Divided by politics 70 years ago, India and Pakistan are still united by the cancer of rape

Published: April 24, 2018
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Asifa Bano in Kathua was only eight-years-old. Zainab Ansari in Kasur was only six.

Imagine being a young woman who steps out of her house late at night. You hang around with friends, partake in merrymaking that stretches deep into the night, and then safely return home in the morning. There isn’t an ounce of worry in your mind as you go about this. Being wary of your surroundings never crosses your mind, and looking out for unwanted stares doesn’t either. You feel secure, safe and sound.

If you’re living in modern day India or Pakistan, this scenario would never happen. Divided by politics 70 years ago, they are still united by the cancer of rape and sexual assault.

Is a woman raped every time she steps out of her house in either country? No.

Is a woman more vulnerable every time she steps out of her house in either country? Yes.

The recent outrage over the Kathua rape in India is a new chapter in the never-ending grim tale of rape in the subcontinent. The fact the girl was a minor might make it seem different in a twisted away, but the sad fact is, it isn’t.

Pakistan was home to its own rape of a minor earlier this year in the city of Kasur. Asifa Bano in Kathua was only eight-years-old. Zainab Ansari in Kasur was only six. While Asifa was grazing horses, Zainab was on her way to a Quran recital class. Every other day, there are reports of infants and children violated, often subsequently murdered. Official statistics are extremely unreliable in either country since a large number of rape victims fail to come forward, and even when they do, the matter is dragged under the rug more often than naught.

The Kathua rape in India has an added dimension to it that stretches beyond sexual assault – religion.

The victim was a Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, and was drugged and raped inside a Hindu temple by several men, including its custodian, Sanji Ram. According to the police, Ram had been an aggressive opponent of the settlement of the Muslim Bakharwal tribe in the area, and saw Asifa as an easy target to frighten the group into leaving the area entirely.

The most shocking element of the whole story is how the perpetrators received unprecedented official and public backing, simply because they belong to a particular religion. Protest marches involving lawyers and two ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marched through the town with the national flag. The Kathua Bar Association demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry, arguing the state government had “failed to understand popular sentiment”.

India’s proud secular history is slowly being discarded and disposed of, as Narendra Modi’s Hindutva edges towards becoming the new norm. The fault lines between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority in the country are being exposed. If it’s not the consumption of beef, it’s sexual violence.

Over in Pakistan, secularism has never been the order of the day, and is unlikely to become so anytime soon. While the country has not experienced support for rapists in a manner similar to the Kathua case, public attitudes still lean heavily towards denial.

Mukhtaran Bibi’s example from 2002 comes to mind. Gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council, she ended up surviving, unlike many others. Tribal custom dictated she commit suicide after being raped. However, she spoke up and her story was picked up by the local media. Then president, General Pervez Musharraf, remarked that being raped had become a “moneymaking concern”.

In May 2013, the controversial Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a religious body responsible for giving legal advice on Islamic issues to the government, declared DNA tests are not admissible as evidence in rape cases, and supported a questionable Islamic law requiring women alleging rape to get four male witnesses to testify in court before a case is heard. The CII also spoke up against the Women’s Protection Act, passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2016, declaring it to be in conflict with the Holy Quran.

Sexual violence in the country is not just limited to women; the country’s madrassas or Islamic schools are home to sexual predators too. As recently as November 2017, a teenager and his accomplices at a madrassa in the city of Faisalabad molested and subsequently murdered an eight-year-old boy, by throwing him off the roof of the religious seminary.

While there is outrage over sexual violence in both India and Pakistan, the fact remains that both countries are home to some of the most gruesome tales in the world. Government authorities are either lax, incapable or in many cases, both.

The problem stretches deeper than the government’s inability, and is arguably rooted in the sexually curtailed conservative societies on either side of the border.  The mixing of religion into matters only makes things more explosive. While small pockets of urban centres in either country may be home to a more progressive school of thought, most of the population resides in rural centres that are knee-deep in their patriarchal ways. Here, honour will always take precedence over moral righteousness.

While there may be a lot separating India and Pakistan, what unites both is something both countries have a difficult time accepting. This isn’t what Jinnah and Gandhi hoped for, and if this doesn’t make them turn in their graves, nothing else will.

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

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

  • Syed

    Correction, don’t equate with India. Pakistan is far ahead.Recommend

  • sterry

    You’re right that women need to be careful about abuse in India or Pakistan but the comparison between the two is not accurate. India is known as the Rape Capital of the World because a rape takes place there every 30 seconds. No way a woman is raped every 30 seconds in Pakistan like in India! Pakistan like all countries has problems with perverts, and violence against women including rape but it is nowhere what exists in India. In the West, people do not associate Pakistan with rape like they do India. I have walked around streets in Pakistani cities and despite the odd rude comment or ogling, I do not fear of being raped like in India. You mention the Mukhtaran Mai case in Pakistan from 16 years ago but do you have no idea that every 30 seconds there is a case like that in India?If you want to say there should be better awareness of women’s rights in Pakistan and no abuse, just say it but no need to create a hysteria than it’s becoming like India hysteria!Recommend

  • Kushal

    May be its time for the so called “silent majority” in both countries to rise above mutual hatred and look inwards. Both of us needs to start working for the betterment of our respective countries (or may be even help each other?).Recommend

  • rajendrakumar

    What a ridiculous title. Number of rapes per one lac population are the highest in UK and then in USA. By that logic Pakistan and India should be joined with UK and USA also. No wonder Karachi is dreaming of becoming New York.Recommend

  • joe

    False equivalence of India and Pakistan that is what Pakistanis are good at. India do not hide it’s problems under the rug like you. HIV is an epidemic in Pakistan but government refuse to acknowledge. Pakistanis talk about Indian poverty where hepatitis case in Pakistan is much much higher than India which is a direct consequence of basic need like clean water and an indicator of povertyRecommend

  • PatelPara

    Right. because rapes only happen in these countries and nowhere else in this world.Recommend

  • sterry

    Read about the issues with alcohol and drugs that goes on in India is part of the Rape Culture in India. We don’t have that in Pakistan which is why Rape issue is not as big in Pakistan ( no we are not talking about ogling and bad behavior by men but rapes). India is known as Rape Capital of the World because society there has not taken the problem seriously like it should.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    But there are forced marriages in Pakistan….. that is as good as legalised rape licences…Express tribune has also posted a very good and bold blog regarding revenge rapes that are happening over there…..kindly throw some light on this…..Recommend

  • Patwari

    But, er see, you said you were a man! About a year ago. How you and your wife went
    to the Tuscan region in Italy. And met a Pakistani taxi driver, who took you around for free.
    You switched genders for this comment!Recommend

  • sterry

    Where does it talk about gender or switching genders? Not to mention, if you go to temples in India including Utter Pradesh where you come from, you would know there are Hindu gods which are both male and female such as Ardhanarishvara. Shiva and Pravati are separate sides of the god meaning both male and female parts of the god exists. Maybe if Indian men were to remember that, Indian men would show greater respect for women and there would be fewer rapes.Recommend

  • Ram Dargad

    While you may be right, you may be missing a few points. India’s population is 7 times Pakistan’s. There is no way to confirm the 30 seconds of India which would be at par with 30 x 7 seconds for Pakistan. Lastly, none knows what percentage of rapes that are reported. Chances of reporting & publicizing are higher in India which has higher female literacy, better lawsRecommend