In her second article on female empowerment, Kinzah Khan discusses the harrowing case of Zainab Ansari, and the importance of activism in responding to sexual harassment.
Let me begin this piece with a PSA: this will probably be uncomfortable to read. The whole purpose of this is for you, the reader, to fully recognise the horror of this story. Too often, we, as readers, become insensitive to the reality of the lives of people who live thousands of miles away from us, which distances them from us on a moral, empathetic level. Sometimes making that human connection has to come from understanding their trials, rather than participating in the celebration of their tribulations. But, if reality is something you are uncomfortable with, feel free to return to your utopia of ignorant bliss, and I’ll see you in about 2 weeks. Hopefully my next piece will be less miserable.
This is about the rape and murder of Zainab Ansari. We’re going to walk through this case together, step-by-step, from the day she went missing, to the discovery of her body, and finishing with the police and public reaction. Let’s start by reviewing the steps of the incident.
On January 4th, Zainab Ansari was walking to her Quran class. The class was located very close to her home in Kasur, Punjab. Her parents were performing a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and Zainab was staying with her uncle. When she did not return from her class, Zainab’s uncle reported that his niece was missing to local police, yet no immediate steps were taken. Understanding that the authorities were not going to do anything to help them find Zainab, her family took it upon themselves to investigate the incident. They found CCTV footage of Zainab being accompanied by a man dressed in white.
Five days later, on the 9th of January, Zainab’s body was found in a rubbish dump. Her autopsy suggested that she had endured captivity and torture before her death. Her autopsy confirmed she had been raped and then strangled to death.
Zainab was six.
Let’s stop there for a second. I think that sometimes seeing things through a screen desensitises us to the reality of the situation. So, I want us to pause for a second and internalise that age: six. Now, understand what that truly means. Think of your six-year-old sibling, cousin, niece or nephew. Try and think back to when you were six and then realise that you probably can’t do that because it was too long ago. Think about what milestones a six-year-old is meeting: learning to tell the time, beginning to read basic books independently, learning their 2, 5 and 10-times tables, reaching a height of about 4 feet and just starting Year 2 in primary school.
Zainab was six. She was captured, tortured, strangled and raped. Think about that.
Between February and October of this year, Ali’s case has been persisting with the supreme court rejecting his appeal to uphold his conviction. On October 12th the ACT issued a death warrant for Imran Ali and on October 17th, he was hung at Kot Lakhpat Jail. Zainab’s father called for his daughter’s killer to be hung in public, to make him an example to those who believe they could get away with such a heinous crime. His request was rejected and unfortunately, there is little evidence to suggest that other convicts would be discouraged by witnessing his death: Zainab was the twelfth incident like this to occur within a 10-mile radius in the space of a year. She was Imran Ali’s eighth victim; she was also his oldest. There is something deeply unsatisfying about this apparent victory. The fact that twelve other young girls had to die, eight of them from the same perpetrator, before any serious action was taken, is disheartening to say the least.
The murder of Zainab sparked national and international outrage. Protestors were furious over the hypocrisy of the elite. Violent demonstrations across Karachi, Lahore and within Kasur itself reflected that national patience with politicians had finally run dry; the people wanted justice for Zainab and all the victims before her. The work of child molestation rings in parts of Pakistan has made its mark multiple times, but there have been no real, urgent, assertive steps taken to tackle this problem. Instead, the government works to sweep these issues under the rug and act only to appease public reaction. We can only hope that appeasement is not on the cards for the people of Pakistan and the government are pushed to end the abuse of children.
I think that’s a pretty straightforward, common-sense request. Don’t you?
As a final thought, I want to link this case back to activism in the Western World, specifically in the feminist movement. With figures like Brett Kavanaugh, Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar, as well as the sheer scale of the statistics, it’s clear that abuse against women, especially young women, spans every industry – from politics, to entertainment, to sports. Furthermore, the lack of repercussions for these men makes these cases especially infuriating. So, it is no surprise that activism against sexual assault and violence against women in any capacity is a huge proportion of what female activists are fighting for. However, too often we focus our protests and debates on one part of the world, and therefore only fight for one sector of girls and women. As women (and men) of the western world, we cannot forget to fight for those who have no representation, to shine a light on those who have been overlooked and to speak for those who have been silenced. I implore you to remember Zainab, and all the other girls like her, to feel their pain and anguish in the same way you stood with Dr Ford, Aly Raisman, Terry Crews, Angelina Jolie, Karen McDougal, Amber Heard and so many more victims.
Distance does not dispel pain, so it should never compromise our right to be heard.
Illustration by Hannah Bruton.