When Rape is not Rape #Vaw #Womenrights


 Adrienne Rich`s #Rape- but the hysteria in your voice pleases him best #poem #Vaw

Majlis Team, Mumbai

Sometime around August, 2012* newspapers reported that a 14 year old girl was raped. The girl was 8 months pregnant and had been admitted to hospital. The rapist, a Muslim youth, was arrested. We decided to follow up the case and so approached the concerned hospital but were informed that the girl had been discharged. We then contacted the local police station who directed us to the girl’s  home.

Our first image of Monica was that of a very pregnant, chirpy and vivacious teenager. She was at home chatting with some friends around her own age. Her mother was away at work. Monica lives on the attic of a hutment in the fisherman’s colony, situated in one of the posh areas of South Mumbai. When we enquired about the incident she told us that Iqbal was her boyfriend and that they were to be married. According to her, there was some misunderstanding and Iqbal would be released soon. She seemed quite relaxed and oblivious of the gravity of the situation. Her only request was for us to help her meet Iqbal in the Arthur Road jail where he was lodged.

We introduced our work on socio legal support and as she grew comfortable she revealed her story. Monica’s father had abandoned them and was living with another woman in a slum nearby. Her mother worked a 12 hour shift as a private helper-nurse. Her father continued to visit their place in a drunken state. He would beat up her mother and demand money and sex from her. In her growing up years, Monica had been traumatized by these recurring incidents of violence.

Initially Monica attended a local municipal school but after school hours she had to fend for herself till her mother returned from work. Monica couldn’t cope and so she dropped out of school. She would then spend the entire day with her friends who were also school drop outs.

Soon Monica got into a relationship with Iqbal aged 20. He lived in a nearby slum and worked as a driver earning Rs.15,000 per month. Iqbal would visit Monica at home when her mother was away at work. It was only when Monica visited a public hospital with stomach pains that she realized she was five months pregnant. She had crossed the permissible period for abortion and hence had no choice but to continue with the pregnancy.

Monica’s mother was very upset. She approached Iqbal’s family and proposed marriage. However Iqbal’s family rejected the proposal of marriage of their son to a lowly Christian girl. But Monica was confident of her relationship and convinced her mother that in due course of time Iqbal would surely marry her. Her mother had no choice but to bide time.

As her pregnancy advanced, Monica continued to suffer from acute abdominal pain. It was thus in her eighth month Monica again approached another public hospital. At the registration counter, Monica was asked routine questions about her age and marital status. On realizing that she was 14 and unmarried, the hospital, without her knowledge, contacted the local police and all hell broke loose!

When the police arrived Monica’s mother tried desperately to convince them that they were in a relationship and were to be married soon. But the doctors insisted that it was a case of statutory rape (as Monica was below the age of consent). The police and doctors compelled her to file a criminal complaint.

Iqbal was arrested. The news was splashed in local newspapers and cable networks. Iqbal was immediately sacked from his job. He was the sole earning member of his family, so the family was furious with Monica and her mother and blamed them for his misfortune.

Monica pleaded with us to help her meet Iqbal in jail.  We tried counseling her and placed various options before her. Give the baby up for abortion, pursue her studies.  We suggested her moving to a shelter so that she could distance herself from the situation and reflect and explore her options. Her mother liked the idea, but Monica was not interested. Marriage was the only reality for her. Every time there was a pause in the conversation, she kept asking whether we will help her to meet Iqbal in jail. She had even come with cooked food to take for him.   However the jail authorities informed us that only blood relatives were allowed to meet under trials. The fact that she was carrying his blood in her stomach, did not matter at this juncture!

Then started the legal rigmarole. Iqbal’s family hired an expensive lawyer. Under his advice Monica personally appeared before the judge to plead for the release of Iqbal. They promised to arrange her marriage as soon as he was released. But this strategy did not work and even bail was not granted, so Iqbal remained in judicial custody. Monica attended court on each date to have a brief interaction with Iqbal despite her advanced pregnancy and health issues, but every time the bail application was rejected, his family grew more antagonistic towards Monica.

After several bail applications were rejected, the lawyer advised Monica  to stop contacting us as they feared that being a women’s  rights organisation our only interest would be to secure a conviction. But Monica’s mother kept in touch. Somehow she felt that we could mediate between the police, the court and Iqbal’s family to secure the future of her daughter.

As the charge sheet was getting filed, Monica delivered a baby girl. The trial started four months later.  Monica came to court carrying her tiny daughter in her arms, both fully covered in a Hijab! Perhaps, she thought, this would give her a semblance of respectability within the court environment or that by accepting the cultural norms of Iqbal’s family she would gain acceptability.

