Betrayal Over and Over Again

Daily Times
March 29, 2005
VIEW: Betrayal over and over again —Arifa Noor

The media wasn’t far behind. In their eagerness to disallow a cover-up they positively identified the victim. In the righteous enthusiasm for the ‘cause’, every one forgot the victim’s rights. We were so busy protesting the attempt at cover-up that we forgot that the public declamations on rape constituted a rape of sorts

A few years ago Hollywood produced a film, The General’s Daughter. It focused on the rape of a woman officer in the US army to highlight discrimination against women in the US military. The gang-rape in the film was brutal but covered up with remarkable ease. The only victim, the raped woman, pretty much becomes a psychological case and — till her murder — an embarrassment for her father and the army.

I remember particularly vividly the scene where the investigator trying to uncover the facts of the crime and the subsequent events asks a close friend of the raped woman. “What could be worse than rape?” The answer, theatrical and affected in true Hollywood style, is “Betrayal”.

It stuck in my mind because it was kitschy and corny in the way that only Hollywood is. But Hollywood apparently is not a patch on real life.

The rape in Sui, Balochistan, too, unfolded like a predictable and hackneyed film — a rape followed by betrayal.

A young woman is raped in a state-owned facility guarded by the army — the only institution trusted to run the affairs of the country. She is sedated, discouraged from contacting her relatives and surreptitiously flown to Karachi where she is admitted to a mental hospital. The police in Sui are forcibly prevented from investigating. Is it too hard imagining a scene similar to the one from The General’s Daughter at the PPL offices? The camera zooms in through a window to an ill-lit room in the middle of a stormy night. Inside, a group of men, senior officials, agree to brush the incident under the carpet — to protect the reputation of an institution.

From here one, however, the two stories diverge. Unlike Hollywood films, politics in Pakistan does not always follow approved scripts. The cover-up, it seemed initially, was not going to be easy. But those who took up cudgels on behalf of the raped woman had more at heart than her interest or that of justice. The people and the leaders who first took up arms against suspected oppressors soon forgot the woman. The focus shifted to their own grievances.

Others joined them in expressing outrage at the cover-up. The democracy-lovers found the ‘shameful’ act a convenient stick to beat the military dictator with. The opposition parties also went to town.

The media wasn’t far behind. In their eagerness to disallow a cover-up they positively identified the victim. In the righteous enthusiasm for the ‘cause’, every one forgot the victim’s rights. We were so busy protesting the attempt at cover-up that we forgot that the public declamations on rape constituted a rape of sorts.

They say that when the elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled. In the last couple of months it was one woman in Pakistan.

And what about the state — the elephant that prevailed? While it claimed to have taken the principal suspect into custody, the president of the country himself proclaimed his (the suspect’s) innocence. Did any one really expect the official investigations to reveal anything after that? When the script is written and the film directed by the armed forces, its triteness is foregone. The moments where the story appears to stray from the beaten path are few and far between. Like a B-grade murder mystery that sustains interest by more murders, we were to witness one more rape in the finale.

It came in the form of the report of the inquiry tribunal set up to look into the incident. It held the raped woman to be negligent — as guilty possibly as the individuals and the institutions that tried to cover up the crime. While the entire world believed that the woman had not been allowed to reveal the rape and prevented even from contacting her family, the report concluded differently. Apparently this conclusion was sufficient. Why try to find clues to the culprits? Why try even to fix responsibility for the negligence that gave the rapist his chance? Perhaps the director deemed it unnecessary. There wasn’t even an attempt at a cover-up!

How would Hollywood categorise this? As a rape or a betrayal? An irrelevant question as the final betrayal was yet to come. The victim left the country — aided purportedly by some NGO — in the dead of night. Even the Sharifs had not left so anonymously and ignominiously. No government official saw her off or considered it necessary to meet her. Perhaps they were all busy trying to provide succour to another raped woman, Mukhtar Mai.

The end came a bit abruptly. Since then no one has said anything and no questions have been asked. The silence is deafening if one would just care to listen. Will Hollywood films still seem far-fetched? Only because they insist on ‘justice done’ endings?

The writer is a staff member

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