, and skillfully reiterating the actual accusation towards the victim herself. So now, the victim needs to be defensive and answer questions. The accused gets off the hook without even knowing of the accusation, let alone putting up a defense. Case dismissed.
Response #2: "Tum bari hoor pari ho?"
(What it means: Yeah right, as if you’re a beauty queen that’s bound to drive men nuts with her enchanting prettiness!)
Yeah, because a lecher has such high standards and values regarding beauty. In fact, you can only ogle extreme beauties or they don’t let you be a woman-chaser. It’s not like lascivious men are so desperate that they won’t even dream of ever catcalling or ogling just about any woman who happens to be in the vicinity. Not that all it takes for a degenerate to seduce a woman is for that woman to be a woman. Nope. Not at all.
Response #3: "Itnay naik aadmi pe ilzaam!"
(What it means: How dare you accuse such an angel?)
Classic, this one. Obviously, it’s proper to put that other person’s honor before the one you’re actually bound to protect. How reasonable. Really.
Response #4: "Koi mard attract nahi hota jab tak aurat khod na himmat dilai!"
(What it means: No man ever notices a woman unless she’s interested in him.)
In other words, you asked for it! Is there really anything else that needs to be said after this except maybe introduce the respondent’s head to something hard and brick-like (like, maybe, a brick) repeatedly whilst screaming, “You asked for this, you twit!”
Response #5: "Tum khud aisi ho!"
(What it means: You’re a slut!)
Being unmistakably direct, this is a flat-out declaration of war. Get your armies and arsenal ready, I’d say. Because if this is what the people you trust enough to confide in think of you, you need to rethink your relationships and life.
Response #6: "Tumhara vahm hoga."
(What it means: It’s all in your head.)
Sigh. It would be more respectful to simply be honest and say whatever worries you about that confused, pea-brained little girl’s mental health. Is she cray-cray? To what extent? Does she hallucinate? Overactive imagination? Talks to walls, windows and doors? Had imaginary friends at age 2? Is this what she goes about saying regarding most men she interacts with? It doesn’t really matter if the answer to any or all of these is a Yes or an unfortunate No. Keep telling her that and eventually, all these questions will get a thumbs up in the end on the checklist.
Response #7: "Koi baat nahi. Aisa ho jata hai. Bhool jao."
(What it means: These things happen. It’s best to forget.)
Oh, darling, you’re not the only one! There have been many before you and many will be victimized in the future after this because we bloody won’t stop it at this point. After all, all that guy did was to look at you in a way that made you feel unsafe/ridiculed/naked/violated/I-got-more-take-your-pick. That’s okay. He’s made others feel that way, too. Or there are other women who’ve felt that way by other men. Now, had he touched you that made you feel all that his stare made you feel, well, that would’ve been okay too because that too happens. Whatever. Pass the salt.
Response #8: "Chup raho!"
(What it means: Sssssssh! Don’t. Say. Anything!)
The final admonition. There is no room for protest or dialogue or reminders after that. If the victim was lucky enough to remain a victim of ogling eyes, then, great. If anything terrible happened beyond that, then, it’s taboo to speak up anyhow. Keeping quiet is good for everyone. Especially, the offender.
A society that harbors such responses nurtures a culture of rape and victim shaming. While isolated incidents might be no more than mere ripples in a pond, though they must be more, collectively they do eventually lead to silencing something as big and horrid as the Kasur tragedy. Yes, perhaps, it’s the authorities now that are trying to hush everyone and everything but way before that, it were the victims and their families that understood the rationale of their own silence. And we understand, too.
How many more victims will it take to break this taboo, this should be the next question because a rape culture makes no distinction of its victims. Women or men, it devours both.
Note: This piece was first published in The Nation.