This article is about the attack on women in our country. I realise, that many people will switch off here and move to another article. Women go harping on about their issues, and at one point, the not-female specially, has had enough and checks out.

That is a worthy state of mind to reach, where an issue, whether it is sexual abuse, menstruation, forced marriage, harassment, or pressured captivity, does not affect one and one can be indifferent. Many women would like to join men at this happy nirvana, where these issues cause such little pain, and that they can stop talking about it and just focus on work, the weather, and politics.

Since that is not possible something’s got to give, so that fifty percent of the population can hope to feel safe and free in the future. And to make things more bearable for the men, lets talk about men, and how to include them into the conversation, without making them feel attacked, or like outsiders. In the latest news section of Dawn on Thursday, 3 out of 9 stories were about child or woman rape or murder, in Express Tribune 3 out of 10 and in The Nation 3 out of 11. On average, there are three stories daily of this nature that make national headlines, and countless other cases that go unreported or do not create the feeling of a national crisis. We live in a male dominated society, and uncomfortable dialogue for now is the path to least resistance, if we are to tackle increasing reports of violence against women.

I was at a talk this week where Mashal Khan’s father, Muhammad Iqbal Lala, made, in very simple words, an appeal to the common sense in us to stop hurting each other. Talking about Mashal’s kind nature and ideas, Lala said that his son used to say that people don’t see women, they only see their clothes. They ignore her poverty and vulnerability and society’s shortcomings are all ascribed to her. Mashal’s sisters have not been able to go to college since last April when their brother was murdered in broad daylight because it’s not safe for them to.

When sometimes a man hears a woman complaining about the nature of men, and their destructive habits, he will get angry and say, that “not all men” are like that. He is right, but men who are not like that are in as much trouble from the hating and troubled majority.  When they talk about peace, about dialogue, about responsibility, about freedom, they are beaten to death, or shot. Mashal is not the first soft-hearted intellectual to die, and he wont be the last. The death of debate and reconciliatory communalism is part of the same violence that is causing “devout” and “religious” men to kill and abuse women and children. Where Mashals die, Zainabs will die too.

Undoubtedly, most men who commit crimes against women and children are not reading articles like these, nor are they the directly linked to talks happening in policy circles. There is a great disconnect between high-brow ideas of what constitutes a civil society, and the interaction that people (the actual civil society) has with political functionaries, whether they be local party workers or the police, or parts of the media that focuses on these issues. That is one problem - that ideas of gender equality and plain common sense mercy and compassion just aren’t present in many households, because of a lack of desire for civility and no politician raising these issues.

One can only blame the common man so much, because men in places of power, those like Fasih Ahmed, or even Rana Sanauallah, continue to make excuses for male proclivity towards violence and rape. That someone like Fasih Ahmed, respected in the field of journalism, would suggest that paedophilia is a driver of human creativity, just makes the situation in Pakistan seem bleaker. If he can justify paedophilia, other problems of child labour, bonded labour, and the occasional meting out of beatings to wives and kids become normalised. If you’re slapping women and children, at least you’re not raping them.

It is very likely, that the reader knows at least one man who in the past has raised his hand to his wife, but allowances and excuses were made for him. The reader will also probably know at least one women, who has been publically harassed, or privately abused by a man. The least we can do is talk about it. It is not just the men who have perverse tendencies that are the problem, but also that those around them, judge them not by their actions, but by their history of either being religiously devout, or generally “nice” people. These ills have been hidden, because society chooses to hide them.

 

The writer is studying South Asian history and politics at the Oxford University and is the former Op-Ed Editor of The Nation.

@saadiagardezi