Who Remembers And Who Speaks For Survivors Of Violence In Digital Spaces?

Who Remembers And Who Speaks For Survivors Of Violence In Digital Spaces?
Feminism is neither an imperial constituency nor illusory cup of tea for any monopolising group in civil society. To me this was just another milestone in my journey that started from Gender Watch, the seminal TV series that I did for PTV in 1999 to demystify gender biases, discrimination, identities and an array of issues (child sexual abuse, incest, domestic abuse, family planning, HIV and AIDS, elderly abuse, media, health, education etc.) in the local Pakistani contexts. The discomfort it caused among the elites of the media and nonprofit industry was palpable and visible and yes, I paid the price too. But speaking out is a choice and I have always chosen the roads less travelled and believed in non-conventional yardsticks of success.

Life has demonstrated before me that violations of human rights occur in all countries. Without refuting the presence of matriarchal societies, it would be safe to say that the entire planet, largely, is patriarchal. The activists are always safe when they point fingers at the Other – but not in their own backyard. No wonder Asma Jahangir and Arundhati Roy are not-so-welcomed in their respective homelands. Similarly, it is not considered wise or smart to talk about the saga of crimes and cruelty connected with the indigenous people of US, Canada, or Australia as these are much-sought-out immigration destinations for many Pakistanis.

As a legacy journalist and old-timer activist who is still learning the ways of digital media, I could not escape noticing selected and choreographed activism on gender, equality, and inclusion issues on social media too. Some cases are stressed, and many are plugged into silence. The ones that are accentuated, too, are dealt with differently.

If the victim or survivor has some degree of push due to their class, then the case remains alive in a calculated style on digital spaces. Here a shrewd combat of control begins between the magnitude of the power of the perpetrator and the sufferer. Those from lower socio-economic strata usually do not have the similar entitlements. Their ordeal – if highlighted by any – is championed more for appearing as an activist, and the focus soon shifts away from the victim to the some other issue or institution. The likes of Qandeel Baloch (our first social media celebrity who was strangled to death in 2016 by her brother) become a source of many personal gains, fame and fortune – or a harmless point to settle some other scores. Marketing the miseries of the children of the lesser god has been adopted as a profitable business where there is no place for privacy, morality, respect of the person or any other ethical dimension.

The question of informed consent while publishing or sharing the photos of the survivors/victims or their loved ones is too often conveniently sidelined. Yet it must be made clear that there are many instances where higher and influential family backgrounds have actually been used to bury the cases while citing the respect for privacy. Those who are interested in the issues of gender-based violence or violence against women in Pakistan are fully aware of the atrocities managed and operated against many intelligent, young thinking women aspiring to be empowered or who have assumed that they are empowered. Some known victims in this list include Samia Sarwar (shot dead in Lahore in the name of honour in 1989 in her lawyer’s office) and Nina Aziz (murdered in the late 1990s in Islamabad and her headless body was found in a wardrobe in her house). The survivors, such as Veena Hyatt (daughter of a prominent politician) and Mukhtaran Mai (from the village of Meerwala, Jatoi, but now an internationally known women rights activist) of gang rape cases in spite of being public have had different tracks. Ironically, the alleged rapists were acquitted in both cases. At the risk of being misunderstood and with a heavy heart, I have named these strong and inspirational women. Have you ever wondered who were their murderers, rapists and abusers? Why were their names not mainstreamed or popularised?

The entrenched misogyny and centuries-old patriarchy have many social, legal, political, and financial expressions. However, only physical manifestations of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) mostly against women, girls, children and the trans population get noticed or registered as abuse in popular perception and memory. The causes are manifold and overlapping. An imbalance in power makes this violence happen and guarantees its endorsement through the cultural practices, connotations of honour and convoluted pathways of the law.

Human rights and laws, it seems, always work in the best interest of the perpetrators and killers (the editor may insert allege in this sentence for the safety of this subscriber!). In the age of media influx and recognised or assumed powers of the social media platforms, uproar is created on certain cases of violence only – and that too for a short while. Soon after one trend, another replaces the previous one. Some individuals and institutions gather good or bad traction and that is all. Follow-ups are rarely pursued with enthusiasm – if at all pursued – or given due space on any media.

Standing on the right side of the HerStory and all stories of all genders is the right thing to do – and it has little to do with any standing ovation in any actual space., at any powerful platform where the agenda, politics and sponsorship are so obvious. The power of the pen, a command over the English language, social clout and awareness about mental health must always be used with great responsibility. These skills and privileges must be used to create social good and for giving voice and representation to the oppressed ones, rather than creating narratives and arguments for legitimising domestic abuse – including and up to murder.

Pakistani intersectional feminist Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen is a volunteer campaigner for causes like anti-dowry violence legislation, gender- & marital-status-based taxation and creating empathy for the forgotten “missing Pakistanis” aka Biharis. She can be reached via Twitter: @Kafekaam