- On October 21, 2019, in an eerie déjà vu of McGowan’s October 2017 tweets, a series of tweets appeared on Pakistan’s twitter timelines.
- The award-winning Pakistani filmmaker, Jamshed Mehmood, popularly known as Jami, posted tweets about the horrific rape he was the victim of more than a decade ago.
It had to happen. For something untoward to happen in perpetuity, and that too without any fear of accountability, is an expectation with an expiration date. The very act of hiding of an act that is fundamentally wrong is like a forgotten landmine set in a field covered in hard earth and moss. The mere fact of its invisibility is not a proof its non-existence. Silence does not erase an act that causes pain. It merely puts on hold the inevitability of that silence snowballing into a scream that pierces the most apathetic resistance.
One person’s story of pain, told on a virtual public platform, becomes the cue for a few more persons to seek the forgotten courage within them to speak up. More voices join the discourse. It doesn’t stop. It won’t stop. It can’t stop. That is the thing about pain. Intensified, it refuses to remain invisible. Very soon, the thousands become millions, and their stories become a singular story: it happened to me too.
It is not a mere hashtag, this two-word global declaration, #MeToo. It is not a social media trend. It is not a viral story with a few-day shelf life. Me Too is the story of countless females, of all ages, teenagers, and even men, who went through hell, and for one reason or the other, chose to remain silent. Some of them were forced to remain silent. Some of them spoke up without being believed. Some of them were believed but shamed. Some of them were sympathised with but were asked to remain silent for their ‘honour’, or that of who they were connected with–through blood, marriage, relationship, friendship, work. Some didn’t even know what to say. Some pretended as if nothing had happened.
Me Too acted as collective therapy. The silence was broken. You are not alone. What happened to you happened to me too. Your silence is not your shame, it never was. Your silence was your shield against the enormity of the forceful elimination of your right to say no. The universality of Me Too united millions of those who had suffered alone. Me Too became the friend who didn’t judge, the silent hand-holding that erased a bit of the pain, the hug that comforted.
Amidst countless true stories of harassment, abuse, rape and violence, there were some false accusations, a few attention-seeking episodes of convoluting of truth, and fabrications for revenge. The false stories of a few in every country, despite having a short-lived damaging effect, do not affect the validity of the Me Too punch that landed with a global crunch into the smug, sniggering, haughty faces of those who revelled in their invincibility.
In May 2019, the Lahore High Court dismissed the petition of wrongful termination and expulsion of Asif Saleem, an assistant professor and a Ph.D student at the University of Lahore. “On the complaint of a female student, an inquiry was initiated, and after Saleem was found guilty he was dismissed from service under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012. He was also expelled from the university’s PhD programme. He filed an appeal before the ombudsperson against his removal but it was dismissed. The Punjab governor also rejected his appeal.”
No one seems to care what happens to Saleem. In a world full of men who do unimaginably bad things to women there are those who even when innocent pay a price for being a man. Is Saleem one of those men? No one knows. No one cares.
On October 20, 2019, Pakistan was shocked at the news of the suicide of a professor of the MAO College, Lahore. Afzal Mehmood was falsely accused of sexual harassment of a student. Mehmood killed himself. He left a note: “I leave this matter in the court of Allah. The police are requested not to investigate and bother anyone.”
Reportedly, “Professor Afzal Mehmood, took his life after his wife separated from him, and the college administration refused to issue a clearance certificate to him even after harassment allegations were proven false.”
Powerful names involved
When Rose McGowan posted a series of tweets on October 13, 2017, accusing one of the biggest Hollywood moguls, Harvey Weinstein, of raping her in 1997, and making her sign an NDA, no one could have predicted the significance of her disclosure. McGowan addressing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tweeted: “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.”
Rose McGowan changed the face of the Me Too movement started in 2006 by the New York based civil rights activist, Tarana Burke. McGowan’s tweets opened a floodgate. The discourse on abuse of women shifted with an urgent imperativeness that left little room for doubt and blame-shifting. Much changed.
Kevin Spacey, one of Hollywood’s biggest names, multiple Academy Award nominated actor, was accused of sexual harassment, sexual advances on minors, and sexual assault. Spacey denied any sexual inappropriateness, but apologised “for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behaviour.” Spacey’s illustrious career folded faster than he could say he “choose[s] now to live as a gay man.”
Two very powerful men, and their many stories of inappropriate behaviour, crossing of line, sexual assault, even rape, use of their status to elicit silence in their victims, covering up by those who knew but decided not to speak up, and getting away with criminal behaviour for years in a world that holds sexual abuse as something inconsequential and silence as a virtue. Many more very famous men were accused.
Sexual abuse happens to many, it happens everywhere. In Pakistan, it is what is not to be talked about. Ever.
It starts at home. Children are taught not to speak about certain things. Children are made to believe that certain things didn’t happen. Children are trained to be brave but silent. The honour of the family is connected to many things but most simplistically to the body of the female. A daughter is loved and pampered. A daughter is also made the sign of the family’s honour. In words, subliminally, through conditioning, in acts of coercion, in wordless expectancy, a female learns the ‘virtue’ of silence. Home is the place where a victim first learns the meaning of ‘shame’. When sexually abused, she recoils into a comforting cocoon of ‘it was my fault’, ‘I brought it on me’, ‘my parents would be shamed if I talk about my pain’, ‘what will people say’, ‘my body must be protected for my family’s honour’.
Imagine what a male child feels when sexually abused. Brought up on big words of boys-don’t-cry and courage and resilience, male children, when sexually abused, sometimes grow up into disturbed young men who have issues of trust. Afraid, vulnerable, confused, a young boy after being sexually abused is unaware of even the option of reaching out to a trusted adult. The virtue of silence becomes part of his broken self that he hides so seamlessly most of his life his pain reduces into a nightmare that only he is aware of, haunting him like the image of a bent-neck lady all his life.
And when they speak no one listens.
On October 21, 2019, in an eerie déjà vu of McGowan’s October 2017 tweets, a series of tweets appeared on Pakistan’s twitter timelines. The award-winning Pakistani filmmaker, Jamshed Mehmood, popularly known as Jami, posted tweets about the horrific rape he was the victim of more than a decade ago. Shocked, Pakistan’s twitter and media erupted into a commentary that was expected. While many tweeted in support of Jami, many sniggered. How could a strong, tall, then 34-year-old man be raped? Was he drugged? Was he drunk? Did it happen at gunpoint? Why was he silent for so long? Who is the ‘media giant’ who raped him?
Read 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
- Sahiwal: Pakistan owes its children justice, may their tears never be watched on video
- The horror of child servants in Pakistan: Uzma was battered to death for taking one bite of food
In a country that is an unabashed endorser of silence in a case of abuse or rape, where male children are taught to hide abuse and molestation, where females are shamed with all kinds of attacks on their character if they file a rape case, and where homophobia is as rampant as sexual abuse, it takes superhuman courage for a man to open up about a life-altering sexual trauma. In Jami’s case, beyond sympathetic tweets and messages, not much will happen. Even in Pakistan, those who are powerful and influential and wealthy get away with everything. Including rape.
In Pakistan, like the rest of the world, not many listen. And not many care. An allegation of sexual abuse drives a man to death. And a sexual assault keeps a man tormented for the rest of his life.
Speaking up does not guarantee justice.
Even death does not guarantee justice.