Pak­istan has to face up to its hid­den shame and guilt


It was news of the most grotesque kind. In vil­lages around the city of Ka­sur in Punjab, a ring of pe­dophiles was busted upon the com­plaint of some ag­grieved par­ents.

There are re­port­edly hun­dreds of videos of chil­dren, by some ac­counts over 280 of them, forced to have sex­ual re­la­tions.

Some ar­rests have been made, with news re­ports quot­ing vil­lagers as say­ing that the crim­i­nals had blackmailed their vic­tims as a means of con­tin­u­ing their ex­ploita­tion, count­ing on co­er­cion and fear to en­sure com­pli­ance.

In a so­ci­ety that lacks the tools to grap­ple with such prob­lems, en­snar­ing the weak­est and more vul­ner­a­ble could not have been very dif­fi­cult.

As the news spreads, there is out­rage. The moral deprav­ity of the case is mak­ing peo­ple cringe and shud­der, weep for the chil­dren, rage against the mon­sters who pre­cip­i­tated such terror.

Re­cently, vil­lagers from Husain Khan­wala vil­lage and oth­ers nearby clashed with the po­lice for their al­leged fail­ure to nab all the per­pe­tra­tors.

The of­fi­cial re­sponse was, per the script of po­lit­i­cal agen­das, var­ied; the chief min­is­ter of Punjab, Shah­baz Sharif, or­dered a probe.

Law Min­is­ter Rana Sanaullah told re­porters that a high-level in­quiry into the mat­ter had con­cluded that no in­stance of child sex abuse had oc­curred, adding that re­ports to this ef­fect sur­faced af­ter two par­ties in­volved in a land dis­pute reg­is­tered fake cases against each other.

The events oc­curred over eight years ago, he said, and the per­pe­tra­tors ap­pre­hended.

Half-truths and sub­terfuge are a main­stay of pol­i­tics in Pak­istan, the murky ha­los they at­tach to truths ob­scur­ing clar­ity in all sorts of in­stances.

The same mech­a­nisms seem to be op­er­at­ing here. The pres­ence of the most in­con­tro­vert­ible sort of ev­i­dence has still not pre­vented those who would deny rather than face an ugly and caus­tic truth. In­deed, this tech­nique of deny­ing what is most rep­re­hen­si­ble is not in this case sim­ply the con­se­quence of run-of-the-mill po­lit­i­cal in­trigue.

‘Seem­ingly good is good


In­stead, in Pak­istani so­ci­ety, it rep­re­sents the con­se­quence of an un­for­tu­nate coali­tion be­tween the morally good as the pub­licly vis­i­ble.

The pi­ous man is the one who is seen pray­ing five times at a mosque; the vir­tu­ous woman is one who com­mits her­self to the do­mes­tic­ity im­posed by or­tho­doxy.

The good busi­ness­man is the one seen hand­ing out alms to the hap­less; a ven­er­a­ble leader is one who builds mosques and amasses piles of holy pil­grim­ages.

All of it says that you are good when you are seen to be good. The un­seen has no moral cost in Pak­istan, and the abusers of chil­dren — the de­viant con­sumers of filth — can take ad­van­tage of that.

When moral reg­u­la­tion is al­lot­ted to the state or the tribe or the fam­ily, then what is un­known to them does not in prac­ti­cal terms count as a crime or a sin.

The loop­hole in be­tween, one that sug­gests that the real is only the one that is pub­licly ac­knowl­edged and openly seen, is one that be­comes the ba­sis for de­vi­ous ra­tio­nal­iza­tions.

If no one knows that a pe­dophile ex­ploits chil­dren, forces them to com­mit the vilest acts and then black­mails them into si­lence, then, morally speak­ing, the act does not ex­ist.

In a so­ci­ety that op­er­ates on shame, the in­di­vid­ual con­science be­comes weak from dis­use.

The recipe of be­ing a good per­son be­comes not one that does good acts but one whose bad acts are not found out, are cov­ered up by vis­i­ble acts of piety and virtue.

Not ev­ery­one in Pak­istan has lost the ca­pac­ity to feel guilt but many fear only shame and are geared sin­gu­larly to­ward avoid­ing be­ing found out rather than ac­tu­ally be­ing good.

So­ci­ety’s De­vo­lu­tion

Pak­istan’s de­vo­lu­tion into a guilt- free so­ci­ety, where only shame mat­ters, is easily vis­i­ble: public dis­plays of piety dom­i­nate holy months and punc­tu­ate cel­e­bra­tions.

Im­moral­ity, se­cret and in­vis­i­ble, is hence in­vested with un­re­al­ity. The pro­fu­sion and pro­lif­er­a­tion of vir­tual worlds, which bet­ter con­nect ex­ploiters with con­sumers, have be­come adept at mak­ing money from this.

Child pornog­ra­phy feasts on these dy­nam­ics, fes­ters in the un­seen cracks and crevices of a world con­sumed only with ap­pear­ances.

The ex­is­tence of such de­mons within Pak­istani so­ci­ety is not novel; hardly a week passes with­out nu­mer­ous re­ports of chil­dren, on oc­ca­sion even ba­bies, be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted.

Pak­istani so­ci­ety does not sim­ply lack the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties to ap­pre­hend and pun­ish the per­pe­tra­tors, or the psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices to re­ha­bil­i­tate the vic­tims; it lacks the moral vo­cab­u­lary to talk about the is­sue, to ren­der the un­seen as rep­re­hen­si­ble.

The chil­dren, those hun­dreds of vic­tims, have no safe space to go, no in­stance where they would not face the cru­elty of be­ing called com­plicit in their vic­tim­iza­tion.

Their treat­ment en­sures that oth­ers — and there are surely thou­sands of oth­ers whose ex­ploita­tion takes place be­hind closed doors, in the midst of nights, by abusers who are known and un­known but al­ways cruel — will never once raise their voice.

Child Sex­ual Abuse Is

World­wide Re­al­ity

The Catholic Church has long been plagued by scan­dals about priests abus­ing the chil­dren of their parish­ioners.

Sim­i­larly, coun­tries like Thai­land, Cam­bo­dia and oth­ers are plagued with sex tourists who travel for the ex­plicit pur­pose of ex­ploit­ing chil­dren.

The unique di­men­sion of Pak­istan’s prob­lem is the lack of a moral vo­cab­u­lary to even ad­mit that such a prob­lem ex­ists.

As with the Ka­sur case, ex­po­si­tion of the deprav­ity that lurks in small vil­lages, that is sold and dis­sem­i­nated in mar­kets and on web­sites, re­quires not vic­tim-blam­ing and ob­fus­ca­tion but an em­brace of the vic­tims and a com­mit­ment to sav­ing oth­ers.

That, how­ever, would re­quire go­ing be­yond shame, and em­brac­ing the guilt of be­long­ing to a so­ci­ety where the most in­no­cent are sub­jected to such terror and cru­elty.

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