‘Holy’ castration…what’s next?
A recently published story in The Express Tribune titled ‘Pir processing: toddler castrated to free him for temptation,’ September 12, poses stark questions with regards to how sexual violence is rapidly increasing in Pakistan and how the public and authorities are choosing to deal with it.
The story itself involved a pir in Gujranwala who castrated a two-year-old boy in order to ‘make him a malang’. The child’s mother was complicit in the act and told reporters that she had promised her son to pir Haider Ali, who she insisted had ‘helped her conceive’ after eight of her children died. The pir in question allegedly has an existing track record of rape charges and has been arrested in the company of eunuch sex workers several times. Another significant aspect of this case is the reaction by Inter-religions peace committee chairman Qari Zahid Nadeem, who said:
“Islam mandates an eye for an eye and a nose for a nose. This pir should be castrated in public to pay for his crime.”
The reaction to the story in the press has revealed overwhelming support for Nadeem’s proposed solution. Online comments such as “I completely agree, this pir should have his jewels publicly removed without any anesthesia to ensure he suffers the same fate as he made the poor child suffer’ (Hameed) and “Islam mandates an eye for an eye and a nose for a nose. This pir should be castrated in public to pay for his crime” as well as “Impressive response by Qari Zahid! I am glad we have true religious personalities like him existing in our society who can counter such thugs!” mandate some attention, especially since none of this outrage actually addresses the motivation of the pir.
The case is not strictly one about sexual violence and pir Ali cannot be labeled as a sex offender in the strictest sense here. The crime was supported and indeed, endorsed, by the child’s mother in the name of raising the boy as a ‘spiritual man’ and this brackets it as a crime of ignorance as much as mutilation.
There are several questions that need to be raised here such as whether we agree that castration is a suitable punishment for sex offenders? And if so, whether pir Ali falls under that category, considering this was not a crime of passion/perversion and that this was not a case of child rape or pedophilia. Most of the latter cases are much more common but seldom merit such a reaction. Why?
One must also consider the ethical dynamics of this case, where the castration is much more offensive than the fact that a pir can be given a child as property to do with as he pleases in the name of making the child supposedly spiritual. Why is this transaction simply dismissed as ignorance and the pir’s butchery in the name of satisfying that request not categorized in the same manner?
This is not to say that the act wasn’t depraved and worthy of highest condemnation but what needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that pir-culture thrives on general ignorance and the assumption that human agency can somehow satisfy divine ends. There are numerous reports of pirs raping children to exorcise demons or beating women to bend djinns to their will. All these absurdities are tolerated because of some misguided belief, held and nurtured by many, that these magic men can somehow affect the course of their destiny. The sheer numbers of devotees have somehow formed a safety zone around pirs at shrines peddling similar twisted solutions to existential concerns on a daily basis. It is this belief that needs to be attacked just as much as such individual pirs need to be imprisoned. Indeed, a large part of Pakistani media still employs the term ‘fake pir’ and ‘jali pir,’ erroneously implying that there is such a thing as a real one.
Another tangent to consider in this case is the definition of spiritual as it applies in the malang context in Pakistan. The child’s mother first asked for the pir to help her conceive a healthy baby after she had lost so many and when the wish was fulfilled, the child was handed over as payment and mutilated at her consent. How does that constitute wish fulfillment, which was supposedly the purpose of the entire interaction?
The story raises many serious questions because it is a reflection of the twisted rituals Pakistanis put up with in the name of tolerating absurdities and fulfilling spiritual ends on a daily basis. It is hardly likely that one can achieve serenity and spirituality through an act of mutilation and violence. Also, with the rising number of sexual violence reports and the escalating depravity in the particulars, is it time for the government to start considering new legislation to deal with sex offenders and child molesters?
Despite criticism from the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee, several European countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland have already been sanctioning chemical castration for repeat sex offenders and pedophiles. The ethical debate revolving whether it is more important to safeguard the individual’s human rights to control their body or protect the rights of the individuals under threat by sexual predators is still a topic of discussion.
Given the number of such cases occurring on a daily basis in Pakistan, human rights groups and our government should definitely get in on the debate.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.