India and Pakistan were separated at birth. But the umbilical cord of misogyny keeps them united forever in an embrace that proclaims, when it comes to women, Hindustani-Pakistani bhai bhai.
Two cases unfolding simultaneously in the two countries tell us how male chauvinism and women-shaming run deep into the veins of the two neighbours.
First, Pakistan. A few days ago, former Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) member and legislator Ayesha Gulalai Wazir accused party chief and former cricketer Imran Khan of sending "indecent, inappropriate" messages to her.
Gulalai claimed the messages were sent from Khan's Blackberry and said that "no one with any honour will be able to stomach the sort of language used."
Gulalai's accusations have a ring of opportunism. She attacked Khan just before leaving his party amidst rumours of joining Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. She is yet to provide concrete evidence of Khan's alleged inappropriate behaviour.
Yet, the reactions to her allegations were typical of the subcontinent's mindset. It betrayed the mindset famously described by Qandeel Baloch, another victim of Pakistan's patriarchal and misogynist society, as typical of "tharki awam."
Trolls attacked Gulalai's character and questioned her integrity. Simultaneously, they gave Khan a clean-chit, calling him too big and important to even consider Gulalai worthy of his attention. Khan's party colleague and spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary went a step further, calling Gulalai beghairat (shameless).
Chaudhary even asked Gulalai why her sister, a squash player, was 'running around in shorts'. He then went on to allege that Gulalai had allowed herself to get "istaimal (used)." And now, there are threats to put her in front of Loya Jirga, a khap-panchayat like assembly of tribal men, so that she can face questions about her allegations.
Khan's party and his acolytes have been notorious for such atavistic, crass defence of their leader. Just around the time Khan's supporters attacked Gulalai, they were also busy targeting his former wife Reham Khan with ugly insinuations. Reham, whom Khan married and divorced within a span of a few months, is currently campaigning against her former husband.
Her political opposition to the PTI prompted Murad Saeed, a party lawmaker, to malign her. He asked the PTI chief’s ex-wife to disclose the name of the people she used to meet in a hotel. "Receptions used to be organised for Reham Khan at the house of a political leader," he claimed.
Reham responded by asking Saeed to be careful about what he asks because the "truth will hurt him." I am not the one with skeletons in the cupboard, Reham said.
See the similarities with the attack on Varnika Kundu's character after she alleged stalking by the Haryana BJP chief's son on the roads of Chandigarh?
On Saturday night, Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala's son Vikas allegedly followed and tried to abduct Varnika while she was on her way back home around midnight. He allegedly chased Varnika's car for a distance of around seven kilometres, stopped her by blocking her path and tried to forcibly get inside her car. Varnika escaped only after a police patrol responded to her SOS.
Varnika's allegations are yet to be investigated. But, the reaction to her ordeal has been similar to the misogynistic attacks on Gulalai. Barala's relatives first insinuated that she was drinking (for the region's chauvinists, a female who drinks automatically qualifies as a target).
Then, Photoshopped images of the victim were circulated on social media to falsely suggest she and the accused were friends. And then, like Khan's spokesperson's strategy of putting the alleged victim in the dock, Barala's deputy wondered what Varnika was doing on the streets so late at night. Amidst all this victim shaming, some trolls jumped to the rescue of the Baralas, arguing the case was fake and that the victim was trying to frame a powerful family because of her vested interests.
The alarming similarity between these two incidents proves how misogynists in the two countries have the same blood singing in their veins. For them, it is impossible to counter allegations of sexual crimes and inappropriate behaviour without resorting to character assassination, ugly innuendo and victim shaming.
A sort of reenactment of one of the most controversial chapters of the shared mythology of the two countries – asking a woman to undergo agni pariksha to prove her innocence, satiate the male ego.
The obsession with drinking, a pursuit almost as old as civilisation, is a trademark of this mindset. Across India, bars, liquor shops and restaurants record high turnover because of the demand and consumption of liquor. Strangely, in a country where alcohol consumption has gone up 55 percent in past two decades, the standard Brahmastra for silencing a woman is a reference to her dietary preferences, both imagined and real.
For every allegation of sexual advances, harassment and violence by men, the standard rejoinder still remains the girl was drinking and, thus, brought it upon herself. Next on the hierarchy of the male defence is the woman's clothing – short skirts and western wear being the perennial favourites. And god save a girl who is unfortunate enough to get harassed, raped or abducted late at night. In that case, invariably, the first query is about her motive for staying out that late at night.
The battles for justice by women like Gulalai, Reham and Varnika become important precisely because of these stereotyped counter attacks, the tendency for victim shaming and digressing from allegations by questioning the character of the victim. In many ways, Hindustani-Pakistani are still bhai, bhai. Only brave women from both sides of the border can break this brotherhood of misogyny.
Published Date: Aug 09, 2017 06:40 AM | Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 06:44 AM