As I scroll through Twitter in an attempt to distract myself from morning news about various cases of femicide that have suddenly plagued the country, I find myself looking at two very interesting hashtags:
I’ve done my best to avoid looking at the news because despite the privilege and protection my parents have granted me, I can’t help but wonder that one wrong step, one miscalculation, one misguided attempt to look ‘sociable’ could lead to me being harassed, assaulted or worse, murdered in cold blood.
When I look at the news these days, it doesn’t matter what social class you belong to, violence against women is rampant. There used to be a time growing up when we were told that domestic abuse and the violation of women’s rights only occurred in rural areas, in the wilderness of interior Sindh and Punjab, where feudal lords abused their powers over their tenants, making their lives miserable.
But clearly, that was a false narrative given to us to make us ‘city-dwellers’ seem educated and safe from the depravity that we believed existed only in the uncultured, illiterate hovels that made up our villages.
However, in recent years, it’s become quite clear that this was just an illusion, told to many girls such as me to make us feel as though we were better than our rural counterparts. To make us believe that we had rights, that somehow living in a major city, having a comfortable, affluent life, and expensive education would prevent us from such a fate.
But that was a misconstrued lie.
I don’t know if my rights allow me to stand in a public place or sit in my car at a traffic stop and either ignore or confront a man who thinks it’s fine to catcall me. I’m not sure that, if I confront him, he’ll be embarrassed at his momentary lapse of judgment or go rogue and make a public spectacle of me.
Some would say that it’s a ridiculous fear. After all, I’ve personally never been subjected to catcalling. My parents have always ensured that I have a car at hand, that I never go to places that would be considered unsavory. My social circle consists of liberal, educated people from well-to-do and respectable families.
Sometimes we have parties, we’ll meet up with friends- regardless of their gender- and we won’t think twice before coming home late. But Noor had the same, if not a more privileged, upbringing.
The daughter of a former Pakistani ambassador to South Korea, I’m sure that Noor had a wonderful childhood. I’m sure that she had loving parents who would’ve done anything for their only child. I’m sure that she had so much more freedom than most women in Pakistan can dream of. According to those close to her, she was a humble, soft-spoken, fun-loving person who took part in women’s rights protests and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed was wrong.
Mind you, she wasn’t a diehard activist, but she did what she felt was right, and that’s more than a lot of us can say. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t attend a women’s march in Pakistan because of the millions of things that tend to go wrong on such occasions.
But she did that, and I commend her for it.
She was friends with educated people from backgrounds similar to hers. In Pakistan, being educated basically equates to being a good person. After all, a quality education is very expensive, and only the rich and decent invest in it.
So, imagine the surprise when the nation woke up on July 21st- the day before Eid-ul-Adha, a major festivity in Pakistan- to find out that a woman with such privilege was brutally murdered by her boyfriend the night before.
Noor didn’t live in a conservative society that is often attributed to Pakistan. She grew up with rich liberals and lived in the most secular city of the country. Islamabad is home to countless foreign dignitaries, it is the seat of our government and is regarded as the safest city in the country.
So, how did Noor end up in such circumstances?
Well, she had the misfortune of meeting and dating the son of one of the most influential businessmen in the country.
It is important that we remember his name because he is the definition of how immense wealth and privilege can make someone untouchable in Pakistan.
Zahir Jaffar’s father, Zakir, is a well-known industrialist. He owns various companies, including the massive Jaffer Group of Companies.
Zahir himself served as the Chief Brand Strategist for Ahmed Jaffer & Company (Private) Limited and various other ventures. Zahir’s mother, Asmat, is an independent psychotherapist and NLP Practitioner focused on helping clients with anxiety, disorders, and general mental health.
The entire family holds dual American citizenship and enjoys a very prestigious position in society. You would think that they’re the epitome of wealth in a third-world country like Pakistan- the richest of the rich, who have everything they could’ve ever wanted.
Unfortunately, in Zahir’s case, one of the things he wanted was to murder Noor, and he almost got away with it. If it wasn’t for Noor’s father’s position in society and his decisive decision to stand up against this family, Noor would have been one of tens of thousands of women who are murdered every day in Pakistan.
In fact, it’s actually Noor’s murder that has brought to light various cases of women- who didn’t all have the same privilege as her- but had made the fatal mistake of saying ‘no’ to a man. Whether it was a husband, a father, or a brother, these women have been killed for simply asking for their basic human rights- the right to bear a daughter, the right to choose one’s own husband, and the right to ask for one’s inheritance- all of these rights which are mentioned in both the constitution and the Shariah.
