One woman, 400 men

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M. Ayyaz Khan Niazi

The recent spate of unspeakable atrocities against women shows the countrymen are increasingly gaining notoriety for failing our women.

Last month Prime Minister Imran Khan had to intervene personally after the gruesome murder of a street beggar Naseem Bibi and her 16-month-old toddler in Rawalpindi, and soon after the horrific murder and decapitation of Noor Muqaddam the daughter of a former diplomat killed by the scion of one of the biggest industrialist families.

The latest episode which has again attracted the attention of the prime minister is the assault of a woman on 14th August from the crowd celebrating ‘Independence Day’ at Minar-e-Pakistan. The assault by a crowd of 400 depraved men was well documented by onlookers with their mobile phones has shocked the entire country, the graphic images making rounds on social media show that a frenzied mob mostly comprising of the younger generation fearlessly touching, assaulting, and groping the only woman in the crowd.

The helpless woman, who is stated to be a social media activist, was at the site to document the jubilant mood of the nation however instead became a victim, the mob not only groped her but tore off her clothes as well.

Ayesha Akram narrating her ordeal

Independence Day a day of pride for Pakistani’s left the entire nation to lower its head in shame. The incident shows how women are unsafe in our cosmopolitan city’s even in broad daylight. The apologists and those who love to blame the victim are out to justify the assault, saying that the woman was at the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’.

The same logic was hurled at the gang-rape of a woman in front of her children on the motorway when her car ran out of fuel, they argue she should have checked the fuel before hitting the road, or she should have had a male companion with her if driving at night. Such arguments are disgusting and give a guilt-free moment to these sexual deviants.

The reality is that most women of Pakistan have experienced harassment and/or sexual assaults at home at the hands of relatives and acquaintances, in educational institutes by class fellows, staff members or even teachers and at workplaces by their colleagues.

Tiktoker Ayesha Akram surrounded, pushed, pulled, and assaulted by hundreds of men in Lahore Park.

The Minar-e-Pakistan incident has triggered a debate led by women on social media who are recounting their own horrific experiences. A counter-narrative propelled by misogynists and apologists leads the discussion nowhere and women’s exploitation and trauma will never end.

The Minar-e-Pakistan incident is a litmus test for the Punjab government and the police department. According to the Punjab government Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is appraising himself with minute-to-minute developments in catching all the people involved in the shameful and heartbreaking independence day incident. Modern technology is being used to identified the culprits through NADRA database and video footage captured by the Safe City cameras. This is an excellent example of modern technology being used for the right reasons to track and arrest the actual culprits. However simply arresting these culprits will not provide justice to the victim. The case should be prosecuted vigorously in the court of law and then punished accordingly.

The next task which the government as well as the public, media and civil society should take upon themselves is to change the mindset of the public at large regarding women’s honour and respect in society.

Ayesha Akram at her home

The ongoing trend is that whenever there’s an incident of harassment or assault on women it immediately goes viral online, it becomes a major news story shaking the public as well as the government and its agencies to the core. After some time the country returns to its usual normal while women’s plight continues on every day.

The nation needs a permanent solution to cruelty and injustice towards women but other vulnerable victims as well, perhaps starting a discussion on women’s rights and respecting women’s opinions and their place in society would help.

The federal and provincial governments have made several laws protecting women’s share in ancestral property, quotas in education, jobs and representation in politics. The reality is that measures have hardly brought about any change in women’s safety. What we really need are examples to be set which become a sign of belief for our society and our perception internationally.

Laws need to be revisited to allow convictions and tougher punishments of such crimes. A nation which doesn’t give due respect to women lacks the core fundamentals of being a strong nation.

(The writer is ex-NICL chairman. He tweets at @MAyyazKhanNiazi)