By Adila Batool
It was one fine sunny day in Quetta when Shahida, a 17 year old girl stepped out of her house to appear for a job interview. Her family had been struggling hard to meet their needs. She was devastated to see not just her own hopes and dreams dying but her siblings’ as well. She had all that excitement and hope in her eyes for this job promised by her acquaintance. She was going with them to the interview location which was not disclosed yet. The acquaintance takes her to a house. Her sixth sense alarms her but her hopes for a better life after the job takes over it. This is where the misery cycle began. In that house, she was slapped first and ordered to remove her clothes as she was filmed. Upon her resistance she was tortured, abused, drugged while being filmed. She was raped afterwards and sent home. She could not believe for days what happened to her. And then she gets a call few days later, to appear at the same location on a specified time again. And if she did not comply with the orders or dared to inform someone, then in a matter of no time her videos will be disseminated all over social media. She was distraught, and in disbelieve. She cried all night but had no other option except to appear and do whatever they asked her to do. She was too scared to tell this to her family, for she could be killed in the name of honor. She went there the next day and saw many other girls like herself there. They were all lured into this dark pit. They were forced into prostitution, drug supply chain and were brutally punished if they refused to do so. This is how Hidayat Khilji operated his racket. A running family business of drug dealing and prostitution in Quetta. The family business of Habibullah Saqi Khan running down to the 3rd generation under the noses of Anti-Narcotics Force is a question slapped at the faces of Government and Law Enforcement. Hidayat had created the perfect conditions of keeping the abuse cycle alive and running. Blackmailing and drug addiction. Even if the girls thought of speaking to someone or run away, they would still need the drug that they didn’t have enough money for. Despite running away from his racket, some of the victims kept running back down into the rabbit hole due to their addiction.
The cycle kept going on and on until one day the news broke on social media. The videos of the girls being tortured and abused were making rounds on Facebook groups and profiles. Quickly this became an ethnic problem since the videos that were posted online were only of Hazara girls. Although police confirms that Khilji’s atrocities were not limited to the Hazara Community, yet the events took a turn of honor and respect for the community since the videos were released online. While civil society and activists came forward against the racket’s violent atrocities, many concerned for their ‘Ethnic Honor’ came forward from behind the faceless fake IDs and poured their intellectual analysis of the situation. Not only the victims but the whole gender was blamed, every woman and girl who dared to step out of their homes, claim their personal and public space in the society were whores, horny bitches and what not. The notorious faceless accounts on Facebook groups and pages kept sharing the heart wrenching videos, playing their part to mentally torture women and girls by pouring their baseless and biased analysis of the situation building a hate narrative against them who dare to go out of their homes in pursuit of higher education and jobs, painting them with the brush of sin and threat to honor. In any rape and blackmail case it is most convenient to raise a finger on victims and blame them for being blackmailed and raped. It is the easiest form of shaking one’s moral duties off one’s shoulder and calling it Honor. This narrative caused by a biased analysis of the situation by every other so called citizen journalist or analyst though some with genuine concern, has caused a chaos for public opinion and as well as the youth. Blaming the victims and whilst also pointing fingers at women and girls who dare to occupy public space, go to educational institutions, do jobs, is discriminatory and evil in nature not just against the victims but the whole gender and class they belong to. All the women and girls struggling to meet their and families’ needs, and get education are painted as bad women. This builds a possibility of harassment, stalking and even honor killing by some random person inspired by these posts trying to save the HONOR of the nation. This is an attempt to divert the attention from the culprits and the exploitative powers in the society be it gender, class, or pornographic and drug rackets. Such shaming and blaming desensitizes the public about the cruel nature of crime committed against the victims and makes the victims look deserving of the punishment. Whilst also intensifies the chances of harassment and blackmailing for women and girls by every other HONOR guard in the society including but not limited to the random guy or uncle sitting in the corner of the street, an angry cousin and who not.
