Of justice in India and Pakistan: Shahzeb Khan and Nirbhaya

Published: September 12, 2013

The Indian people have become unreasonable for all the right reasons. The Pakistani people have become unreasonable for all the wrong ones.

There’s a quote by George Bernard Shaw that I love throwing around when I’m trying to prove a point – most points, actually. Most things I want to say or do are defined within these few short lines as said by one of the most iconic playwrights of the past century;

“There are two kinds of men in the world. The reasonable man and the unreasonable man. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

In India

The courts of India, while understanding that the people of India are outraged by the heinous rape and murder of the young woman referred to as Nirbhaya, are trying to reason with the people of India. They are trying to tell angry women and mobs of feminists, and non-feminists alike, that rape is not a crime that can be sentenced with murder or hanging till death.

The Indian people are unreasonable.

They do not want reason for an unreasonable crime. They do not want principles of humanity and justice for an unjust, inhumane crime. They do not see the treatises of law and legalities. They see their daughters, sisters and friends who walk out of their houses without armour and come home late at night from work or social engagements, with a halo of incessant fear and threat.

I speak from a place of fear when I find myself wishing death upon the rapist as well. I speak from a place of intense vulnerability because I think that tomorrow if someone attempts to sexually assault me (a woman), the perpetrators might just get off on a technicality (in the case of one of the perpetrators who was treated by the courts as a minor, thereby reducing the intensity of his sentence).

When I hear about whatever Nirbhaya went through, I think of giving a harsh, cruel, maybe even unfair sentence to a person who could rape, beat and maim another human being, because while I may be unreasonable, I am entitled to fearing consequences.

In Pakistan

The courts of Pakistan will let go of Shahrukh Jatoi, the young man who murdered another young man, Shahzeb Khan. What started as a brawl ended in a brutal murder, and for months, young men and women all over the world marshaled for the conviction of the son of a powerful man.

Son of powerful men often think the law is below them and now that we see him off the hook, the people of Pakistan became unreasonable. So much so that once he was pardoned by the victim’s family, people started to come after the family of the victim.

People were angry at the courts, angry at the system, angry at the family.

The Pakistani people were unreasonable.

I speak from a place of fear again. I speak from a place of intense vulnerability again. I have a small son, a little boy who’s just learning his ABCs and 123s and loves to hear me sing to him. When I hug him and kiss him, I think of Shahzeb’s mother. I think of the mothers of the many missing persons in Pakistan; I think of every woman who has had the terrible, the traumatic misfortune of bearing the loss of a child. I think of the women and their broken, unmendable hearts and I wish that there was something I could do or say to change how villainous mankind can be.

The comparison

The Indian people have become unreasonable for all the right reasons. The Pakistani people have become unreasonable for all the wrong ones.

The Indian people have understood the cause behind being unreasonable. They are demanding more stringent anti-rape laws and there is a serious discussion in the Indian intellectual diasporas about objectifying women and the hyper-sexualised imagery of a woman in their society.

Pakistanis are focusing hard on how the verdict was taken and not the verdict itself. The verdict itself cannot change but the future can. Pakistanis are forgetting why such a verdict came into being and there is simply anger and outrage at the result of their activism. The verdict, the narrative of “powerful man gets his way” needs to change, not just by lambasting Shahzeb’s already grieving family with the burden of more activism — rather it will change by following rules yourself.

•   Next time you’ve got a powerful friend who knows a guy who knows a guy, don’t use that link. Try to stand in line yourself.

•   If you can get out of a speeding ticket, don’t get out of a speeding ticket.

•   If you can get your dad to talk to someone into getting you a job, don’t do that.

•   If you are working, pay your taxes.

•   If you’re a father, teach your sons the value of hard earned money.

•   If you’re in a powerful position, don’t use it to exploit or make use of it to further your own needs.

•   Don’t give young men weapons. Don’t give them the liberty of hurting another human being.

No one dare mention to Nirbhaya’s father that she shouldn’t have been walking in that lane alone with her friend at that time of the night. No one dare say that she should have been wearing a burqa. No one in India will dare say that this was her fault in any way or that girls should now stay indoors.

Victim blaming is not the answer. That’s not healthy. That’s not where the problem is.

The problem is never how the victim’s family is responding. The problem is the system and the society that lets crimes like these occur without penance and that is what needs to change.

The political system of Pakistan needs to hold the citizen in more esteem than the name of the father. I wish Pakistanis would come together instead of pointing fingers at what Shahzeb’s family did or did not do – but accept their stance and move and work towards making the society a safer place for law enforcement (ironic as that may sound).

I wish that Shahzeb’s mother could find peace – even though it is an idea that will henceforth be alien to her. I wish that the Pakistani courts could understand the trauma of the mothers who have been holding up their children’s photos, asking for justice.

The headlines are becoming a little blurry right now. Excuse me while I go hug my son.


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.