On serious matters of Violence against women and girl child, the Pakistani mindset is more or less the same — justifying all manner of crimes against women. And an issue as serious as Rape is treated very strangely in this society, read Muslimah lash out here, and also my meeting with international icon Mukhtara Mai here.
Covering rape has always been problematic is most societies, but in ones like Pakistan the drama starts off with she was out late, why did she wear a pink lawn dress (probably they expect us to know before hand that the rapist likes raping women in pink so we should not be wearing that color) and why did she go there?
Being a women journalist in Pakistan and reporting rape is no easy game, I tell ya. No, please I am NO victim so don’t make ONE out of me either. The difficulties that women writers face on speaking over rape matters are down right outraging and unfair, off course due to male domination and overplay of patriarchy in the mindsets of most male reporters.
There are also attempts at policing women journalists who dare speak on issues of persona non grata like once a long time ago, Mukhtara Mai was. It was the summer of 2008, when I was involved in producing stories for a radio project series focusing women’s rights and I asked my female editor if I could do a feature on Mukhtara Mai’s girl’s school initiative that happened after the GoP provided an compensation for her ordeal. She liked my concept immediately and agreed.
I contacted the office of Mukhtara Mai organization and was met with cooperative support for the documentary project and additionally I was able to get an an in person meeting with Mai herself.
So I travel from Islamabad to Southern Punjab, at Meerwala district in this quest. Meerwala is a remote village in S. Punjab and the only way I could reach it was by road, that too broken and in semi functional state. And not to mention no proper sign boards to lead outsider visitors, and poor mobile network coverage.
Anyways I arrived to Bhawalpur without any problems, but little did I know what awaited me after. I hit the road with a known driver towards Meerwala, on the way we had to stop over continuously to ask directions to Mukhtaran’s schools en route to Meerwala at a small village called Jatoi, but local people continued to midguide the driver and gave wrong directions. Some times, they even asked me directly ‘Bibi, kahan jana hai, aisa karo ghar waps chale jao. Tumhare le behtar hai.’ (Translation; Maam where do you have to go, look its better you turn back and go to your home. Its better for you.)people misguided me and gave me wrong directions.
While I was wearing a local shalwar kameez with my head and hair covered well in chadoor, so it wasn’t that I was offending the local customs, but I was going to someone they probably didn’t want me to see at all. And they noticed the car’s number plate wasn’t local so they even called the local police station, as we were stopped at a check out randomly and asked on car registration, driver licence and an illuminating speech on why women as young as me should not travel far from home and how unsafe it is to be there at that point.
As a result it took us nearly five and a half hours to reach our destination. Meerwala instead of the usual one hour or so. Anyway, with the grace of the Superior Being God I finally reached one of the schools and as we stopped there, Mukhtara Mai with her team were waiting for us on the gate. She had anticipated my tardiness was due to the welcoming party we met on the way. I later learned that there was a lot of resentment against the establishment of Mukhtara’s schools and a lone woman looking for Mukhtara was an even more unwelcome intervention!
Sometimes, I recall those moments vividly. At others I also think about other women writers who dare to speak up on the issue of girl-child rape, like the inspirational Parul Thakur who penned The Right to Abortion and realize that we women really need to keep soldiering on in solidarity on matters of control over our bodies and our choices.