Sonia, studying and working in Islamabad currently, while on her visit to Quetta, was stopped on her way to the airport by some “Ghairatmand” boys, as she was taking a Careem ride to the airport by herself. And the Careem Driver was not from her community. A guy tried to take her picture even. Others kept calling “Bigger People” to come handle this. She was questioned and harassed for travelling with an unknown man. She called her family to rescue her. This incident shook her to the core that she started questioning her personal and public space choices in her community. She decided to never return to her home again. The insecurity caused by prolonged persecution of the community, or the moral policing in a patriarchal society, whatever you may name it, this is a serious concern taking away personal and public space from women and girls.
Some of the live videos and analysis posts that I read myself, openly called to not let women and girls opt for higher education and small jobs to support themselves and asking youth to keep an eye on the movement of women and girls in the area, “to protect the Honor”. Women who opt to go out and work or study, are all labelled as “Bad Women”. This I believe is also a form of mental torture for not only the victims but other women and girls in general, and as well as their families. Observing discussions on the topic in offline and online spheres, it is the victims who are blamed the most.
The image contains a statement of a fake ID asking parents to marry the girls at an early age, since the responsibility of marriage will keep them so busy that they won’t have time and stay away from such deeds. Since being free of marriage’s responsibility makes women do make up and go out more, make boys go crazy for them not only of Hazara community but also from other ethnicities and eventually cause humiliation of Hazaras by their such deeds. This post clearly indicates how women having social lives and interacting with men are evil and not fit for society.
This statement again from another social media account, incites the public to kill a couple of girls who are involved in gender-based violence incidents (victims), and there’s also an example given that Pashtuns kill women if such incidents happen. The post incites violence and is hate speech not only targetting a particular gender but also targeting other ethnicities in the country.
This poster though is calling for a protest but the statement of Be Hijabi and Be Hayai relates it directly to women only and how women’s honor is linked to being modest.
This statement claims that the girls from BUITEMS university are all too horny and go with Pashtun boys to satisfy themselves because Hazara boys have become gay. This statement in itself is inciting violence against women and other genders while also challenging the masculinity of a particular community.
This post again, from a social media account, declares all girls studying in BUITEMS as not virgins, and nominates Pashtun ethnicity for it. This problematic statement is not only an accusation but as well as contains potential to incite inter-ethnic hate and violence.
This yet another faceless an account online, is victim blaming here by saying that the girls who have friends from other ethnicities deserve this treatment (torture) and this person has been telling girls not to be friends with other ethnicities since they manipulate them into bad habits. In the second paragraph he requests men not to marry any girl from BUITEMS university since they are not honorable and can’t build a good family line. He also names some girls in this statement for being bad women.
Laila is leading a successful career in Lahore. She has been making steady wins for the past one year. It took her 7 years of hard work to win the trust of her family to let her go out of Quetta and build her future as she wanted. After this incident, her family called her back immediately to Quetta. All her hopes and struggles towards her dream were crushed down into ruins when she heard this on the phone. The family was concerned about what will people say. A member of the family even tried to talk her down that she was an outgoing girl in Quetta, and that they are scared that someone will post her videos someday. It took her a month to get out of the despair and convince her family all over again to trust her. She says, “How hard it is for us women to build our reputation and win trust, and how easy it is for society and men to ruin it just by naming women in their posts”.
No doubt the world is a cruel place but captivating women and girls inside 4 walls and keeping them away from their hopes and dreams of education and self-dependence is not the solution.. Family members, particularly brothers and fathers, must create a safe space for women in the family and strengthen their bond of trust, so in the case of torture, abuse or blackmailing, women can reach out in time. It is not wise to exclude women and girls, who are blackmailed and punish them for being blackmailed.
While Hidayat and his racket committed several violent crimes and abused women, there are still many more similar rackets that need to be caught. \It is the responsibility of the society, and as well as a social obligation to name and shame people we know are behind the faceless IDs on Facebook and other social networks who misinform and are active hate mongers. It is high time that men who claim to be “Ghairatmand” and care for women’s honor, must call out people who are an active part of the boys locker room who bully women and for society to think of women as human beings instead of associating them with the family’s honor.
Adila Batool is an MS student at NUST. She is currently working as Research Assistant and freelancer. Batool is a communication practitioner with an aim to raise awareness against cyberhate campaigns and harassment.