The trial concluded within two hearings. There was nothing much to decide. Monica turned hostile and deposed on oath that she does not know Iqbal, that it was a case of mistaken identity by the police. Everyone cooperated – the Investigating Officer, the woman public prosecutor, the court staff, and even the judge herself! Iqbal was acquitted. We have not been able to contact Monica or her mother thereafter. We do not know whether Iqbal actually married her.

This is a case where a young girl with multiple levels of marginalization tries to find a meaningful resolution on her own terms. She is then caught in a web of state laws and its moral codes. Young girls in consensual relationships, who accidentally get caught in this legal web will have no other option but to turn hostile in court.

More recently, the situation of girls like Monica has been rendered even more precarious. The recently enacted Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 prohibits all sexual activity for children below 18, as consent of children is not recognised. It also introduced the provision of mandatory reporting, hence non reporting of sexual activity of children below the age of 18 has been now rendered an offence.

The Act aims to deal with child marriage, rape and trafficking of children and is based on the  underlying premise that a young girl is incapable of giving valid consent. However these same girl are routinely exposed to discrimination, vulnerabilities and a range of exploitations.  Women’s groups appealed to protect the interest of these children and campaigned, not to criminalise normal sexual exploration during growing up years. But in the fight with a conservative and regressive moral brigade, we lost.

When will state and civil society begin to take responsibility and address marginalities of poor young girls rather than sitting on a moral high ground, and criminalizing its consequences? What is the future that awaits these young girls?

*The names of both the survivor and the accused as well as the month in which the newspaper report appeared, have been changed to protect the identity.

 

LGBT discourse & cultural imperialism in Pakistan


Thursday, 14 February 2013 22:15by Hashim bin Rashid, http://www.viewpointonline.net/

Hope for them lies in the constitutional change and culturally located critiques such as Bol. Only through these, and not US cultural imperialism, shall they be able to be reintegrated into a social fabric they were so brutally de-rooted from by the last imperial cultural project

This more than any other article I have written before requires that the audience for it is defined before one sat down to write it. It also requires that I define myself and the particular sense in which I am situated within these debates.

The article has four audiences. First: those western intellectuals, activists and governments that wish to ‘help’ the LGBT community of Pakistan. Second: members (English-speaking only) of the LGBT community of Pakistan. Third: non-members of the LGBT community who support their cause. Four: those who find the idea of being LGBT repulsive to their faith and their notions of what it is to be human.

All ideas articulated in this article are for all four – unless otherwise stated. The need to speak arising out of the genuine fear members of the LGBT community that I know have experienced after the US Embassy in Islamabad’s intervention [On June 26, 2012 the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration], purportedly to ‘protect them.’ Never have I seen such fear come after a promise to protect from a superpower. Nor has such a non-story ever been played up as much.

Within Muslim cultural history:

The first point shall be to run through my own story. Situate myself and to allow the reader to re-situate their understanding of a part of Muslim culture that may have been hidden from them, withheld or they may have otherwise ignored.

I think we may best be served by choosing a reference urban bourgeoisie culture in Pakistan will identify with. Let’s work with a couplet from Iqbal’s Shikwa:

Aik hi saf mein kharay ho gaye Mehmood o Ayaz
Na koi banda rha na koi banda nawaz
[Mehmood and Ayaz stood in a single file
Neither remained servant nor master]

Iqbal chose to present them by isolating the historical metaphors attached to them. Iqbal chose the metaphor of master-slave becoming equals. What Iqbal conveniently ignored was that Mahmud and Ayaz, in the Sufi tradition, became the quintessential Muslim male lovers. The theme under which they were historically represented was love, not equality. The same sets of stories are translated across a number of narratives considered distinctively Muslim.

Male love, as a means to intellectual and spiritual growth, has been integral to Sufi traditions in Persia, Arabia and the subcontinent. The fundamental rupture that produced both Rumi (with Tabrez) and Bullah (with Shah Inayat) comes from a male possessing supreme spiritual depth. There are other Sufis that find that inspiration within an innocent youth.

The influx of Muslims into the subcontinent itself gave credence to such. Ayaz, the fabled lover of Mahmud, has served as governor of Lahore. Babur, the first Mughal king, himself expresses his love for another male, Baburi, in the Baburnama.

Thus – even late manifestations of sub-continental Muslim culture were able to integrate a more fluid understanding of masculinity.

A tryst with British cultural imperialism:

And it is this that brings us to the second point I wish to make: the significant influence of earlier British imperialism (colonization, you may call it) in re-shaping the legal and cultural contours of being LGBT in the subcontinent. The effects of these shifts are integral to how the late hegemonic Muslimness has imagined masculinity and femininity.

First, at the level of discourse, a run through of the British Gazetteers (and I do encourage you to read any) on the subcontinent reveals their discomfort with sub-continental sexuality. A prime concern remained, what the British would read, as gender fluidity. And it could not be digested under heavily Christian Victorian values.

