Zainab Kay Qatil: Capitalising on the rape of a child in the name of raising awareness?

Published: May 10, 2018

In the poster of this movie, Zainab’s character, played by Hamna Amir, is seen dressed precisely the same way as Zainab was seen last before her murder. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Four months ago, the news of Zainab Ansari’s rape and murder surfaced. The entire nation, our neighbouring country and international celebrities spoke out against child sexual abuse, especially showing sympathy for Zainab and her parents.

There were several protests held all over the country in order to urge law and policy makers to bring the perpetrator of this act to justice; some even called for public execution. Feminist men and women alike organised vigils for the 7-year-old rape and murder victim, hoping that their prayers would bring her soul some peace.

Even though the alleged perpetrator was sentenced to capital punishment, a lot of people, including myself, are not quite certain about whether this identified person was the real suspect or not. In fact, I would still argue that because of the anger and consistent pressure directed towards the Punjab Chief Minister and Punjab General of Police, some seriously false accusations have been made just to pacify and shut the public up.

Considering that Kasur was already under investigation and scrutiny because of it being the infamous child pornography hub and supplier, nothing positive had been done to eliminate the problem altogether. This is the reason why rape and murder cases continue to rise from the same vicinity, not to undermine the number of rape cases that happen elsewhere.

Now that the hype has simmered down, there is news about a television film being compiled, called Zainab Kay Qatil, based on the reality of the case. The executive producer of this project, Kashif Kabeer, claims that the right kind of awareness needs to be raised by using mainstream media as a platform. When I heard this news, I hadn’t entirely made up my mind about how I felt about it; however, I was certainly glad that a movie was being made to address an issue that is often more sensationalised than it is analysed and solved.

However, what threw me completely off the grid was the fact that the producers of the project had neither received nor asked Zainab’s parents for consent. This, in my opinion, is where they went awfully wrong. How can something of this level be approved or given the “go ahead” without considering the feelings of the victim’s family members?

If the sole goal of this project is to try to spread awareness and speak to the Pakistani audience about child sexual abuse, it should’ve taken into consideration the emotional and psychological trauma the victim’s family has had to endure. What consequential emotions will they encounter hearing that there is a film to be aired soon, blatantly addressing their deceased daughter and her brutal murder, that too from a third party or worse yet, from the news?

This is another concept of abuse that people need to take seriously. In Pakistan, where mental health is not given enough importance and is considered taboo, it is seldom that trauma is spoken about in great detail or addressed at all. Especially in terms of rape and sexual assault cases of a child, it cannot only be severely harmful for the victim but equally severe for the family. It can result in short-term and long-term harm, including psychological, emotional, physical and social effects such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, dissociative and anxiety disorders (general psychological distress and disorders and behavioural problems). In Zainab’s case, because the perpetrator was known to be a neighbour and someone the family knew well, one can only imagine the escalated psychological harm that must have caused the parents of the child.

Having said that, it is clear that the failure on the production team’s part to ask for consent and then be so insensitive as to portray the story so soon and so vividly speaks volumes in itself. Not taking the other, more long-term and lasting effects of the incident into consideration just shows that perhaps the whole point of starting the project wasn’t well thought out after all.

Whereas I am all for working on awareness projects focusing on dire social issues, including rape, this is one of those times where I am bound to problematise the timing and aesthetics of the project. Visually, in the poster of this movie, Zainab’s character, which is to be played by Hamna Amir, is seen dressed precisely the same way as Zainab was seen last before her murder. This too, in my opinion, is highly insensitive considering the last few memories of her are still fresh in the family’s mind.

Amir herself is a child who has been tasked with playing a gruesome role of a rape victim. One can only imagine how traumatising it would be for a child to know the whole story, that too in grave detail, so that Amir can fall into character and act out the incident. It is only fair to ask whether the child is being given proper attention and counselling by the producers and team, which she will undoubtedly need. While for the rest of us, who have been shaken by this incident, it will be equally damaging to actually see the heinous crime in the telefilm.

All in all, I believe that even though the intention to make the movie is a positive one, one that will highlight all the several different factors that contribute to and fuel rape culture, I do not think it is a good idea to portray Zainab’s particular case in this scenario. The movie can be a more generic one that doesn’t necessarily have to be a dramatisation of a real victim, because that is never easy for the loved ones of any victim, whether it is a child or an adult.

In addition, it is extremely important to consider not only the superficial components of a particular culture that aid and encourage such acts but also the consequential, deeper effects of rape and sexual assault, which need to be addressed and portrayed very carefully. I feel this is talent that has not been explored properly in Pakistani cinema yet, while talking about child abuse or any other sexual abuses. In order for a project like this to make waves and actually have a positive and mass impact, the needs of the affected have to be examined so there are no further gaps left for doubts.

Purniya Awan

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as a Senior Account Manager at MINT PR. She tweets @purniyaA (

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