JUI cleric Mufti Aziz ur Rehman, his sons, and two unidentified men have been booked by the Lahore police after a video of the religious leader molesting a student went viral on social media. The news report says the case was registered on the student’s complaint when police arrived at his local madrassa in Lahore. The student says Rehman, a former JUI leader, sexually abused him and then the cleric’s sons started blackmailing and threatening to kill him. A day earlier, the superintendent of the madrassa where Rehman worked, said that the cleric had been fired. Superintendent Asadullah Farooq said Rehman and his sons had been asked to leave the madrassa and the institution was not responsible for any of their acts.
The cleric has been charged with rape and criminal intimidation, which actually seems light, considering he was allegedly raping the boy for three years. But the case should not just about the rapist. The institution miserably failed to protect a child that it was supposedly responsible for. According to the victim, he was banned from taking exams for three years after being accused of cheating. When the boy asked the cleric to reconsider the penalty, he told him to “make him happy” first.
Thus started three years of horror, during which Rehman had the child convinced that he would soon remove the ban and even ensure that he passed the exams. This is where the madrassah’s administration comes in. The boy says that after his original three-year penalty had passed, he approached the administration, but instead of investigating the boy’s claims, they accused him of lying because the cleric was a “respected and pious man”. When the cleric ‘somehow’ found out about the complaint, the threats of violence increased. This is when the victim started recording their interactions so he could gather irrefutable proof, which he eventually did.
While it is fundamentally important to condemn and shame the crime, we cannot simply stop there. Even more important is the need to end the vicious cycle that feeds on the vulnerability of students; only to breed future abusers. Islamabad can also leap to action by making sexual education mandatory in seminaries. Many a time, students who have been abused are not aware of the gross violation of their bodies, their sanctity, their privacy. It is just as crucial to replace the “teacher-is-always-right” mantra with the supremacy of individual rights. Plainly put, a child should be equally honourable to the state as his teacher. Let us encourage the young to speak out lest they face any unwanted advances.
Clerics who are often quick to call for justice — including ‘mob justice’ — when it suits their political goals, made absolutely no effort to call for justice over an act that every secular or religious legal treatise considers a major crime. It is worth noting that those who call for lynching people based on hearsay with zero physical evidence are absolutely quiet, even though this crime was caught on camera. Do they feel that rape is acceptable when committed by ‘respect and pious’ men?