8:18 am

Two wrongs don’t make right!!

Review on #Verna –Rape in Pakistan

Rape is about exercising power. At times this power stimulates when the powerless tries to challenge the authority of the powerful. The show of power gets immense when the powerless refuses to please the powerful. Shoaib Mansoor’s recently released film Verna highlights the issue of rape and the story revolves around POWER. As a case manager and women’s human rights defender, I dealt many rape and incest cases in past ten years. I watched this movie applying that experiential lens to it.

Firstly, it is a well-researched effort highlighting the miniscule points behind the act of rape. The socio-political factors and the governance related issues play an important role in Pakistani and the South Asia criminal justice system especially in rape cases. Those who have watched this film can recall that Sara (role played by Mahira Khan), before presenting herself for medico-legal examination, asks her husband to help her in producing ‘marks of violence’. A very important question here arises that why Sara did this? Ummm……because she was planning revenge??? NO, this is not as simple as one understands it!! She did this because in order for a rape survivor to prove that she was raped, she has to show marks of struggle that she resisted. In the movie, Sara was blamed by her husband as well that there are no marks of struggle on her body and maybe this sexual act was with her consent. The criminal justice system of Pakistan and the process of medico-legal examination completely unsees that ‘Marks of Violence’ is not the only evidence, which the whole system tries to look for. What if the survivor was drugged?? Will the medico-legal officers still be looking for marks of resistance or struggle? Unfortunately the system lacks the will and capacity to see beyond the physical evidences. I used the word ‘will’ because the gender insensitivity of the justice system doesn’t allow it to unlearn its social biases. But on the other hand the system insists on proving that the survivor is blaming and trying to damage the reputation of the accused or she has some hidden motives behind.

The issue of obtaining or having the consent is very critical and sensitive in Pakistan. An average girl or a woman never gets a chance to make the decisions of her life. She has no control on choosing the color of her dress. She has no freedom to giggle, dance and marry of her own choice. She even can’t scream because right from her childhood she is taught that girls don’t use loud voice tone. The courts also trial the survivor that why she remained silent or didn’t grab someone’s attention when was being raped. On the other hand this whole psyche also works behind the cases of ‘honor killing’.

Proving rape for a married woman is even more difficult. The whole system and the society will utilize all their energies to prove her wrong and that this can’t happen without her consent. Imagine she has never been trained about taking her life’s decisions and the word consent is never present in her dictionary. Then suddenly, when it comes to proving rape, she starts practicing the consent?? How come!!

Secondly, the myths about rape follow Sara throughout the film. Her immediate family members point out saying ‘Patloon jeans bi koi phanany ki cheez hai? Khubsurat larkiyun k sath park mein jana he baywaqoofi hai’. Similarly, rape survivor always face the lack of support by their family members and they keep blaming the survivor and highlight the factors like, shady street, deserted place, her age and looks and dress, however these are factors which could make anyone vulnerable but cannot provoke anyone to rape.

The perpetrator always plans and does the recce of the vulnerable to fulfill their motives. A rapist cannot hide under psychological illness and this is the most frequently used argument to save a rapist. However, pedophilia is psychiatric disorder and people having more sexual urge are called pedophiliac especially those involved in child sexual abuse.

For me #Verna is about rape – married woman – consent – power – lack of support and of course about chocked criminal justice system. Our society is in great denial regarding rape. There are different parameters and perceptions about what kind of women and girls can be raped. Some think that women who wear modern clothes get raped because they provoke men. Others think that because she was alone and it was dark therefore she got raped. I wonder where the ‘conscious’, ‘self-check’, ‘niyyat’ and piousness went in such situation?  ‘Phir tu yahi samhj ati hai k , bs moqa chahiye tha, jesay he mila dao laga liya’.

In order to provide justice to the survivor, the system needs to think out of the box. They need to stop thinking as men and women. Injustice was done to a human and the justice should be provided speedily after collecting the necessary evidence. The problem comes when the system starts thinking that the survivor is a woman. They shall focus that the survivor is a human.

The other thing is that the state needs to act efficiently. Medico-legal standards should be revamped. So far it is based on wrong practices as highlighted in #Verna. Being Woman Medico-Legal Doctor one cannot be judgmental. One cannot stop or pressurize rape survivor for not taking the medico-legal examination because she is woman and she has a weak status in society. There are also other questions to bring under discussion, for example, why medico legal system is so corrupt when it comes to reporting about rape of a woman or a girl? Why only women/girls’ medico-legal reports state that “hymen not intact” and “accused is impotent”?  The point of raising these questions is that how the system supports the POWERFUL. Two wrongs don’t make right !! One correct, fact based, unbiased and rightly conducted MLC (Medico-legal Certificate) can be instrumental in providing justice to the rape survivors. Rape survivors fall prey to further injustice because neither the system nor the social setup is supportive. This is what #Verna tried to highlight. We need to start believing the rape survivor the moment she reports the incident. Alongside the improvement in medico legal system be made to expose that who is playing with the law and the institutions.


Sidra Humayun


Loug –The People

Sidra Humayun has ten years of development sector experience in handling particularly handling of Rape/GBV survivors, women, girls, boys in Pakistan. She has also conducted several researches on child survivors of sexual abuse and research on Incest Victims.