Given the current discussions around sexual violence, violence against children, and transphobia, we at the O Collective would like to put forward the following in the hopes of deepening the conversation:
1. Sexual activity of any kind with a minor is unacceptable. Rape is unacceptable. We all agree on this and yet rape and pedophilia are rampant in our society, enabled by many diverse cultural structures. Zainab. Farishta. The children in Kasur. Every one of us in this society knows someone who was harmed by an adult as a child. Many of us were those children who were harmed.
2. No one single community or class has a monopoly on sexual violence, sexual exploitation, and the exploitation of children. There is no place that is so elite, or so pious, or so feminist, or so sharif, that it is free from sexual violence, sexual exploitation, and the exploitation of children. We need to build a world where this is no longer our normal.
3. We do not teach anyone consent in this society. We do not teach children what sex is, and though we might teach them good touch or bad touch, we don’t often explain what is good about good touch and bad about bad touch. Many children come to their parents, knowing that something bad has happened, and are scolded, punished, sometimes beaten and silenced by their parents for speaking out—for the sake of izzat, or sharm, or for preserving the status quo. The children who are abandoned or estranged from their biological families, homeless, economically disenfranchised and vulnerable otherwise, have little to no protections. We attach the notion of shame to children’s bodies, and when they/we grow into adults, they/we have no coherent understanding of pleasure, pain, safety, or harm.
Every moment a person enters into a sexual activity, consent is necessary. The relationship does not matter. Husband and wife, partners for life, it does not matter. Consent is necessary in sex between people who are lovingly committed to each other. Consent is necessary in sex with a sex worker. Consent is necessary in a casual hook up. Whether you are going home from the shadi hall after nikah, or going on Tinder, consent is necessary. Every time.
Children are not able to give consent, because children have not grown into their full selves and cannot be expected to make adult decisions. Sex is an adult activity. It does not matter how grown someone looks, or how they speak, or what they may want in a moment. It does not matter if they have a crush on an adult or if they dislike them from the start. That adult cannot under any circumstances engage in sexual activity with the child. The child may or may not know or understand that; the adult does and the adult must. The adult is the responsible one.
4. Certain communities have always been persecuted by the law and have a history of being criminalized on the basis of certain tropes and stereotypes. The khawajasira community has been harassed and criminalized in our lands for the last 300 years since the British systematically criminalized various “castes and tribes”. Laws about public decency, dancing, begging, are all based on the idea that some people are inherently prone to criminal behaviour. The colonial law essentially relied on the logic of constructing the appearance of someone as capable of exhibiting criminal behavior as the evidence for their crime. The law not only tries the facts of the crime, but the characters of the accusers and accused.
If, as queer feminists seeking justice, we approach a rape allegation with the same attitude as the legal regimes that regulate our bodies, genders and sexualities — assuming pathological criminality, putting characters on trial — then we serve neither justice nor healing. Furthermore, in the process, we engage in all of those ways of speaking and arguing that have harmed our own communities for centuries: transphobia, fear of the poor and desperate, respectability politics, misgendering, name-calling.
To put it plainly: sex with a minor is rape. That is the beginning and end of it.
5. When it came to our attention that Kami was accused of rape, we attempted to find out more from our colleagues and friends in Karachi. We learned from them that the facts of the case were unclear and that the khwajasira community had addressed the issue within its own judicial system. Now, after reading and viewing all the various statements, and with the knowledge that Sana has passed away, we recognize two main points: (a) at the moment, there is no prosecutable evidence of this crime; and (b) knowing that there is very little chance of the truth being brought to light, we err on the side of the victim. We stand for Sana. We believe her.
Members of O Collective have shared space with Kami Sid and her partner in the past. In light of everything that has come into the public sphere, we stand for Sana, and while there is no prosecutable evidence available, we will not any longer share space with Kami or her partner, nor collaborate with any organization she runs, advises on, or has a substantial hand in. We take this position after much thought and discussion. We will rethink it again if something significantly changes.
As a larger community of activists, whatever positions and whatever actions we take as a result of this event unfolding need to be conscious of how easy it is for us as a larger society to switch into transphobia, misogyny, classism, personal attacks, homophobia, and abuse. It is important to contemplate our own positions when we attempt to take the lead on conversations affecting the lives of a community that we are not a part of. We must be thoughtful, self-reflective, open to being corrected in our mistakes, and open to imagining what structural changes we can bring about so our children can grow into their full, glorious, queer, trans selves and no longer have to endure the pain that Sana has taken with her to her grave.