“Kia masla hai aap kay saath?” screamed my friend to a man sitting behind her while on our way home from college in a public transport. She was too infuriated and pale to reply me upon asking if everything was well. Next day she poignantly shared that a man cleverly placed his hand at the top of a seat she chose to travel on and he was physically hurting her shoulders. I held her hand and while acclaiming her dare I told her how courageous she was.
Reminder: She was wearing abayya (gown) and scarf (head cover).
It is around some time ago, I asked my office boy, from whom I had never received positive vibes, to get me an AC remote. It was my bad to extend my arm to grab the remote from his hand. As it might had given him a-long-awaited-chance to touch my hand. I remember the shiver went down my spine. I remained silent.
Reminder: I was wearing Shalwar Kameez.
After years, I realized that I couldn’t inherit the courage from my friend. I wanted to slap the boy with all the rage but, I remained silent and put myself on caution. Because, I feared. I feared creating a scene. I feared everyone scanning me while walking the corridor next day. I feared being treated like a ‘poor soul’ by everyone around. I feared they all would pity me. I feared the sarcastic smile by his fellows to whom he stood victor. I might had the courage to slap him but I had no courage to be a victim as being a victim in our society is very ‘unfortunate’ thing.
A little while ago, I met a very perturbing story of sexual harassment at LUMS, Lahore. Besides, the incident itself being bristling, an appalling and ludicrous element attached to it captivated my senses: nine current and visiting faculty members at Law and Policy Department at LUMS came out for the defense of convicted (law) professor despite the Federal Ombudsperson’s judgment to sack him over sexual harassment. They claimed that an inadvertent ‘brief tap’ on the student’s shoulder in a ‘broad daylight’ doesn’t amount to sexual harassment when that ‘brief tap’, as proved now, in real was an act of unzipping the girl from the shoulder.
Sexual harassment is just not about reaching out physically but also embraces any unwelcome verbal or written communication of sexual nature according to “The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace, Act 2010” that defines harassment as:
“Any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment”.
Leaping over the personal space and battering her respect by a ‘brief tap’, which discomforted her, if is not an ‘unwelcome gesture’ and doesn’t tantamount to sexual harassment then what else does?
It was utterly shocking to know that instead of condemning and bemoaning the sad act inside the premises of an educational institution (largely deemed as a safe place), the colleagues (the ‘literate’ clan) of the guilty shamefully condoned him and came forward for his salvage.
Furthermore to the tacit acceptability and cruel (social) silence towards such incidents of sexual harassment and rape that are sadly on the boil, what is more agonizing is the argument put forward, particularly by men, that such incidents are aftermath of ‘improper’ dressing by women and their social demeanor. The contemplation fails me as what was so alluring about the five year old girl, who was raped in Lahore, September last, which forcibly pulled the seduction strings of the brute?
The norm is to let the raped be blamed.
Whether we are standing at a bus stop, shopping at bazar, dining out at a restaurant or attending a concert, there is no place that saves us from pejoratives or insinuations coupled with an invariable staring that bludgeons our bodies without blood being spit on the floor. But, we have been made socially attuned and habitually silent to all the ‘unwelcome gestures’.
We have been mauled so deeply and for so long that our body has now become unresponsive or somewhat saturated. We have given in to treat it as normal and accepted to live with it. And that is where we have done us wrong. Our compromise has widened the space for men to exploit and bruise us more and more.
The problem doesn’t lie with clothes, the skirt, the sleeveless top, the dupatta or hijab. Women’s ‘proper’ clothing can’t heal the perpetual and repulsive disease that lies very deep in the heads of men. Because men have an inbuilt ‘supernatural’ talent to x-ray our bodies. These rays placidly traverse through layers and layers of covers.
The submission to inflicted views and opinions of men is not only the defeat but, is fatal. As after the code of clothing, we might be demanded to chop off our body parts. About time that, we women, should stop ourselves being told to wear ‘proper’ clothes to escape their malicious and odious intentions. Now, they should be forced to bring an end to the practice of selective practice of their religion. They not only have to cease staring at us, but also need to lower their gaze, if they obey Islam completely.
It is time to stare back vigorously to drain out their perennial sickness and abort the unbridled lust. The advocacy for personal freedom and mutual respect is needed to be voiced valiantly. The dream of a safe society for our daughters and their daughters can’t bear fruition just by washing the dirt off our hands.