September 13th, 2020
By Sher-e-Azam & Haider Kaleem
On September 11, the nation reeled with news of the gang-rape of a woman in the presence of her children, off the M11 near Gujjarpura, Lahore, in the wee hours of September 10. as if this was not enough, within some time, remarks by the recently-appointed Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), Umar Sheikh, sparked a furor among Pakistanis.
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at main points in the two major cities to protest against the Lahore police chief’s comments and to demand the State of safety and protection for women.
Feminist and women rights activist Tahira Abdullah is full of rage.
“We have taken notice. What does that even mean? Who appointed him. I demand that his performance record be made public so that the entire nation can see the real face of its protectors,” she says.
While the government attempted to quell the public by promising that it had taken notice of the statement, human rights activists, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens took to streets and to social media when they saw no results, and expressed their disgust over the culture of victim-blaming, and demanded the immediate removal of CCPO Umar Sheikh.
The ruling PTI, which has a direct hand in Umar Sheikh’s controversial appointment, denounced his callous statements, however kept asserting that the official had already apologized even though no video of his apology was released.
“He was trying to say something else but his wording was not accurate. He should have taken into account the sensitivity of the situation. But he has apologized now,” says PTI minister Faisal Vawda, who himself has a controversial record of being overly blunt on the media.
When asked for clarification, the CCPO also stated that his motive was not to blame the victim.
“Would you allow the women of your house to go out at 12:30? No one would. I did not intend to blame the victim. I just wanted to caution the citizenry about these things,” asserted Umar Sheikh.
“How can anyone say that a woman driving with her children was enticing anyone? I think the entire blame lies with the state and the state alone,” says a female protestor.
“The PTI claimed that they will transform Pakistan into a state of Madina. Maybe the victim actually believed that and thought she’d be safe because the “state” will protect her,” says another angered protestor.
“Before this when women were raped men used to question their clothing. Now they have gone even one step further, blaming her for leaving the house. I think this is ridiculous behavior,” says a student present at the protest.
Meanwhile, Fauzia Viqar, former chairman of Punjab Commission for Status of Women (PCSW) said, “DPO Pakpattan was suspended merely for not giving the desired protocol to a particular family. The CCPO has insulted all women, half the population of Pakistan and yet the government chooses to stand with him,” she says. “Does half the population have no value?” she asked.
“I think this problem goes way beyond the CCPO, it’s the issue of every man in every institution. We need to change this mindset,” explains other protestors.
“The state must be proactive in fulfilling its responsibilities of protecting the fundamental rights of each citizen. Otherwise what’s the point of the “social contract” between the citizens and the state,” said Abid Saqi, Chairman Pakistan Bar Council.
“The main issue is the patriarchal mindset which is compelling some people to justify the incident even now,” exclaims a protestor.
Activists voiced their concerns that the CCPO’s insensitive attitude may have not only jeopardized the investigation into the incident but has shaken women’s faith in the police and justice system even further.
Meanwhile, in Karachi, the protestors also focused on the rape and murder incident of five-year-old Marwah from Essa Nagri.
The protestors demanded swift justice for the child and for the survivors of the motorway incident. Many of the protestors also carried banners demanding action against the murderer of Shaheena Shaheen, the Baloch female journalist who was shot in front of her house in Turbat.
Shireen Ijaz from Women’s Forum condemned the motorway tragedy and said that the rape cannot be blamed on the woman because it was the responsibility of the state to uphold law and order to ensure safe living conditions for the citizenry.
“She was traveling with her children and ran out of fuel. How is that her fault? The state and the institutions of the state are the only ones who should be blamed for this failure”, says Ijaz of the Women’s Forum.
Female lawyer Asiya Munir asserted that it is not a crime for a woman to travel. Women much like men are citizens of this country and deserve the full protection of the law.
“Are women not allowed to leave their houses alone? Do we have to attach ourselves to men all the time”, asks an angered Asiya.T
Speaking to Voicepk.net, artiste Ali Gul Pir stated that rape did not only make the women feel insecure.
“All of us feel insecure because it feels as if the government and the security agencies have failed to protect the citizenry,” he said. “The government has failed to protect the citizenry. If the police ask you not to leave your house alone at night then it means that the state has completely failed,” he added.
Pastor Ghazala Shafiq, of the Church of Pakistan, demanded that the perpetrators of the recent motorway incidents and the rape and murder of Marwah must be brought to justice. The perpetrators of rape and murder should be punished without delay.
“A mother was raped in front of her children, and the CCPO, our protector, started condemning the victim herself. Women are an essential part of our society and he has humiliated us all. I demand his immediate suspension,” continues Ghazala.
Anwar Sheikh, a member of the women’s movement, said that the citizens are being forced to protest against such incidents.
“Our government and law enforcement agencies have failed miserably to protect the people. It almost seems as if we are living in the dark ages,” he said. Condemning CCPO Lahore’s statement, he said that he should resign.
Regarding the murder of Shaheena Baloch, a student from Turbat said that Shaheena’s murder is tantamount to the murder of Baloch art, poetry, and journalism.
“Shaheena was killed on the 5th of September but her murderers are still roaming free,” said the student.
Habib-ud-Din Junaidi, President, People’s Labor Bureau, Sindh, said that we have taken to the streets for the survival of our children and future generations.
“We honor our women and this incident has shaken the entire country,” says Habib.
Sana Zubair, a citizen attending the protest said that we will always raise our voice against such heinous and tragic incidents.
“Little boys, old women, young women, transgenders – everyone is a potential victim. We cannot allow this to continue,” said Sana.
Student Malaika Khan said that the incidents of child abuse, murder, and horrific violence against women should be eliminated and the government must take immediate action.