The recently concluded summit on sexual violence in conflict-ridden areas in London may have been held with the best of intentions but any substantive impact it has will be minimal at best. This is because those countries that most need to be held accountable for allowing rape in war zones refused to endorse the pledge that would have secured them an invitation to the summit. Among those worried that their conduct would be scrutinised were India and Sri Lanka, both of whom have been accused of allowing rape in Kashmir and the war against the Tamil Tigers respectively. India would be particularly wary of bringing scrutiny to its conduct with all the recent focus on rape in the country and stories of official negligence capturing the attention of the international media. Pakistan, to its credit, did sign the declaration and sent a representative from the Pakistan Ulema Council, which had only recently held an inter-faith conference to decry the growing extremism in the country. The conference itself, which had the backing of the British government and celebrities like Angelina Jolie, touched on neither Kashmir nor Sri Lanka. The focus was on war-torn countries of Africa and the personal stories of rape survivors.
Tempting though it may be to take the high moral ground, especially at a time when Indian ministers are even saying that rape can sometimes be a good thing, we have no particular reason to take pride in combating rape, whether on the battlefield or otherwise. Our own history is replete with examples of rape being either encouraged or its perpetrators allowed to get off scot free. Charges of rape during the 1971conflict have been rampant. Then we have Pervez Musharraf’s infamous comments about women getting raped so that they could procure Canadian passports. It was his government that confiscated Mukhtaran Mai’s passport so that she could not publicise her ordeal. We are no more sensitive than the worst of countries when it comes to how we discuss and tackle rape. Blaming the victim is commonplace among the police, judiciary and media while rape culture thrives in our patriarchal society. Signing the agreement and attending the London summit is surely preferable to following in India’s footsteps but it does not absolve us of our duty to do better by rape survivors. We could begin by changing laws that end up further victimising the victim. The Council of Islamic Ideology’s rejection of DNA evidence to find rapists guilty must be openly rejected. A crackdown on jirgas, which often use sexual violence against women in their judgements, is long overdue. Women legislators are usually the only ones trying to take action on these issues but it is now high time everyone else was shamed into action.