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Let’s face it. Our playwrights can’t handle the topic of sexual abuse well.

I’ve watched over a dozen plays on the topic in the last few years (and counting). Every season has one on the menu by every channel and yet, they all fall flat just when there’s that perfect moment when – if only the playwright dared to be original – the sordid theme might turn into an epic experience to watch with great take-away value.

Apart from the usual drama of subjecting a rape victim, an alleged rape victim and an adulteress to the same brutality that would be inhuman in any of the aforementioned scenarios, there is also never any justice for the victim (alleged or certified). Ever. Climax is achieved by building an atmosphere where we are treated to seeing God’s wrath springing into action and ruining the aggressor’s life by way of endless turmoil till they realize,“Oh dang! I may have ruined somebody’s life and God is not happy now!” or the aggressor runs mad or dies or repents and is forgiven or… the options are endless because obviously, we’re never ever gonna send them to jail.

The victim, of course, apart from being shamed or harassed is promptly married off – another favorite tactic – as part of punishment to be inflicted for dishonoring the family. As if the victim asked for it. Which she probably did because why else would anyone ever in the world touch a woman, right? One would cast out a trash bag with more ceremony than that.

Also, one must make sure to only blame the woman. The man, even if caught out is bechara because the woman is a seductress and troublemaker by nature. Haven’t you heard the story of how man was thrown out of heaven? So yes, woman!

We saw the usual predictable happen in Chup Raho, Mere Dard Ki Tujhay Kya Khabar, Mere Khuda, Humsafar, the ever awesome Meri Zaat Zarra Be-Nishan, Kaafir, DilIshq, Muqaddas, Bojh – to name a few.

The equality-infected writers must’ve thought it was getting too focused on women, hence, they churned out Mujhay Khuda Pe Yaqeen Hai to showcase what life is like for a man if he ever is accused of having illicit relations. Too bad the focus of said play didn’t maneuver on more than that. The play ended with exposing the guilty party and everyone else asking the victim for forgiveness and that was that. There. Now, the women can’t complain of being alone in this. The men are ruined in similar ways and they too never go to court or do anything other than being mopey. And getting married.

The new jewel in this old crown is HUM TV’s Sangat.

Only 6 episodes old, this one has immense tendency of turning away hopeful viewers who might be looking for something less predictable or, daresay, outright revolutionary. So far Sangat has nothing of the sort. The victim is advised along the same routine lines of think of the husband, you’re not the only woman, not the first, not the last, and most of all – forget it ever happened.

The logic defies all sense.

The victim (played by Saba Qamar) is advised by her therapist to think of the husband, think of the pain her disclosure of such a heinous incident will cause him. “Whatever pain you’re feeling, your husband will feel more than that,” says the therapist.

I’m sorry but pray explain, how? Was the husband raped? Did someone forcibly unclothe him and violate the privacy of his own body while he screamed for help? Did the husband bear the pain, the humiliation, the disgust of being forced to be with a stranger he didn’t want to be with that way? Did the husband become pregnant, possibly as a result of that tragedy? Is it the husband who relives that memory every day, every second because the trauma is just too great to let one focus on anything past it? Does the husband feel violated, naked, stained, scarred beyond repair? Pray tell how would the husband’s pain be more than that of the victim’s so that she may shut up for his sake?

Same questions go for other family members too who might be so worried about their honor being dishonored if the victim ever spoke up.

It doesn’t stop there. Sangat seems to have taken the madness a step further. It’s amazing that while the victim is all alone in her misery, her rapist has friends and a life. He is being humanized. He gets to confess to his crime and is still able to retain friendship with the one he told it to. And we’re made to believe that the guy is sorry, so sorry he even says “I’m sorry” to his victim. Aww! Let’s just forgive him now, shall we? He was also crying and everything as he said it and he does think about it all the time, takes care of the victim’s mother too, who lives alone, as perhaps…kaffarra? So, he isn’t really a bad guy, right? It was just one teeny mistake made in a weak moment because maybe he felt something for her…? And we must ignore it for the good of his future.

I’m also fascinated with the play’s choice for the rapist’s friend – a God-fearing pious molvi. Don’t get me wrong, I love the choice and I love the fact that the religious man is the I-embrace-all type. However, the dude’s crime wasn’t robbing a bank. It was rape. I wonder if his crime was blasphemy, would the writers have given their fictional molvi same tolerance level to deal with it in the wake of how our society feels about the issue.

And that’s my beef right there – the way our society sees sexual abuse, which is reflected in our plays.

We deliver swift, brutal mob justice for thievery, blasphemy, murder – regardless of evidence – but never rape. Not that I’m a proponent of mob justice nor do I think a rapist should be beaten to death or torched or thrown into a brick kiln or similar. I’m just saying that people have met such brutal fates for lesser crimes without anyone batting an eye – or batting both eyes for a few days before resuming normal life. Rape, on the contrary, is not even on the menu of crimes to be considered worthy of punishment or even discussion.

The victim, however, is sentenced to a lifetime of horrific memories and behaviors.

There is only one play that comes to mind that took the initiative to bring in what the law had to say about such a scenario. The writers of Baandi had the courage to show how it is for a rape victim and how it should be for the perpetrator. One may argue that a 7-year sentence is not enough for such a heinous, life-destroying crime but still – the play showed what it will be like if one went to court and if justice was delivered. Baandi, at least, attempted to go past the usual victim shaming and God’s fury by letting their fictional character take matters to court and see how that goes.

Abuse, of any sort, happens and yes, we all know it’s bad for the victim. Now, can we please go ahead and show ways to tackle it? Writers have a responsibility to educate and put forth fresh ideas into people’s heads. Then, why aren’t we doing that with the safest setting it would be possible in: a fictional setting where one can do whatever the hell one wants. Why then do our playwrights insist on being trite, predictable and stating the obvious when they can actually be revolutionary, rebellious divas? Or are we really that immune to abuse that we don’t react anymore or see the need to change?

I think it’s about time our writers stopped regurgitating the Meri Zaat Zarra Be-nishaan formula. It was great because it was original. We’ve already watched like 4,000 plays on the same theme and read 10,000 books on it since then. It’s boring now and it reflects badly on the intelligence and creativity of the desi drama industry. Has it run out of imaginative minds?

Enough of crying damsels already. And on with the warrior princesses, please!