- Suddenly, he changed.
- It happened in seconds.
- He changed to a different mode.
- He was not the same man.
Speaking up does not get you justice.
The silence about sexual harassment, abuse and rape must end for ours to be a more humane, a more empathetic, a kinder world.
On October 20, 2019, award-winning Pakistani filmmaker Jamshed Mehmood, 47, known to the world as Jami, posted a series of tweets about his traumatic rape. Pakistan twitter erupted into an expected flurry of hurried condemnations, loud how-a-grown-man-can-be-raped asides, carefully crafted sympathy, and genuine empathy. Not much happened beyond that.
Having dm’ed Jami on Twitter, I asked him if I could write his story. What made me text him was a feeling of sadness watching his 280-lettered sufferings on Twitter, waiting for the ‘silence’ to break. It didn’t.
Jami drove to Lahore from Karachi in a two-day plus journey, making occasional stops. The lone traveller wrestling with his past trauma, his recent agony, he seemed nervous, restless, preoccupied when we met.
On October 30, we talked over tall cups of cappuccino at Gloria Jeans in Phase 5, DHA, Lahore. We talked for three hours. Hoping to meet him again to finish our talk, I drove back home trying to wrap my mind around the enormity of a complete stranger entrusting me with his secret. We didn’t meet again. It was Jami’s story, and the singular way to have absolute honesty in its presentation was to write it in his words. So here is Jami’s story, painfully edited, but what you read is what he told me that one October evening...
The alleged perpetrator is referred to as simply ‘he’.
“He was doing many projects [names edited]. A photographer [name edited] introduced us. I was a photographer for all the popular magazines. My work, my videos were being noticed. My black and white work was considered very artistic. He called me for various things. It was intense work, not just taking photographs. The work I did re-envisioning the work of one of Pakistan’s most celebrated artists [name edited], that was quite tough. He loved it. We only talked about work. We met in his office once. Rest of the time, it was always at his place, always in the afternoon.
Our meetings continued for two-three months. We became very good friends as we were working on a big project [name edited]. He has deep knowledge of [edited]. He is aggressive about everything, hundred percent, all the time. He’s never silent. He’s always on the go, this is to be done, that is to be done. You can’t get a word in. He’s so aggressive. Everyone at his company [name edited] knows. You can’t even have tea if he’s around. His sexuality is not a secret. It’s not that. He’s just not a stable human being. That’s why I spoke up. That it must stop.
That day I went I to talk to him about [edited] at his place. I had food with his mother. Then I went to his room.
[The blow-by-blow description of the alleged rape has been edited.]
I said no
Suddenly, he changed. It happened in seconds. He changed to a different mode. He was not the same man. The sophistication vanished. He started to mumble. He was all over me. Jami, you’re beautiful. It went ugly from there. By that time I was completely frozen. I shut my eyes. Stupid, stupid me. Instead of hitting him. He put his elbow on my neck. He started to choke me. That’s when I was really scared. I had heard of rapists killing their victims.
He was sitting on his bed, in shorts. I was standing. He told me to sit on the bed. I had gone there to talk about work. Nothing was said about work. Where was I to sit? There was no chair near the bed. He told me to sit on the bed. My instinct stopped me. He was so assertive I couldn’t say anything. He told me to be silent.
I wasn’t stoned, drunk. Nothing. I don’t drink. I understand it now. I hate myself. No, I wasn’t a closet homosexual. I had never had a sexual thought about any man.
He grabbed me. My reflex is not to hit back. I knew what was going to happen.
It lasted for a few minutes. Maybe five minutes. I was completely silent. I knew myself. I knew main khatam ho gaya tha. I was finished. I can’t shut down. He sat down on the bed, and started to smoke a joint. He turned to me and said: “You must have enjoyed it. Don’t say you didn’t.” I couldn’t understand what he was saying. It was as if he was trying to put an idea in my head.
