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The motorway tragedy

Any lessons learnt?

Huzaima Bukhari

“Strength doesn’t lie in carrying heavy loads. Camels can do that. Strength lies in controlling your temper”— Hazrat Ali (AS)

There is a general belief that a person who boasts of great physical strength is stronger compared to the one who has a frail body. This might be true if one is watching a wrestling bout or weight lifting event in a sports arena but when it comes to the real world or the real world of humanity, astonishingly, concepts change drastically. It is during adversity that true strength can be gauged. This may come in many forms—poverty, disease, emotional trauma, anger, failure, bankruptcy, broken hearts, shattered expectations—all these determine the real test of strength of a person. Under such challenging circumstances, the ones most composed are naturally the strongest compared to those whose physical reactions betray their inner weaknesses. In simpler terms, the ability to withstand an onslaught, to resist temptations and to suppress extreme anger proves the level of strength, not the competence to lift tons of weight or to overpower an opponent. This is exactly the lesson we must teach to our people.

Words fall short in expressing emotions of shock and disgust at the horrific incident that occurred in the early hours of September 9, 2020 on the new M11 route that connects Lahore Ring road with Sialkot. A young mother with three children, while driving to Gujranwala got stranded on this highway due to some technical fault in her vehicle. She called 130 the number for National Highways & Motorway Police who point blankly refused any assistance on the claim that the route did not fall under its jurisdiction telling her to contact local police on 15. Her ordeal during that one hour has been narrated repeatedly on the media and suffice it to say that she was assaulted, gang raped before her children and robbed of her possessions before any help could reach her. Undoubtedly, the lives of the four victims involved in this tragedy will never be the same ever again.

This is just one of the innumerable heinous and gruesome incidents that occur on almost daily basis in this country. These include not only females but even boys. Some are reported but a large number remain confined within the secrecy of homes. Consequently, the statistics to measure the precise magnitude of this problem in Pakistan become undependable. As per the Human Rights Report 2019: “There were no reliable national, provincial, or local statistics on rape due to underreporting and no centralized law enforcement data collection system.” The victim of rape or sexual assault is usually advised to stay mum, this being a stigma on his/her character as if he/she asked for it and the perpetrator was merely fulfilling the desire of the injured party. As for convictions, again that is another dark area shared by both the police and the judiciary.

According to our incumbent prime minister, sexual crimes are most prevalent in societies where obscenity is common and family system is tattered. He was probably referring to the West as that is the image in the minds of people living in the ‘holy lands’ built in the name of religion. We are under a delusion that since our way of life includes modest dressing style, abstinence from alcohol and drugs, non-existence of night clubs together with strong family bonding, our blessed country is free from such aberrations yet, Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll has placed Pakistan at the third position after Afghanistan and Congo among countries most unsafe for women while Norway has been declared the safest and the next 19 countries in line are the ones where obscenity and broken homes are rampant. Samina Chamma Rashid’s book “It Takes a Village to Rape a Child” tears apart the hypocritical veil of our so-called traditional society. It is about time that we change our attitude towards women in general and sexual violence in particular.

Many social theorists look at rape as not only an ugly crime but a symptom of an unhealthy society in which men fear and disrespect women. In 1975 the feminist writer Susan Brownmiller asserted that rape is motivated not just by lust but by the urge to control and dominate. According to her theory all men feel sexual desire, but not all men rape. Rape is considered as an unnatural behavior that has nothing to do with sex alone. Rape, an ancient part of human nature is one of the leading war crimes but this in no way excuses a rapist.

Where a woman is seen as an object and not a human being who has feelings, desires, emotions and an obvious physical existence, it would be assumed that she is merely a man’s trinket to be toyed with and because of this vulnerability she should be layered with yards of cloth and confined within the four walls of a home. Her stepping out of this haven, claiming equality with men, daring to act boldly, raising her voice in public, asserting her independence and moving around at odd hours are indications that she is deliberately inviting trouble because men are men, the so-called stronger specie yet so easily susceptible to their cravings. As observed by anthropologist Donald Symons of the University of California, Santa Barbara that people everywhere understand sex as “something females have that males want.”

What motivated the M11 gang rape is probably reflected in a write-up dated 14 December 2019 by Tara Kaushal: “But public rape now includes another dimension—lower-class men targeting upper-class women. For them, the rape experience is one of “conscious anger and rage, and he expresses his fury both physically and verbally. His aim is to hurt and debase his victim, and he expresses his contempt for her through abusive and profane language…. Sex becomes his weapon, and rape constitutes the ultimate expression of his anger’. And we seem to be breeding mobs of them.”

She goes onto discuss the mentality (very similar to that of our infamous Lahore CCPO) of these men. “‘A decent girl would not roam around at 9 o’clock at night…. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night,’ said Mukesh Singh, a perpetrator in the Delhi gang-rape. These rural-urban migrants bring ideas and norms of what is acceptable in the villages to the urbanised, modern world—where patriarchy and misogyny in thought, word and deed collide with women’s empowerment. They experience a clash of cultures and clothes, not to mention the porn they are watching and the accompanying urges—all the while being in extreme close proximity to women as tailors, guards and drivers.”

The need of the hour is to spread on a war-footing, education through all media channels calling upon men and women to understand the ferocity and repercussions of committing such heinous crime. We must break the taboo of silence about sexual violence and introduce programmes to highlight the importance of respect for females of all ages. Children’s voices should not be muffled when they complain about someone’s behavior. If sexual instinct is not fathomed and harnessed by raising awareness then there cannot be a stoppage to related crimes.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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