The #MeToo movement has laid bare many of the problems within the patriarchal celebrity culture across the world. It has brought to light the sharp and often scathing biases that exist against victims within even enlightened circles of feminists, socialists, and progressives in general. The importance of intersectionality has been highlighted too in cases where a victim has also turned out to be a perpetrator in separate abuse cases. This, instead of helping victims, has made it far more complicated to speak out against those who perpetuate abuse, harassment, rape, and molestation against children, women, men, minorities, etc.
Pakistan started taking part in the global #MeToo movement with Meesha Shafi accusing a male musician Ali Zafar of sexual harassment and misconduct. The backlash she received was no different compared to what women face across the globe when they point a finger at a man. If one could argue on it being different, it would only be to say it was worse for her here in this country, where a witch-hunt has been ongoing against women in the name of honour, hudood, blasphemy, shame, control, etc, since almost forever.
One can then easily imagine that for children it is worse. There is still not even a consensus on the definition of a child in Pakistan, and a child on his or her own has no social standing. They are owned by their parents to do as they please with them. This makes children far more vulnerable and disenfranchised when it comes to exercising consent. In short, Pakistani children are helpless in the face of various oppressions, including child sexual abuse, physical abuse, and physical labour.
The reason for this long tirade is to discuss the recent case that joined in the #MeToo noise – Dawn’s cartoonist Feica (Rafiq). This case is gruesome because it involves abuse of children.
Globally, women face questions like “why now” from defenders of oppressors such as Harward Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Nana Patekar, Brett Kavanaugh, etc. But here, in Pakistan, people have been asking survivors of Feica’s abuse, who are coming out in adulthood why they choose this moment to point a finger at him when the media industry is already under threat.
Some feminists have also been brave enough to say that children should have come out against Feica years ago when he was healthy, and not suffering from poor health. An activist urged the victims to meet Feica’s family, who is in pain because of the accusations. Some leftist activists have given all out support to Feica for being so sensitive that he is now hospitalized because of the “false” accusations leveled against him by his child victims.
A nuanced defense is also available from those who are well versed in dealing with their comrades’ shenanigans. They can easily tell you that the leftist cause is so big, and the number of supporters so small that criticizing the left is useless and instead one should focus more on Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his types.
And in all this, the survivors are just trying to cope with all the emotional and physical pain. They may be thinking of other children who never have had the courage to speak out against criminals that try to steal their life.
Children are the most vulnerable in any society, but more so in Pakistan, where it is normal for parents to let their relatives touch children without the child’s consent. Actually, a child is discouraged from voicing his or her opinion by the parents themselves, who should actually be nurturing and supportive.
Thousands of cases of child abuse go unreported and even those that do get reported are not investigated thoroughly. The case of Zainab Ansari’s murder in Kasur received a lot of media attention, and the rapist and murderer of the child was hanged to death.
However, the problem in Kasur was not just limited to Zainab. Neither is it limited to Kasur District. It has been alleged that many politically and economically powerful men are behind a child pornography racket that works in Kasur District. Perhaps this is why the Kasur child sexual abuse scandal remains unsolved.
Sadly, protecting powerful men comes naturally to those who have the power to do and to those who have the power to speak.
Feica may be sick. His family may be in deep trouble, but none of it can be used to justify what his victims went through years ago. None of what Feica is facing right now can be used to shame victims into silence. None of the nuanced understanding of Pakistan’s political scenario and activism justifies a person blaming the victims, who were children when Feica tried to rob them of their preciousness.