An open letter to the daughters of Pakistan

Fareeha Khan

Dear daughters,
It’s not easy to be mothers or daughters in a country like Pakistan. It involves guilt and in
feriority complexes, harassment and insecurities. It is trepidation and apprehension that may keep you wondering about the quintessence of existence. You ask yourself questions about your birth and future, you feel ashamed to be born a girl in Pakistan. It is neither easy nor desirable to be a girl child in a country like Pakistan. Commencing from scathing stares and jibes at the time of birth culminating into fondling and unwanted touching by the elderly patrons; you witness every kind of unwarranted behaviour. But I want to tell you that it is not easy to be a child in Pakistan. The elders frighten you away, the snarls and derogation, the scoff and satire are not bracketed into any category but the rate of physical abuse, molestation, rape and harassment is increasing at really alarming pace.
I tell you dear brave daughters of Pakistan that Zainab was not alone in her fate. According to a report by NGO Sahil every day 11 children become victim of sexual abuse. Kasur has been notorious to victimize the girl child in the year 2017.Aimeen, Fatima, Laiba, Noor Fatima, Asma were among the kidnapped, molested, sexually abused and murdered minors in the vicinity of Kasur. But Zainab became the lone star to brighten the world filled with dirt and slur. Zainab knitted the tattered fabric of the parochial and tribal society together with the thread of unity and empathy. Zainab, my daughter you have become a voice for 1,764 children who suffered abuse in the year 2017. The grief is intolerable, the agony is unendurable, the wound is unhealed and the blood would continue flowing it will never congeal and the stains would be permanent. The dead body of my daughter Zainab is etched in my heart and dear Zainab my soul is besmirched.
Dear daughters,
Kindly forgive this mother for not being able to stand up for you, for not being able to protect you, for doing nothing for daughters like Tayyaba, for gender shaming you, for being ashamed of you, for burying you while you still live, for killing you spiritually, internally, inwardly where it matters. Not only authorities are callous, not only police is inapt, not only society is apathetic, not only media is indifferent, not only writers show lassitude in addressing the issue of child abuse but I am also responsible for your loss of your lives. It is not our prime concern to protect our children. Had it been our mission to safeguard our kids the Kasur scandal of child abuse surfacing in 2014 would have been taken seriously. Hundreds of children were molested, abused and filmed for further blackmailing by the local goons and we stood silent. Aimen, Noor Fatima, Laiba and other girls lost their lives through abuse and we were not moved. One Zainab melted our hearts and thawed our souls but then we refuse to take the issue seriously. The national media is swarmed with the images of Zainab and she is nowhere to be seen. She is lost into the backdrop and even her image would be receded into oblivion within days. Media needs new and novel news items. The alleged marriages of elderly politicians, the financial scandals the juicy stories carry more weight than the story of my poor Zainab. I stand alone in mourning my hundreds of daughters who are no more, in celebrating the hypocrisy of society that does not allow me to open my mouth about harassment and abuse, in grieving over corrupt policemen who demand bribe to hand over the dead body of my poor daughter to me, in knowing my ignorance, in ignoring my pain, I stand alone and forlorn in my pain of not having done adequate.
My beautiful daughters,
Pakistan is not safe for you, no other country is safer for you. The rosy promises will keep you protected. The compensation money will be the albatross around the neck of corrupt and myopic politicians, the apathetic society will join in hands to protect you. The loss will be mourned for good. The psychic minds cannot be allowed to be at large any more, the tormentors are to be brought to book, the assaulters will be punished and arrested. Zainab is my daughter, her love will remain in my heart forever. The vicious murderer will be apprehended but the golden silver threads of your memory will never fade away. The tears that dwell in my heart will stay there forever, I am inconsolable and I want my entire society to be inconsolable. The suffering should be materialized, the agony should reflect in the public flogging of the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The hideous face of society should not be allowed to be beautified, the ugly scars should stay there forever reminding us about our apathy, indifference, stoicism, priorities, vision and insensibility.
The inventory of dos and don’ts is unending but what about my heart that has stopped beating, what about my soul that has ceased thriving, what about my daughters, what about my one daughter. The muffled cries I never heard echo in my heart, the ugly hands I never saw clench my throat at night, sound of clothes being ripped apart does not let me sleep, the shed tears tarnish my spirit and the unshed tears gather in my throat. For all my daughters please forgive me for not giving you a safer, a better Pakistan, my daughters pardon me for my jargon and unwanted tears, please excuse me for the voice that I could not raise earlier, exonerate me for my silence, for my meaningless words, for my apathy, for my delayed empathy.
My daughters,
You are human beings. Feel proud of your identity. Never, ever let anyone demean you, never ever let anyone despise your pain or downplay your emotions. Learn to raise your voice. Injustice is not acceptable, assault is unpardonable. Don’t cow down under the pressure of the society, don’t be ashamed of your own self. You are beautiful molesters are criminals you are not, rapists are vicious you are not, assaulters are hideous you are not. This world is not worthy of you but there is nowhere else we can go. Stay empowered, stay blessed, stay safe and proud.
A mother
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Rawalpindi.

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