The latest news regarding anything my people (the Pukhtuns) is that at least 26 girls from the Bajaur Agency (Pakistan side of the border) were discovered today, November 26th, in a home in Karachi, a home where they were being kept captive. The girls are between the ages of 8 and 10 and do not speak Urdu. One man and two women are currently in custody for interrogation. It looks like the girls were sent over to Karachi for madrasa (religious education in a religious institution) by their parents, but their guardians in the madrasah abused the situation and sold them; others say the parents sold their own daughters for money. and Knowing how Pakistan’s (in)justice system works, I have absolutely no hope whatsoever.
But right now, while I’m disturbed by this specific event, I’m more interested in talking about the problem with the way Pukhtuns are talking about this issue. This includes the “liberal”-minded Pukhtuns as well. I’ll talk about two of these issues.
1. According to an upsetting number of us, we should fight against wrongs because the wrong we should be fighting against is “shameful,” not because it’s actually a wrong, an injustice, a harm that affects individuals and communities with lasting impacts. Take a look at this photo on Facebook by “Justice for Pashtuns.” If you don’t have access to Facebook, here’s what the photo looks like with its caption (DISCLAIMER: THESE GIRLS ARE NOT DEAD IN THIS PHOTO OR POST-FINDING):
I don’t yet see the connection between this kidnapping and those “lecturing” on girls’ education and empowerment and whatnot, other than this superficial assumption and expectation that because women’s rights advocates and their work exist, there should be absolutely no female-related injustices happening around the world. This thinking is beyond absurd. One would think it’s activists’ fault that injustices happen in our world. Dumb. But I’m actually noticing this absurdity as I write this – I actually didn’t start this post in response to this. I started it, instead, in response to the word “shame” in reference to this kidnapping in conversations happening on FB and Twitter right now on among Pashtuns.
At least one commenter (and I refuse to read anymore) also used the word ghairat (“honor”) in the conversation.
I’m so sick of the word “shame.” You’d think this word is SO natural to Pukhtuns they can’t help bringing it up. I understand some might mean well, and I understand some might also use it when discussing non-female-related issues, like institutional crimes against Pashtuns in Pakistan. But why is it that the first word that comes to our (well-meaning or whatever) minds is “shame” when a crime against girls is committed?
2. Apparently, we Pukhtuns are naturally so decent and pure, so cognizant of our honor, so loving of our children that we have no need, no right to do anything that would harm our children. It’s as if we will hold on to our children not because we love them and want the best for them that we can provide, but because shame if we give them away or don’t take care of them. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for taking care of your children and making sure they live quality lives. But not everyone can afford that. Especially not all Pashtuns. No parent would willingly send off their children, daughters or sons, into a risky environment that they may or may not survive–especially when it’s females and there’s a chance they might be sexually abused or raped, knowing the sickening level of value we place on female virginity and female bodies.
So a note to those Pukhtuns blaming these girls’ parents: Understand that those parents most probably did what they did under compulsion or pressure, assuming the parents played any role in this at all. (It looks, also, like each girl was sold for approximately 900 Pakistani Rupees = ~$9.) When parents sell their children, it’s never–okay, rarely, since I would like to believe that most parents love their children–because they just want to get rid of them or are being selfish. It’s probably because 1) the parents believe their kids will have a better life with the people to whom they’re being sold or sent, and/or 2) the parents are so poor, so desperate that they’ll do anything to have a little bit of money to survive. Not all parents/guardians do this, sure, and some would rather die themselves than to send their kids into risky hands.
But the point is that “shame on the parents!” is a pathetic response to this whole ordeal. Shame, instead, on a nation, a community, a society, a world where humans will sell each other and themselves and their loved ones just to survive. It’s not poverty that’s cruel; it’s the institutions that allow us to be poor or suffer in poverty that are cruel.
I’m not suggesting that we not punish parents who allow their children to be abuse or who abuse their children. Not that any legal officials would ever take my opinions seriously, anyway. But when thinking about these problems, it’s important to remember that there are serious root causes of such issues, including forced prostitution. This specific case classifies as human-trafficking and, since it’s all females, also sex-trafficking; the actual crime is, yes, the system that allows our people to suffer, but more practically, it is the people buying these children and other humans. They’re profiting off of other people’s poverty and desperation.
May these girls (and however many more that will be discovered gradually) and their families find peace and prosperity in this life and the next, and may they be able to recover from this tragedy. May peace and empowerment accompany them wherever they go, aameen.