April 23, 2018

When #MeToo isn’t enough to save you from being set on fire

Parents of Asma Yaqoob hold up a phone with a picture of their burned daughter
Nobody is talking about Asma Yaqoob Masih. Nobody wants to talk about her. Nobody wants to listen to the sad, sordid, gut twisting story that Asma’s cold body wants to tell. And do you want to know why? Because she wasn’t some rich, famous, in your face celebrity. She was a maid, who was set on fire because a man felt jilted that she did not want to be with him. So he set her on fire.

Asma’s story isn’t the only one. If you go down this rabbit hole, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of these stories — spurned men setting their rejectors on fire, or throwing acid on their faces. I felt my faith failing when I Googled “Pakistani woman set on fire.

“Teenager burned to death for declining marriage proposal” ... “Woman set on fire for attending wedding without husband’s permission” ... “Girl burned alive for refusing marriage proposal in Murree” ... “16 year old schoolgirl drugged, strangled and set on fire for helping friend elope” ... How many hundreds more are we missing?

Last night I had an epiphany. Those who have turned the “mera jism, meri marzi” movement into a meme should be forced to watch the horrors their high handedness inflicts on those who shout “mera jism, meri marzi.”

It was Asma Yaqoob’s jism, but it was not her marzi. Because her marzi was overturned and she was set on fire. It was Khadija Siddiqui’s jism, but it was not her marzi. Because her marzi resulted in her being stabbed 23 times in broad daylight. It was 16 year old Sumaira’s jism. But it was not her marzi, because her marzi resulted in her throat being slit by her brother, and her writhing in front of a crowd of onlookers for almost an hour before she passed. It was Qandeel Baloch’s jism, but it was not her marzi. Because her marzi resulted in her brother strangling her in the middle of the night in the misguided belief that he was saving the family’s honor.

Rizwan Gujjar was a good, pious Muslim man. He wanted Asma to covert to Islam and then marry him. She said no. She said no to becoming a Muslim, she said no to marrying him, and she said no to his ego. How could she have dared? He doused her with kerosene and set her on fire.

I wonder how these good, pious Muslim men find it in them to set another human on fire, stab them, strangle them or slaughter them. I wonder which religious decree these good, pious Muslim men follow which leads them down this road of depravity. I wonder why these good, pious Muslim men don’t die of hypocrisy when they say it is not women’s jism, and it is not their marzi; when they say it is God’s jism and God’s marzi; when they forget to speak when God’s jism and God’s marzi are desecrated by men.

Asma Yaqoob Masih is just another statistic. She didn’t even make a blip. You might’ve heard of her just in passing. Or you might not have heard of her at all. But it’s too late now anyway. She’s dead because our apathy, our myopia, our insistence women don’t have it as bad as they say it is, led to a man thinking the appropriate response for a rejection, was inflicting intolerable, unbearable, unendurable, unmanageable pain on an innocent soul.

It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.