I kept saying ‘no’ as it happened. I kept saying ‘stop’. I still remember what I thought. I knew that was the end of me. It’s not that he thought I was into men. With people like him it’s about power. Even if you weren’t interested, he’d have his way. I’m so powerful, so sophisticated, so well-educated. You’ll do my bidding. He could see I didn’t want to sit near him, hug him. I don’t like to hug anyone. Men, women, anyone.
He asked me twice: “Did you enjoy it”? That’s the high. The one who says ‘no’ attack him. He could see that I was in a state of shock. I was praying for my phone to ring. I couldn’t move. I was scared he’d do something else. The door was at some distance. He was rolling a joint. I was thinking of ways to get out of there. I was stupid. The ‘victim’ type. It was written on my face. Now I think about things I should have done. I pretended to get a phone call from my wife. I told him my son had hurt his head and I had to go immediately. His eyes scrunched, he was scowling, he looked angry.
He is arrogant
Ask anyone who knows him. His dynamics. He is like Weinstein. Powerful. Obnoxious. Arrogant. Intellectual. Very smart. Mixing intellectual stuff with unwanted sexual advances. There are stories of him doing similar stuff to other men. Awful stories.
I just hated myself. If I had been willing even slightly I would have let it continue...I had ‘given up my honour’, so let’s continue to play. I think he was in love with me. He kept saying how beautiful I was.
I left. I ran for my car. Driving for a while, I stopped the car on the side. I cried. I went home. I went straight to my wife.
My wife looked at me. She asked me about the meeting. I was silent. She knows me very well. Love marriage. She asked me again. I started to scream. My son was very little then. I was the baby in the house. I cried. I said, ‘Garbarrr ho gayi. He raped me’. She broke down.
My wife still doesn’t know the details of what happened to me.
My wife told me to take a shower. She knew that I wasn’t lying. She burnt my clothes right away. She is a therapist. She started the process of erasing stuff in my head. I went to sleep. I’ve been that way all my life. Abuse me but I won’t react. My wife told my mother. My mother knew him. She wanted to drive to his place there and then. My mother is an international social worker.
After three weeks, my father died. That destroyed me. I was in Malaysia. I left everything, and returned. I was very close to my father.
After the rape, I became very aggressive. Even now I get very angry. People tell me to cool down. And my father’s death destroyed me completely.
For a year or two, it affected me deeply. Then it seemed as if I had forgotten. My personality changed. I became the screaming kind.
Time passed. My right hand started to twitch. I had to hold it to make it stop. My wife was worried. I’d hold her hand the whole day. She took me to Aga Khan Hospital for therapy. It worsened after my father’s death. I told the therapist about what had happened to me. She put me on meds–Zoloft and Xanax for six months. That messed with my head. Zoloft finished my memory; I’d forget what I was saying, what I had heard. I was sleeping a lot. I couldn’t talk. My life was finished. I had been married for just two years. My work was affected. I’d get into fights. I’d start to scream.
He [the alleged rapist] and I got very close professionally. [There was] wavelength. I looked up to him. Everyone did. Everyone still does. That’s why no one is saying his name. He made me vocal. It was his aggressiveness. I used my voice. But I’m not working on anything these days. My brain doesn’t seem to function. It takes so much energy to focus on a film. I can’t focus. It takes me years to finish a film. People make a film in four months. Moor took five years. O21 took three years. Jugnu, a Sindhi film, has already taken two and a half years.
After a few days, I told a female friend, a filmmaker.
I hope my father didn’t know. It was thirteen years ago, my family isn’t sure if he knew.
I couldn’t speak then. Today, because of Me Too things have changed a bit. Other than on social media, where am I to speak? Email people?
Me Too mustn’t be derailed at any cost. After Professor Afzal’s suicide, the narrative shifted. The Ali-Meesha case. Because of one case of an innocent man, the entire Me Too was being derailed. My stance is clear: I believe the victim. I’m not anti-Ali. People think I’m pro-Meesha. I’m pro-truth.
Young female journalists are supporting me. Some of them knew the story. I had told them a year ago. They said to me, ‘This is huge’. I said, ‘What can I do? There would be a defamation case’.
