Pervez Saleem (Producer/Director)

F9 Park rape: If you’re a woman out for a walk, you’re ‘asking for it’

Courtesy: Dawn News

By Aisha Sarwari

This is not just any criminal case where the victim happened to be a woman. The choice of the crime rested upon the victim’s gender.

Islamabad’s F9 Park is nestled between a bursting-at-the-seams fast food chain, a cricket ground, a Covid-19 vaccine centre and a Pakistan Air Force hospital. Also known as the Fatima Jinnah Park, it is surrounded by a fence, its evenings well-lit by nostalgic yellow lamps with the occasional missing solar-powered bulb.

Everything about this place, which features a 10-kilometre walking track, seems to point towards safety and belonging. I would frequently catch the sunrise or sunset behind the cherry and oak trees, or its sunny cactus gardens, but I now shudder to take those scenic walks again.

The park is no longer safe. And men have everything to do with it.

Kia zaroorat thi?

Last Thursday, a young 20-something woman was screaming for her life as two men gang raped her at gun point among the secluded shrubs and the moral silence of our society. They also restrained her male colleague, who had accompanied her for what was to be a mere walk in the park.

This young women was also perhaps trying to catch the sun on its way out like me. Walking at sunrise or sunset, both are horror-inducing for our country’s sensibilities.

Rapists almost always merge into some collective.

Do you remember the face of Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists? Didn’t think so. Do you remember Mukhtaran Mai’s face? Yeah, thought you would.

The F9 park perpetrators are said to have threatened the young women to bring even more of their friends to rape her if didn’t stop trying to put up a fight by screaming and attempting to escape. This shows entitlement and impunity. They were buoyed by the story they have been told — that they are special, and others like the young women can be whacked around for representing what upsets them or causes them discomfort.

If they felt predatory lust, they had to rape her.

If they felt anger, they had to hurt her.

If they felt disgusted by her, they had to tell her she was immoral.

If their weapon could shock and awe her, they were going to be emboldened by their ambush.

If she felt easy to subdue, it could only mean that they alone are powerful.

By virtue of confirming the victim is indeed hurt by them, they resolve this must be the right order of things after all.

Blame it on the woman

These men’s feelings were all the evidence they needed to imagine violence against her, then carry it out, have no second thoughts even as she protested, continue hurting her and then garner the nerve to build a narrative around their actions by pinning the blame on her, before leaving her some hush money and expecting her to be loyal to their extreme violence, instead of taking the legal route.

darkness ever protected women.

The men who commit such vile acts need to be better known than the women they rape. Let’s start with that.

May the cactus gardens, the street lamps, the thicket, the rare owls and the fat canaries bear witness to an unforgettably sad day in F9 park named after a strong woman — Fatima Jinnah. May there be much terror, tenor and tragedy in the skies right above the green hills where the young woman begged for mercy, but was hurt nonetheless.

Crimes often occur several years before they actually do. Every single time we didn’t speak for a woman victim, it became easier to hate women for being incongruous towards safe public spaces. Every time we gave our voice to the binary of good women and bad women, a rapist gathered more self-righteous fire power to think he will get away with it.

Rape culture thrives on the back of everyday sexism — how will you bring a culture of change in the enclosures you have at homes and schools and workplaces? What are those small acts of equity you can commit to that help women feel safe? Can you speak up next time you see someone harming a woman’s sense of well being?

Rape culture also thrives in exclusion. Could you start by simply asking women what it is that they need most to feel safe? Someone should have built parks and planned urban structures with women’s consultation in the first place.

Not all men (are rapists) is such a tired, sorry and boring counterpoint to our protest and anger. Can we replace it with some serious introspection instead, that should have taken place yesterday?

The author is a public speaker, author, women’s rights activist and the co-founder of the NGO Women’s Advancement Hub. Her writings have appeared in Dawn, The Express Tribune, the BBC, The Guardian and NPR, and she has two published books on feminism. She lives in Islamabad and tweets @AishaFsarwari.

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