Saturday, June 1, 2019

How many Zainabs and Farishtas must we sacrifice?

Saad Masood

Imagine a 10-year-old girl walking in the relative calm of her surroundings. Imagine she is abducted by known or unknown assailants and taken to a dark and cold place. Imagine she is all alone, scared, helpless and powerless against those ruffians. Imagine her little mind can’t fathom what is about to happen to her. Imagine she innocently calls out to those thugs, pleads with them to let her go. Imagine what must have gone through her mind when those devils have their way with her. Imagine, even during that traumatic experience, she calls out for her parents up until the last breath of life is squeezed out of her.
Now imagine: she is your daughter. At this juncture, if you are not teary-eyed, if you have no anger within, if you haven’t gotten up and verified the safety of your own daughter, then check your pulse, you may be dead.
In January 2018, the rape and murder of Zainab-a seven-year-old girl from the Punjab city of Kasur-sparked anger and numerous protests across Pakistan. For an Islamic republic, the irony of that episode was threefold. One, that tragic incident happened when Zainab’s parents were on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Two, relatives became aware of Zainab’s disappearance only when she failed to show up for her Quran lesson. Three, the perpetrator was a man who used to participate in religious gatherings.
Four days after Zainab went missing, her body was found on a trash heap in the city. One of the main reasons her killer got arrested, even after the severely criticised inaction of the police, was because Zainab’s father sought to publicise his daughter’s death, spreading awareness with a photo of her that went viral on social media. Two weeks later, DNA evidence led police to the rapist who, subsequently, admitted to raping eight boys and girls, and to killing six of them. He was prescribed four death sentences, and then summarily executed.

In May 2019, Pakistan again awoke to the news of a 10-year-old who was abducted and murdered, this time in the federal capital, Islamabad.Farishta vanished on the 15th, her case wasn’t registered until the19thand her body was found on the 20th. Police reports suggested that her body was mutilated because of being ravaged by stray animals after her death. That happened after another set of animals, human in that case, had kidnapped and killed her.Another irony on top of the previously described case? This was allowed to happen in the holy month of Ramzan. So much for being an Islamic republic.
The urgent need of the hour is to ensure that a policy of equality permeates through government and society with relevant strategies to execute that vision
Between the two events, and even after and before, there have been a lot of protests and demands for action. This is mostly thanks to social media that has empowered the common man, and has the potential to hold elected members accountable. But unfortunately, we are still burying our children in a tragic fashion.The sad question is: how many Zainabs and Farishtas must we sacrifice before our children will have the right to grow up in a secure environment? If past events are any predictor, our ordeal is not over. However, there is a policy response that can and must help. Consider.
It has already been established that policy is a galvanising vision of the future that is achieved when a specific course of action is chosen out of a multitude of options. Since Imran Khan has come to power, previous op-eds in this series have recommended that the overarching vision of the PTI government must be that of creating equality amongst its citizens and within the system itself. In one word: equality. No other policy discourse is relevant to the heartbreakingtragedies at hand than this one.
Turn back the pages of history and there are examples after examples of equality being the basic tenet of successful governance. When Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) entered Medina, he successfully used a policy of equality to create a tolerant and multi-cultural society for all faiths-Muslims, Christians and Jews. When the French republic was established, it chose as its motto the stated policy of liberté, égalité, fraternité, French for liberty, equality, fraternity. When the American founding fathers wrote the constitution they said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”Now come back to the modern day Pakistan, does our society or governments espouse to any of these ideals? The unfortunate answer is a big no.Until that happens, we will keep losing precious flowers such as Zainab and Farishta. The three examples quoted above conclusively prove that total human equality is a policy that is supported by Islamic and universal values.
All genders and ages, especially children, are equal citizens. Today children, andmostly those from poor backgrounds, are exploited because law enforcement agencies have created an inequal society where protection is only meant for the privileged, the powerful and the rich. Criminal and evil elements know that and exploit it to the hilt. Additionally, from a strategic and tactical perspective, children are also not guided, forewarned and taught their rights by most parents or nation at large. Hence, the urgent need of the hour is to ensure that a policy of equality permeates through government and society with relevant strategies to execute that vision.
If that doesn’t happen then the government of Pakistan better watch out, there is a new sheriff in town: a globalised and empowered social media. There can come a tipping point where matters get out of hand of the government of Pakistan and into the hands of mob justice. Then, all bets will be off. Whether it is Imran Khan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, General Pervez Musharraf or any future Pakistani leader, they cannot escape accountability, especially for creating an equal society where the Zainabs and the Farishtas of tomorrow are protected and nurtured. Because as Bryant McGill says, “Nothing is more beautiful than freedom, and nothing more grotesque than its molestation.”

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