Thus, this translated into how the British employed power – and importantly how one could legitimately consider the clear, categorical distinctions between male and female that sub-continental urban spaces are intimate with, as being a product of the colonial period.

Second, at the level of law, it was the British that introduced laws criminalizing being ‘LGBT’ (if the category could be read into history).

Being transgender was made a crime under the Indian Penal Code 1860. All hijras were added to the Criminal Tribes act and the legal requirement to try someone for being transgender was merely cross-dressing.

The consequences of this legal shift have, sociologically, not been fully traced out. But, in a recent research project I supervised, traces of the discourses of criminality affiliated with the transgender community (which also found themselves into the Supreme Court of Pakistan judgment granting them ‘third sex’ status) took formal roots within State practice.

The transgender became the criminal. And so comes to be that Pakistan’s hijra community continues to suffer (uniquely) from police harassment.

Speaking from within culture:

Third, at the level of Muslim discourse, it is in the colonial period that Muslims, accused of being morally and sexually lax, began to reinvent themselves and constitute a new set of fundamental values. One of the new values set up was the strict separation of male and female genders – a binary that did not know itself in history quite similarly.

Thus we move to the third point: to turn to existing cultures within Pakistan that are open to the idea of being LGBT – and doing so while being ‘culturally located.’

Here, I must make a candid admission. History is the subject I am more comfortable with. Existing culture is a matrix that requires much careful study.

The sense is however that Seraiki masculinity and masculinity with segments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa operates on a different node. Within urban spaces, the fashion circle is also understood to operate with different understanding too.

Again, these are not clear-cut derivations. But again it is important to realize these exist.

What is also important is to realize that not all turns to queerness are healthy or voluntary. It is a question that a number of people have narrated from their experiences in same-sex boarding schools during the age of their puberty.

A student, otherwise of the devout variety, suggested that it would be impossible for one to not have a queer encounter at a particular private boarding school and then he narrated his own story of frustration and desire.

In so many ways, the imposed silence on questions about sexuality remains a key note for people of all persuasions reading this article. Anyhow the boarding schools example may give those who condemn being LGBT more ammunition than I would like them to have.

So, we must remind them of madrassahs and the repression around child molestation that prevails within them. Again, as a journalist, I have encountered an instance of a madrassah student backtracking on an expose because of fears that he shall be murdered by groups sent after him.

Again, this is not to stereotype, but to demarcate areas where silence and jokes cover up for the lack of serious discourse.

A turn to social sciences and Bol:

And at this note about discourse, I turn to the fourth point of the article: to turn to discourses from within the social science to articulate a distinction between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ – which if a step be taken back is very much common sense.

It is clear that our understanding of gender comes from social mores. I was cultured into being a male – according to the culture that surrounds me. I accepted. Female culturalization operates similarly. There are specific disciplinary regimes that go into constructing one’s gender.

The question to ask is: if gender was natural, why would anyone need to tell what being a male or being a female is?

It is a powerful moment within Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol when the sister slaps her transgender ‘brother’, dressing up in female clothing in front of the mirror, and says, “Is this how men behave?,” in ignorance of the real biological sexuality of him.

The question the movie is able to articulate is: how are we to deal with alternate biological sexualities?

The question engaging in LGBT discourse makes you ask is however a bit different. It is: how are we to deal with alternate social sexualities?

I have my answer. But there is no point to imposing it here.

No to Western cultural imperialism:

But it is important to make this articles fifth point: that the US declaration of support was not needed and should not be welcomed by LGBT activists.

That is the only normative claim in the article that I stress upon.

While homophobia seeps deep into the social contours of postcolonial Muslimness, the space for acceptance has been more than it has been in the traditional west.

The need for violent LGBT struggles in the subcontinent has not been needed in the same way these were needed in the West. The liberal discourse in the West, the change in the stance of the Christian Papacy is the product of the particular socio-material conditions of the West – where persecution has known itself to be worse and more systematic than anywhere, or any period, within Muslim societies.

Postcolonial Muslim perspectives, even if keeping queer identity a pedestal down on the social ladder, had not declared them worthy of persecution (doctrinally).

The current declaration of exile of ‘all such individuals’ by Jama’at i Islami is in fact unique.

And it is so due to the attempt by the new imperial power (US) to create a cultural hegemony over what it is to be queer.

It would have been best for the US to stay out of matters in Pakistan. And it would be best if it learns before a systematic persecution of LGBT actually begins.

As a concluding note, however, it must be said, that all that has been said above, promises nothing for the most systematically discriminated against queer community in Pakistan: the hijra (transgenders).

Hope for them lies in the constitutional change and culturally located critiques such as Bol. Only through these, and not US cultural imperialism, shall they be able to be reintegrated into a social fabric they were so brutally de-rooted from by the last imperial cultural project.

Let us hope that US cultural imperialism does not do more damage to the queer cause in this already fractured socio-polity we label Pakistan.

 

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