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Why Should I Shut Up?

In last semester of Bachelors, a junior in my department approached me to complain about my male class fellow who was harassing her on Facebook. Knowing that her claim was valid – story to be told another time – I decided to help her with advice (unfortunately, the only thing I could do then). I told her to bring her family and file an official complaint, as this was the only thing that could put an end to her misery. Her reply was ‘’I can’t tell my family, they will be disappointed in me.’’

This is where it struck to me, yet again, how deeply we are messed up.

I recalled all those times in my (apparently) small life when I had seen victims being penalized. I remembered my childhood friend who was grounded when a neighbor stalked her. I remembered my class fellow who tolerated a teacher’s inappropriate remarks because she didn’t want to leave school just before board exams. I thought of Amna bibi, Mukhtaraan mayi, Sonia bibi and all those daughters of Hawwa who were abandoned by their own. I also remembered ‘’Nirbhaya’’ who was gang-raped in Delhi and her documentary was banned in the country as it brought shame to India’s name.

Here, I would like to add a little clarification on my end. I am not a feminist, I do not believe in superiority of my gender and I do not categorize all men as dogs or any such specie. I am a humanist and I believe every human regardless of their gender, color, ethnicity, nationality and sexual orientation should be respected and given a fair chance at life. I also find it comical when women like me have to give explanation while advocating their fellow women, otherwise, like a lot of tags we get, we are also easily judged as ‘’Feminazis’’ if we speak up for our fellow women.

The problem with my junior in this case and other females of our society is not how we get humiliated, harassed, objectified or raped. The problem is how after every incident, regardless of intensity, the victim is told to shut up or else ‘’badnaami hogi.’’ The problem is how we as a society have made this attitude of blaming a female if she comes home and says that someone was eyeing her or some pervert followed her.

The problem lies in our habit of including a woman in part of the problem she’s suffering from. The attitude of people like you, me and all of us to straightaway comment on a female’s character if she’s being harassed, is the problem.

Alas! It is the society that feels pride in holding a victim’s collar and letting go of the culprit’s. It’s like blaming someone for carrying a mobile phone on road after a snatching incident occurs, or even worse, insulting someone when they die and asking ‘’why did you live in the first place?’’

While working on this article, I contacted a few girls, I personally knew, had suffered from this sort of harassment (or more). Most of them, unsurprisingly, weren’t willing to open up about it. Some simply ignored my question, while some helplessly said that there was no use of talking about what happens around. This is almost the case of every other girl; they choose to shut up for a lot of reasons.

I wanted to shake my all of them to the core and tell them that they need to stop this act of self-pity and understand that standing down to a bully will only worsen the problem. This is my stance, and unfortunately it cannot overnight change the rigorous upbringing and deep rooted system of holding the victim accountable. The only thing that wakes us up overnight or keeps us up all night are the horrific stories of rapes we get to see every day.

I do agree that after the advent of independent media, rape cases come in limelight and a lot of women rights champions jump in to advocate. Victims are sympathized and even respectfully mourned if they are lucky enough to burn themselves alive.

What next? Or if I may ask, what was before that? I, as a 23 year old (probably sane) female, am sure enough that her rape didn’t just happen suddenly. There was definitely a beginning to this story and this is the tragic end we all hate to see on media.  The story was very similar to the one I mentioned in my initial paragraph. There was a man who followed her, harassed her and because she didn’t want to disappoint her family, she kept quiet. Yes, not all harassment cases end up as rapes, but why wait for the monster to grow? Or if may pose another question, how do you know that street harassment is less agonizing than rape? In either case, daughter of Hawwa is dishonored in the name of honor.

Who is to be blamed for this injustice? The daughters who know their families too well or the families who don’t know their daughters at all? Well, somehow we all are to be blamed as a whole society. We who consider it our mandatory right to judge a female from her clothes, who feel pride in commenting on a female’s character if she has been looked at by a man, we who tell our daughters not to go out and forget to teach our sons to respect women when they are out. Lastly, we, who shut up for the sake of our ‘’honour.’’

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Aisha Arshad is a self proclaimed culinary artist for passion and a business journalist for profession, the writer is a graduate of Bahria University Karachi.

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