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Terror in the library

Rafia Zakaria
Published May 09, 2014 02:45pm
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-Photo by Hussain Afzal


This is not the usual tale of terror. Terrors usual ingredients, the
explosion, the recovered head and the severed limbs; the bits and pieces
of human flesh are not present here.
It begins in a library and not the one that has been named after al Qaeda chief,
Osama Bin Laden. Those sorts of terrors have developed their own digestive
mechanisms within the Pakistani media, for the one discussed here, there is still no
vocabulary.
The venue for this terror is one the largest state-run universities in Punjab.
Thousands pin their hopes on institutions like this one, clamoring to get in,
cramming for exams, hoping for jobs.
On the Universitys many campuses, all pictured green lawned and well-manicured
on the website, are thousands of female students. They are said to be doing far
better than their male counterparts, but there are few studies to prove it.

The truths of female superiority are not ones that get much nurturing in Pakistan.
The girls are nevertheless there, different numbers adopting different strategies of
survival on a co-educational campus in an increasingly segregated country.
Some wear scowls and sullen expressions, others swathe themselves in yards of
fabric; whatever works to eke out an education. Theirs are the paths of delicate
compromises; with reluctant parents, with crowing clerics, with harassing male
students and with apathetic administrations.

Also read: The injustice of silence

With these burdens as the background, one young female student at the University
campus made her way to the library for the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies.
It was an ordinary autumn day and she was an ordinary girl. As is the case with
many students, she needed research materials. A paper was due and she had to
find sources to cite; materials she assumed, would be available at the library.
With this simple errand in mind, she approached one of the staff members at the
facility. He told her that most of the books in the library were kept on the second
floor and on the other side of the facility. She went with him.
There, he sexually assaulted her.
In this tale of terror, the victim dies a living death. If she goes to the University
Administration, she will have to reveal her identity. If her identity is revealed, she
will be, as all rape victims are in Pakistan, dragged through the coals of dishonor
and blame. The law on the books demands that she produce four witnesses to
validate the crime; an impossibility in her case as it is in many others.
Then, there are the cautionary tales of female college students who have spoken
out. The last girl raped on her way to college earlier this year, burned herself
alive outside a police station. Each and every one of her rapists had been set free.
There are too many stories like hers, and every girl in Pakistan knows them.

Also read: The trivialization of rape in Pakistan

This other terror, which lurks in libraries, in unfrequented corners of busy offices, is
negotiated through the constrictions of threats and shame and fear is worse than
the loud and visible conflagration of shootings and bombings.
It lurks unseen, eating from within the innards of a country that denies all that it
cannot see. The choices before the girls of Pakistan are all bad ones; speaking up
insures only greater punishments, staying silent means dying inside.

Also read: Criminal advances, Indecent proposals

In never being able to tell their stories, they remain isolated, each victim of the
demonic librarian, the lecherous boss and the criminal professor condemned to
never knowing how many hundreds more are suffering from the same inflictions.
In the disbelief of the nation is every rapists first victory, the second is in the
confidence of knowing that if any woman decides to speak up, she will be killed
again, this time by the consensus of the whole country.