I was not expecting silence from my best friends who are journalists. I thought only the ones who work in [word edited] would remain silent. But there’re other journalists–the so-called warriors–they’re silent too. That was really shocking. I never thought I’d be backstabbed like that.
Then came the second phase of backstabbing, my fraternity. Other than Mehreen Jabbar, and two three others, no one came forward. Not a single message. Even privately, they didn’t send me a message, leave alone supporting me on twitter. That was really shocking.
To be very honest, this has backstabbed Me Too. The entire movement. I wasn’t expecting this kind of behaviour. From journalists who pretend to be big liberals, who have a voice, have so many followers. This is really shocking. I’ve unfollowed [on Twitter] all of them. I’m not their friend any more. What’s the point?
Recently I told a journalist, she works at [name edited]. She went silent after listening to my story.
They [the alleged perpetrator’s side] have started to dig dirt. That I take money from people. That it’s a game. What people don’t understand is: no one has supported me. That is NOT right. It’s if I’ve named the prime minister.
Why now? I was very clear. When Professor Afzal case happened. That day was madness. There were so many calls. That I had read a letter at the Lahooti Mela, that I had also accused someone without evidence. There was an allegation of rape and molestation. I had just read a letter. I didn’t name anyone. After Professor Afzal’s suicide, I was attacked. The whole Me Too movement was being sabotaged. The Meesha case people came forward too. Me Too activists attacked me too. They were very upset. I had to do something. I had to say that victims and survivors don’t lie. I had never thought if I’d ever be able to speak up about my rape.
I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t ask anyone. I didn’t tell anyone. I just went ahead. I thought that was the only way. It was suicide but it was time.
I never saw him [the alleged rapist] again. I avoided a few events where he was present. He came to my father’s funeral but I told my house guards and my sister-in-law’s father to stop him from coming inside.
I’ve three children, one son, 17, two daughters, 14, 9. They know the story. Now my son is a tad better. The 14-year-old is very hurt, has been crying. She’s hurt because in her eyes I’m very strong. Something’s shifted in her life. My son...being a male perhaps. He’s gone silent. I explained everything. It took him a few days. Now he’s okay. He’s talking to me. He’s very artistic, sensitive, he just vanishes [into his own head]. I was concerned about him. What if he’s deeply hurt? They’re with my mother in the US.
I never spoke to him after that day.
My wife became closer to me; for years, she helped me to learn to get over it. I’m reading a lot about PTSD, and all the symptoms were accurate. My depression kicked in. I became bipolar and a little angry. At work, I lost my focus and spark. My entire style of work changed. It’s more chaotic now.
It’s not that I stopped trusting people then, but now I’ve stopped trusting people who left me and vanished just because the accused is too powerful. It seems that it’s opened a bigger wound than the attack itself.
I’d still be unable to meet him. It’s not in my personality. That’s the issue. I wish I were aggressive. I’d have hurt him bad.
My post-rape life, I lost my creative spark. Since then I’m all over the place, my films got delayed, and company structural issues occurred. It all became too messy.
Ream more from Mehr Tarar
- Kasur rapes and killings: Will Pakistan ever be safe for its children? When will I get an answer?
- Pakistan: I wish people stopped being spectators of violence - there would be one less dead body today
- Lynching in Pakistan: His time never came. He was killed. His name was Rehan. He was 15.
- I wish Hamza Ali Abbasi and Naimal Khawar a lifetime of togetherness of love and happiness
After I tweeted about the rape, I really thought journalists or the left would stand by me. Or the Me Too activists, or my friends. But almost ninety-nine percent of them vanished saying, ‘Oh, you never told us anything clearly’. But now they know the story, and are still avoiding the issue just because some of them work for him.
After I’ve spoken up, I feel journalists have sent a clear message. That if you speak up, and the accused is our buddy or our boss, we will dump you. So I feel this might take a while, for Me Too to stand tall. I’m not going to let my kids stay in this country. I can’t stand people who can’t be trusted.
How I’d have justice. Let the survivors speak up. And open a way or a channel where they could come forward openly, with lots of people supporting them. Only that way we could stop or reduce the pain and the attacks. That’s what I feel.”