Samar Wasti’s tragedy and the nation’s disdain
The news first broke on a local television channel and was immediately broadcasted on Twitter. A student of Kinnaird College had been shot dead outside the college by a man who committed suicide on the spot.
Soon enough, various news websites and blogs posted slightly varied versions of the story with one common theme. Samar Wasti, the girl, and Shams Alam, the killer, allegedly “had a relationship”. There were many disturbing comments under each version of the story. Some defended the murderer and put the blame on the victim– she must have led him on. Others termed the incident a result of failure to adhere to the Islamic principle of segregation. Still more claimed this would not have happened if the girl observed purdah (veil) – implying that even if the girl did not know the killer, she was still at fault for enticing him with her uncovered head.
These comments were a clear example of our society’s mindset; it is one which feeds off controversies over social morality and has been conditioned to always blame the female in any story.
Putting the blame on the woman has been ingrained in our subconscious at every level. Wherever one looks, there are overwhelming symbols and narratives grinding the lesson home; the biblical story of innocent Adam enticed by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; the Islamic idea of women’s beauty being a source of temptation and thus required to be hidden and; the religious-cultural narratives which have made women carriers of family’s honour.
The bottom line is: whether or not Samar knew the murderer is a moot point. Whether she was trying to get out of a relationship or just fending off inappropriate advances of a mentally unhinged man has no bearing on the fact she was wrongfully murdered.
Anyone who harbours any sympathy for the murderer, except to the extent that he probably needed psychiatric help, should introspect in search of a soft spot towards, or a romanticised notion of, abusive personalities translating into emotionally or physically abusive behaviour. It is equivalent to believing that if a woman is raped by a man with whom she was in a relationship, she is to blame for what happened to her.
This phenomenon of blaming the victim is pervasively common everywhere in the world. But whereas developed societies have taken bold, and sometimes controversial, steps in fixing this mentality, we are limping far behind. It is because of this mindset that the most common reaction survivors of sexual violence have is of guilt or shame. Their shame is reflective of the brainwashed mentality which operates on the assumption that if a woman really wants to, it is in her power to avoid sexual violence.
This “men apologists” behaviour of shifting the blame allows us to let men off the hook for what they should be responsible. The free pass of “boys will be boys, girls have to take care” directly or indirectly sanctions their transgressions even before they happen. And horribly enough, it is not only common in the society. The law enforcement apparatus – from police to judiciary – are all products of this vicious mindset which discourages sexual violence survivors from seeking justice. A quick example of this is the interior ministry report in 2010 that torture and rape by police officials increased 60 per cent in the preceding three years. Simultaneously, Karachi-based NGO War Against Rape estimates the conviction rate in reported sexual assault cases is merely two to four per cent.
By allowing this misogynist mindset, we are enabling future rapists and murderers. By turning the debate of the tragedy on Jail Road towards how Samar was also responsible for her murder, we are telling some impressionable boy sitting on his computer or watching television that when a girl says no, at whatever point preceding or during a relationship, it just means try harder. Ultimately we are teaching our boys to make girls submit to their desires by dominance and power, instead of mutually respectful relationship.
Is this the kind of world we want our children to grow up in?
How long will it be before we fully accept, in absolute terms, that Shams and only Shams was responsible for his actions without any provision of “buts” or “ifs”? How long before we realise it’s time for a change and actually go about seeking or causing it?
It is up to each one of us to ensure the environment in our homes is not complicit in encouraging this attitude. It is up to the entertainment channels to stop romanticising jilted lovers seeking revenge, censor physical abuse, and portray a healthier power balance among sexes. It is up to the parents to be vigilant what sociological patterns their children are picking up from their surroundings, be it a school or a playground. Only by such concentrated efforts can we stop one sex from being continually victimised, and save the other from this megalomaniac complex which supposedly grants it ownership of women.
Bushra S is an editor based in Lahore and can be found conversing on twitter here.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.