activism, brooklyn, controversy, Dawn News, feminism, Hudood Ordinances, Jamaat-e-Islami, moral policing, Munawar Hussan, NYC, pakistan, rape, Sana Saleem, shame, slut walk, victims, women, Women Protection Act, women's rights
I feel outraged enough to write about this because it felt real to me as a Desi-American when I saw a real person essentially justify rape and say women shouldn’t create a controversy about it. I am referring to the Jamat-e-Islami party president Munawar Hasan’s, conversation on Pakistani news about the Hudood Ordinances and the opposition to the Women Protection Act from about 3 months ago. The video is below:
If you do not understand Urdu, check out Sana Saleem’s blog post from Dawn News. She provides a great English analysis. I provide her translations for the first half of the interview below (so glad she did them because some of the Urdu in this interview is advanced beyond my conversational level):
Anchor: Why did you vehemently oppose the women protection act?
Munawar Hasan: The Women protection act was not aimed at protecting women instead it is meant to promote vulgarity and obscenity in the society.
Anchor: What is the basis of your allegations?
Munawar Hasan: On the basis of which we opposed the act.
Anchor: The fundamental purpose of the women protection act was (is) to provide women with the right to file cases on the basis of circumstantial and forensic evidence, making convictions of rape easier. Where is the obscenity in that?
Munawar Hasan: This bill has been part of law for years, how has that affected the rights of women in Pakistan? What is the one issue that can be pointed out as a success of this law?
Anchor: One blaringly obvious problem with the Hudood law was the need to present four witnesses in order to convict a rapist, failure to do so resulted in the arrest of the woman on charges of confession to adultery, that was the main issue.
Munawar Hasan: What is the problem in that?
Anchor: The problem is this sir, that according to the 2003 national commission status of women report 80 per cent women were forced to languish in jails because of inability to produce witnesses of their rape.
Munawar Hasan: The objective of Islam is to discourage such acts, no one can be shameless enough to commit such an act in the presence of four people. Making it impossible to prove such acts, therefore the whole idea is to discourage bringing such acts into public light. Discouraging it to the extent that the act is never quoted. If such a crime occurs and since there are no witnesses than both men and women are suppose to keep it under wraps and not discuss it in public.
Anchor: Sir, are you suggesting that a woman should stay silent after she is raped? That she should not report the crime?
Munawar Hasan: I am saying she should keep quiet if she has no witnesses. If she has witnesses than she should present them.
Anchor: What kind of an argument is that? A woman is raped and she has to look for witnesses to prove the crime?
Munawar Hasan: Argue with the Quran and not me.
Anchor: I am not questioning the Quran, I am questioning your argument.
For Pakistan, as seen through this debate between the anchor and Mr. Hassan, there is one problem – the rape victims end up punished for it. They are considered as too loud and should not cause controversy about such “indecent” matters. Mr. Hassan pretty much says to women “Sorry, you were raped and you do not have the resources to physically prove it. This male-dominated society does not want to hear it. If you did not have four witnesses standing over your rape, you must be falsely accusing the so-called perpetrator and now you must go to jail. There is no way that those 80% of women languishing in jail for being raped are telling the truth. So, shut up, get over it, and do not expect the law to do anything for you. OK. Thanks, bye.”
These are the same type of people who create ridiculous controversies around women’s dress and behavior, but only that warrants controversy? Not rape or justice? Where is the self-righteous, moral policing now?
I am certainly sickened by not just the man’s words, but the man himself to have no compassion or sense of justice. It is, and sorry to use a public health model term, complete moral disengagement to minimize rape in any way and to make it intentionally difficult for women to seek any recourse.
If people like Mr. Hassan can sit there and justify rape, how does one expect any corrections for the any form of harassment? How can women succeed and participate equally alongside men in society?
In the couple of times I have been to Pakistan, I always felt dirty, embarrassed just by the “I am undressing you with my eyes” stares. I could put a long dupatta (a long or short scarf worn with shalwar kameez) over my chest or even over my head but that feeling never went away. In Egypt, I hated that I always had to keep my head down just because keeping my chin up was uncomfortable for me. Just to try to place myself into a mentality of complete subordination, while trying to be as invisible as possible was imprisoning. To think too many women only know this model of living is the reason women with privilege (and notice, that does not necessarily entail money) have such an important responsibility to speak up.
Perhaps, I have taken for granted how lucky I am to be able to yell in a street, sue for harassment, and take all kinds of legal actions if I am even a little bit harassed. Granted the system I live in is not in any way perfect and needs A LOT of work, but there is at the very least legal backing compared to a social system that says I should just keep my mouth shut and not have any community support in shaming the man who harasses. Many men will think before ever lifting a finger on another woman in the U.S. (unfortunately there are enough perverts to continue to believe harassment is okay).
Still, what is sad is that men are not the only ones who uphold these ideas. There are plenty of women who help them, for example, by, for starters, shaming other women into not dressing “a certain way”. They indirectly gain a sense of power from upholding these extremely unfair ideas by acting as bystanders and only defending their idea of “righteous” women, rather than standing up for all women. By not wanting to look bad in front of others, they will ignore the real causes of harassment and rape, while upholding the current “moral” order without ever questioning it.
I have heard some women tell me that I should not be so concerned with “such controversial topics”, that it is never going to change, and that it is just indecent to ever have any discussion about it. Other women have claimed that harassment and rape would be remedied if “women started dressing more modestly” in Pakistan (i.e. full hijaab and niqab in Pakistan). Wow, someone is not only on their annoying high horse, but also speaks from some extreme convenience.
The point of my comments about women being just as guilty as men for harassment and rape is this: we do not help each other by sitting on high horses and telling other women that there is no hope. Quite frankly, I am ashamed of such women, but the sad fact is that there are too many of them (forgive my momentary pessimism).
In a Muslim Women class that I took in undergrad, I had never thought about all of this. My professor gave her own account from Iran. When her ponytail was hanging out of her headscarf, one of the male “moral police” kept telling her to tuck it in. My professor walked a different path in hopes not to deal with him, but this time the male “moral police” sent one of his female friends to do the job. My professor said that she felt even more intimidated by the woman than she did by the man. She also knew that this woman most likely loved the power she gained by upholding this moral policing. I guess it was easier to join the oppressor rather than challenge him.
Anyway, I would like to keep this post short. In light of Slut Walk (the one I have linked to is in Delhi) and the recent incidents in Brooklyn with NYPD police, I wanted to revisit this case in Pakistan rather than leave it in the past of three months ago. I also for the umpteenth time need to repeat along with so many others: NOTHING justifies harassment, let alone rape. In order to change the mentality “from within” so that legal systems can be effective, community actions shaming the perpetrators are desperately necessary.