Haiwan: When will our dramas stop misrepresenting rape and child abuse?

Published: January 15, 2019
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The story revolved around the sexual abuse and murder of a little girl called Masooma. PHOTO: IMDB

While highlighting social taboos and evils through local dramas is a bold initiative that our entertainment industry has been taking for around two years now, it doesn’t always hit the mark. At times, our serials normalise things that ought not to be, sometimes in the wake of ratings and sometimes because the makers want to portray situations as close to reality as possible.

Recently, the much-hyped drama serial Haiwan, that kicked off the trend of #MyChildMyResponsibility on social media, concluded on a deeply unsatisfactory note. A drama that was meant to give a strong message of protecting children from the predators that lurk in ordinary and familiar faces ended very ineffectively and disappointed viewers to say the least.

The story revolved around the sexual abuse and murder of a little girl named Masooma. The heinous crime was shown to be committed by Hameed (Faysal Qureshi), the father of the victim’s best friend Jojo, who also lived next door.

Hameed is shown to be a respected and charitable individual who had committed the ‘sin’ or ‘mistake’ under the influence of alcohol. Apart from indicators showing his unstable mental state, nothing else is revealed about his background and there is no backstory to comprehend why he would not only rape but also murder a child. The writer does not even show any details about Hameed’s possible mental illness. As a viewer, all you see is that a mentally disturbed man raped and murdered a 10-year-old because he was probably not in his senses. That’s how easy it is to pass away child rape and murder for our show creators.

*Spoiler alert*

It was, however, the last episode that was the biggest disappointment and completely destroyed the essence of the drama. Firstly, no legal action is taken against Hameed for his paedophilic ways. He is handed over to the police by his family, but sometime later the police call his son and reveal that medical reports proved Hameed to be mentally unstable and hence the court released him. Hameed then spends his time at a shrine in a state of unrest, begging Allah to forgive him for his sin. Then one day he comes across Masooma’s mother and falls at her feet to beg for forgiveness. The victim’s mother later sees her deceased daughter at the same shrine waving happily at her, and it seems she forgives Hameed.

Although the ending is heart-wrenching and triggers all possible emotions within the audience, it was not right at all. Yes, the unfortunate reality remains that in most such cases in Pakistan, parents end up forgiving abusers and murderers (perhaps due to honour or security issues caused by social class differentials). However, there is no point in airing a show specifically written to create awareness on this issue if the message it sends is to forgive your child’s abuser and murderer if he feels guilty and seeks repentance for his crime.

Hameed should have been prosecuted in any case and either kept imprisoned or sent to the gallows, the way we saw done to Dabeer, who was the paedophile in the popular show Meri Guriya. In Meri Guriya, which focuses on a similar issue, while Dabeer’s mother repeatedly sought mercy from the victim’s mother, there was no forgiveness from her end. Instead, she remained determined to make Dabeer’s fate a lesson for all those who could even think of committing such a crime. Dabeer was thus hanged to death in a public square and punished by law, bringing the drama to a very meaningful and educating conclusion.

Alternatively, the makers of Haiwan could have also presented a sound story to prove Hameed’s mental illness right from the beginning; something to really make the audience believe that Hameed was actually mentally unsound. Even something along the lines of Hameed having been abused as a child might have given the audience some insight into his character without justifying his crime. Presenting child rape and murder committed as just another sin in the heat of the moment makes it seem justified as a trivial offence, such as lying or breaking someone’s heart.

The medium of TV dramas is the best way to educate the masses in Pakistan, and in this endeavour, the team of Haiwan failed. They did not send the strong message they were capable of sending through a meaningful conclusion to the story; a conclusion we could have learned from, the way we did when Meri Guriya ended. Rather, dramas like Haiwan end up underplaying horrific crimes such as rape and child abuse that remain rampant in our society by showing no accountability for the crime committed.

This is not even the first time our dramas have portrayed child abuse and rape in a problematic manner. In 2017’s Muqabil, child abuse survivor Parisa (Kubra Khan) was shown to marry Armaan, the son of her rapist, in order to punish him. The rapist was the driver at their house who raped Parisa when she was 10-years-old, and for some reason, Parisa is shown choosing to live in the same house as her rapist and his son. Anyone can tell that in normal circumstances, survivors of child abuse would find it immensely difficult to face their abuser again, let alone marrying their children so they could live in the same house. The same show portrays the rapist as a decent individual who made this one mistake of raping a child and then proceeded to regret it his entire life. How is this different from making fun of the pain victims of abuse go through?

We really need to stop glorifying abusers and presenting them as otherwise decent individuals when they are not raping and killing children. Yes, it is very important to highlight the issues present in our society, but it is equally important to not make it socially acceptable to simply forgive abusers and child murderers for the crimes they commit.

Over the past several years, the topic of child molestation and sexual abuse has become a favourite for local drama creators, but increasingly it feels like this is being done to sensationalise the issue, and in turn earn ratings. UdaariMuqabilDar Si Jaati Hai Sila, Meri Guriya and Haiwan are a handful of dramas on this topic that come to mind immediately. There were many others that were perhaps less memorable. Highlighting social taboos such as these is a great step, but is now becoming redundant, as it distracts viewers from an actual message.

If the industry wishes to take up this important topic, then it must realise its responsibility to do a better job. If not, then I believe it’s high time we dig deeper and extract other taboos and social evils to refresh our redundant storylines and educate the masses on important issues such as child labour, cyber bullying, single parenting and women empowerment. Hopefully they will do a better job with a different topic.

