There is a frame within the frame. I stand between the bars of this place where I find myself, his hand on my shoulder, owning me, keeping me close to him. I have become a part of him, subsumed into his desire to control me, to abuse me, to perpetrate crimes which shall consume me and make the victim the criminal, repeating the cycle till all of us become a part of the dominance and submission which comes when some of us are powerful and most of us are powerless.

The others have also owned me, abused me. Perhaps they were like me once, unsuspecting, caught in a web of intricate design, suffering silently, for the ‘honour’ of our families was at stake. Strange, this notion of honour — to remain silent when atrocities against our bodies are committed, allowing the crime to be accepted as a given reality. I had grown up believing that honour was vested in the bodies of girls and women, that only when they were violated, or had chosen to make a decision about their own lives, that the ‘honour’ of the family would be besmirched. I had not known then that when my body was used, abused and then discarded, I, too, would be responsible for the shaming of the family.

They say now that there were not many of us who suffered like this and that the media exaggerated the numbers. I say to myself that it does not matter how many were abused. What matters is that this happened and that it shall continue to happen as long as there is silence around crimes involving our bodies. Strange how each one of us is in possession of a body, but that no one among us is willing to show the scars where we have been tortured, over and over again — the act giving pleasure to some and only pain to others.

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Sometimes, I ask myself if there can be any pleasure in giving another person pain. Then I remember there are many ways in which that happens, everyday, all around us. It happens in my home, when my father hits my mother, or my brother hits my sister, reaffirming his power over her, reaffirming that he is a man, and she merely a powerless female. But how did I become a victim? I, too, am a man, a young man. How did I find myself at the centre of this dirty game where silence was bought, where my body and soul were sold? Who shall answer this question? How many have the courage to tell the truth about what happened, and what continues to happen? We have convinced ourselves that we are a pious society, that our religion has taught us moral values. What, then, led to the telling of lies and the spinning of a web which caught so many of us in its gossamer weave?

They say that such things happen everywhere; that no one speaks of them. I know I am not safe anywhere. I know the nightmare shall continue, inside my head, etched deep inside my eyelids.

In August 2015, the media was rife with revelations that a gang filmed some 270 children being sexually abused as part of a blackmailing ring that operated for years in the rural town of Hussain Khan Wala near Kasur, Punjab. Residents say the gang forced children at gunpoint to be abused or drugged them into submission. Members of the gang later blackmailed the families of the victims, threatening to release videos of the abuse on the Internet. It was only after one family spoke up that others rose against the alleged perpetrators, with police later arresting 11 suspects, all of whom maintained that they were innocent and that they were being framed by rival power groups.

Zia Ahmed Awan, founder of the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, and Madadgar, says 767 children were raped and murdered across Pakistan in 2014. These are the cases that are reported. The fact that abuse takes place with impunity points to not just serious issues of governance but also to the social attitudes which permit and, in some cases, encourage the violation of the bodies and minds of those who are powerless. Abuse becomes pervasive when the victim becomes the perpetrator, moving up in the power dynamic, ‘righting’ the wrong done to them.

Photo: Victims sit with their backs turned towards the camera as a relative sits in the foreground | M Arif, White Star

This was originally published in Herald's Annual 2016 issue. Through a selection of photographs, the Herald took a look at some of the events and developments that were extremely significant in 2015.To read more, subscribe to Herald in print.