But of course, in Pakistan, most of the time, when a woman experiences abuse, it’s probably because she did something wrong. In Noor’s case, she had a disagreement with Zahir. This in itself has been a controversial subject in Pakistan where everyone forgets that there was a time when they used to write love letters or secretly call their crushes.
But you know, in the previous generation, ‘affairs’- as they were called- often led to marriages unless the families of both parties disagreed. Then the matter was quickly resolved, and everyone moved.
Of course, the word ‘dating’ implies Western connotations. There have been countless social media accounts defaming Noor, implying that she probably deserved what she got because she was in an illicit (read: haram) relationship with a man.
So, let’s talk about what happened to Noor.
Noor went over to Zahir’s house. Rumors have it that she intended to break up with him, but it has been verified that they had an argument. The subject matter is of speculation but what we know for sure is Zahir became extremely aggressive towards her, prompting her to jump off a balcony to escape. Noor was injured, but when she couldn’t find a way out of the property, she hid in a security room where the family’s security guard was present as well. The guard witnesses Zahir enter the room, grab Noor and drag her back into his house, where he took her into his room, closing the door shut.
We don’t know exactly what happened. According to sources, Zahir first tortured her with a knuckle-duster before he killed her and then proceeded to behead her with a sharp object. Some claim that he even played around with her head. We don’t know how long he tortured Noor; some people are even skeptical of this incident’s chronological order.
What we do know is that the moment Zahir’s parents found out about this, they arranged for his mother’s rehabilitation service to admit him, ready to portray their son as mentally ill. In a country like Pakistan, where mental health is grossly neglected, it is positively disgusting to see a murderer being painted as someone who is ‘mentally ill.’ In fact, when Zahir was finally arrested by the police, they reported that he did not behave like someone with any sort of mental issues.
He was fine, and I’m confident that aside from some personality disorder, he is a completely sane individual who knew exactly what he was doing. The fact that his family is willing to excuse his behavior as mental illness is disgusting. It undermines millions of people in the country who rightfully need mental assistance but can’t afford it. Why his parents ever thought that they disguise his crime as an act of insanity is beyond me.
It’s the power of privilege and entitlement, I suppose. And it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s bad enough that we have to live with the fact that the majority of our political leaders are corrupt. But the uber-rich and educated?
What does that say about our society?
People like to bring religion into this subject. They say that Noor died this way because she wasn’t following Islam. That, she should’ve been smarter, that she shouldn’t have gone to Zahir’s house.
But what about Zahir?
Didn’t his therapist mother sense that there was something wrong with her son? Couldn’t the family afford treatment to ensure that their son would never do such a thing? Didn’t his father teach him how to respect women?
Because, in Zahir’s case, the argument seems to be one of respect.
Zahir is so entitled that he thinks that everyone is beneath him. Unfortunately, Zahir isn’t the only one to possess such a worldview. Though they might not be as privileged as him, a majority of men (and women) on Pakistani Twitter are ignoring the fact that this case has brought forth so many other cases of femicides in the country.
When thousands of women, who are undoubtedly traumatized by this incident, demand justice, we get responses such as #NotAllMen. But none of Zahir’s friends are stepping forward to say that they tried to talk to him about his behavior. In fact, there have been reports of Zahir sending many women inappropriate messages via Instagram and other social media platforms.
So, why didn’t anyone say something? And what of the guard? Sure, his employer was physically harassing someone, and he probably would’ve lost his job if he said something, but wasn’t he in a position to stop what happened?
In addition to the stories surfacing about Zahir, there has been a new wave of women exposing men who- like Zahir- sexually harassed them. Of course, none of these men have beheaded someone like Zahir, but where’s the line?
Where’s the line where you casually send women inappropriate messages and then decide to behead one? For Zahir, we’ll never know for sure. Maybe if such messages were considered wrong, to begin with, we would’ve already caught on to a pattern of behavior that continuously disrespected women.
Zahir’s crime is extreme. But it is no doubt due to the oversimplification of the ‘boys will be boys’ prompt. Zahir wasn’t a boy. He was a grown man, managing one of his father’s businesses.
We don’t know what will happen for sure, but maybe, privilege won’t be able to get Zahir out of trouble this time. #JusticeForNoor