All photos: Screenshots 

Afshan Zahra

Afshan Abbas

The author is a graduate from Bahria University Karachi. Writing is her favorite pastime and she writes whenever any topic touches the chords of her heart. She likes to raise her voice on issues related to social injustice, women rights and education. She tweets @AfshanZahra2014 (twitter.com/AfshanZahra2014)

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

  • maria

    IN my opinion it is the best drama which raise the topic of child abuse and this is the best and no need to explain more on this …HAIWAN is the drama which is the lesson not only for those who are the culprits but its only the lesson of those mother who never teach their young daughters to not enter in anyone’s home even any friend or relative’s home without knowing that her friend and her mother thereRecommend

  • vinsin

    What about sons?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, so guardian can forgive abusers and child murderers for the crimes that they commit.Recommend

  • Striver

    Afshan Abbas’s interpretation of the last episode is correct in my humble opinion.
    1- The fact that he was released from prison was meant to show how easily our legal system can be manipulated. That report the son presented to the police could not ave been genuine.
    2- The scenes at the shrine with very little dialogue where meant to show that one can escape the law but not natural justice.Recommend

  • Atsuf Kalum

    Very true it shows darama maker illiterate mindset, who think the ultimate punishment and curse for anyone is one going mad. BTW, please also stop showing “mazars” and “darghas” in every other drama, you are not a Indian movie maker who have no idea what Islam is really about, you are actually misleading people whose only mode of education is TV Dramas.

    But, at the same time, this drama is to make people aware of predators, that they can be anywhere and things or acts that should not be ignored or overlooked, and how to safeguard kids. I don’t think covering the story of a predator and his psychology is not the plot of this drama.

    Funny you now noticed how ridiculously most of our dramas are made, in every other dramas showing ridiculous family politics where one women is an anger an the other one is devil. So far from truth but it pleases the viewership, unproductive lazy Pakistani women between 25-65, who are addicted to these ridiculous cookie cutter dramas.Recommend

  • Waqas

    I think the best drama on this topic was UdariRecommend

  • Andrew Davis

    I agree with Maria… It is true and it is also generally the case that most mothers these days are very causal in their attitude towards the protection of their children, irrespective of the fact whether a male or female child. Though the drama has addressed the rape and murder of a female child the fact cannot be denied that heinous crimes are carried out by against both male or female children. A predator is a predator. That is all that can be said about such people and they will prey on whoever they can just to satisfy their own twisted sexual desires and frustrations. The Pakistani’s society in general today has too much time and too much easy access to things that are of no concern of theirs. Weak minds very easily succumb to this influx and overwhelming amount of information (basically a whole lot of porn) which makes them frustrated. I have noted that mostly the predators are those who are in their early twenties or those who are 50 or above. The reason in my opinion is that those in their early twenties haven’t been given proper training and education in what is right and wrong whereas those who are above 50 have too much time on their hands and not enough outlet for their desires.

    It is a shame that such matters occur. The ending of the drama serial may not have been what we had expected or what we would have wanted the outcome to be but we cannot deny the fact that there are loopholes in the law which are exploited by crafty lawyers who are out only to make money. Money is made through fame gained for acquitals and such acquitals are gained on the basis of these very same loopholes in the law.

    I think that Judges should view the case and the scenario and then punish the perpetrators according to the law inside of allowing the loopholes and at the same time make sure that irrespective of the loophole, a crime was committed. Rape is not a crime in which extenuating circumstances like provocation can be used as an excuse. It is a well thought out, well pondered situation in which the perpertrator, irrespective of whether mentally sane or not, has planned and carried out a crime. THE PUNISHMENT SHOULD BE IN ACCORDANCE TO THE CRIME. AND IN CASES OF RAPE, THE PUNISHMENT SHOULD BE MORE THAN THE CRIME. PUNISHMENT SHOULD BE USED AS A DETERRENT.

    If an exemplary punishment is meted out is such cases, it will deter or discourage others from committing the same crime, not matter how good that person’s lawyer maybe.Recommend

  • Wajahat Munir

    Second your opinion. These serials should include the legal processes to handle such situation and guidance for the public. Monitoring, prevention and survival techs can help fight against such issues. Who are the right persons/govt. departments to seek help. Criminals shouldn’t be glorified.Recommend

  • Nadeem Nadeem

    Well I ll go with last lines of afshan that there a lot of other topics which can boost drama ratings other then child abuse. A disappointment is that famous names lead in these dramas. It’s true many mothers are constrained to keep quiet even after knowing the culprit but 99% OF abusers are never guilty until they have fear of any punishment so through dramas at least don’t portray them sympathetic. Pl don’t say mothers to be irresponsible sometimes bad moments and wolves in disguise lust to show their greed. At end still these family channels have become mess to watch in presence of young kids. A new halrioud drama cheekh is its example. Dramas can be multitopic as udaari but they ll here drag one topic about 3 months to force us to look for any positive thing on TV or to better turn it off.Recommend

  • AJ

    One thing triggered me to comment after reading a couole of the comments. Why do you think that teaching kids about safety (boys or girls) is responsibility of a mother only. BOTH mother and father should talk with the kids to be safe and be aware of their environment. Yes mothers can explain in detail but the message should be from both parents. After all when a child is born, name of the father is attached with his/her name but when it comes to responsibilities, why only blame the mother. May Allah protect all our children.Recommend

  • Réka Ivantsova

    India is a hindu republic so a rape victim’s misery do not end just at rape, they are cut into pieces afterwards and sometimes thrown sometimes eaten by the rapists. AND rape is not just limited to humans, animals have the same fate in “incredible hindu republic of india”.Recommend