When news broke out that a man had raped and murdered 8-year-old Zainab Ansari in Pakistan, whose body was found in a heap of garbage, I felt anger welling up inside me that I had last felt when I was a 16-year-old sitting in my boarding school, listening to a couple of seniors telling each other of the horrible incident that occurred on a bus in Delhi. The 2012 Delhi gangrape started conversations that forced us to think about women and their safety, it forced people to get out of their home and take the streets, Nirbhaya’s fight became the fight of the whole nation and with her, we started a revolution. In our households, we were having conversations that we had never had before, questioning the normalisation of rape. On the streets, we were out protesting, our voices louder than ever before.
As a result of these protests, a judicial committee was set up, which brought in changes to India’s law against rape. One would think much has changed since then, that we are now more aware, but as much as I would like to agree with that, as much as I wished to agree with that, truth is that the discourse is always reduced down to the woman’s clothes or her “character”. As I type this, I’m only repeating what we have all heard a million times over. Our brains have become numb to these ‘incidents’. In the last one week, we saw seven cases of rape in Haryana. This news came and passed us by with almost little or no outrage. Where was the outrage? Where is the outrage?
As an advocate of Indo-Pak friendship, I cannot present my case and reasons for having this opinion without talking about the similarities between both the nations. It is something I realised as I grew up and began understanding ideas of culture and traditions, and developed a deep fondness for the Indian version of Coke Studio, featuring artists from both India and Pakistan. My athletic upbringing also forced me to look at the world from a perspective that none taught us growing up, to see a Pakistani as a potential doubles team partner as opposed to someone from ‘another country’. Sania Mirza marrying Shoaib Akhtar only added to this, and I saw myself turning more acceptable to the idea of a cross-country friendship.
Our similarities don’t just end at our mutual love for cricket, biryani, Bollywood and each other’s versions of Coke Studio; our similarities exceed way beyond to a comfortable acceptance of misogyny, so much so that it is such a deep part of both our cultures. Any protest or any fingers pointed towards it – and we are ready to clamp down on the human being who dared raise their voice.
With Zainab, we have, once again, started the conversation we have become so immune to. This conversation, this emotion of fear for our women and girls, exceeds beyond any man-made borders. Once again, we have something to unite over while our governments are minting votes by exploiting our patriotic emotions by provoking hatred for each other. It’s just a terrible shame for all of us that 70 years after Independence, both the nations whose cultures are huge on the concept of “purdah” and “honour” of their women, today weep together at the lack of safety they have provided for them.