August 18, 2021

By Xari Jalil 


It took a few days for the news of the incident to hit home, but once it did, the conversation buzzed around yet another horrifying incident of violence against a woman, that happened at the Greater Iqbal Park instantly began surfacing.

As if to reiterate a dark and macabre reality, the incident took place on none other than Independence Day, August 14, at the very place where the Lahore Resolution was signed – a monument of national pride.

While several people – including men – strongly condemned the incident, a more worrying situation unfolded as the counter-narrative emerged as it had in the Noor Mukaddam case recently. The victim was blamed.

This user like many others has attempted to set a narrative that has rubbished the authenticity of the incident and have accused the woman, of trying to gain attention and publicity by staging this attack.

Tragically there are not just men but women too who are openly blaming and showing suspicion for the survivor. The commentary here is that there are two sides to a picture but by looking at the ‘other side, the violence has been justified. According to the user, the ‘true Pakistani’ woman is that who has ‘unveiled’ the truth behind the attack.

Screenshots and videos made by the survivor, Ayesha Akram, days before the incident, were being floated out of context. The TikTokerwas labelled a ‘fahash aurat‘ (vulgar woman), and people shared photos of her in western attire, or just walking in the park – while some of the photos did not even seem to be of the same person but were shared anyway. There was unverified, and fake news all over.

There were also those who said, whatever happened was bad, ‘but’ the woman should have taken much better care of herself and should not have ventured into the crowd, and should have been careful of the way she was dressed. Ironically many users were posting pictures and videos of Khadim Hussain Rizvi propagating the view.

“It takes two to tango,” said one man in an interview with a legacy media organization who says he was at the park that night. “She was not wearing the right clothes, and she was blowing kisses at people. The men acted on these signals.”

Identifying the Criminal

A lot of people have called for an immediate forensic analysis of the footage from the park incident saying that instead of sharing personal details about the survivor, or the FIR – which is a public document, but divulging her name or address could further endanger her – as well as the disturbing footage of her being groped, what should actually be shared should be the faces of those who were assaulting her.

Civil Society Condemns

The Women Action Forum (WAF) has strongly condemned the attack at the Greater Iqbal Park, near Minar-e- Pakistan on August 14, 2021.

Representatives from WAF said that they were ‘appalled and deeply disturbed by the deplorable incident at Greater Iqbal Park, where a woman apparently along with a group of females, was violently assaulted and harassed for several hours by approximately hundreds of men.

The civil society activists said that it was yet another painful reminder that women and girls were not safe in Pakistan, and that public spaces were
increasingly becoming breeding grounds for harassment, violence, and (sexual) abuse.

‘We are horrified by the inhuman behaviour displayed by the men at Minar-e-Pakistan and that too on Independence day, which reflects the free reign men in this country possess, to behave violently without facing any form of accountability,’ says an official press statement from WAF. ‘We are enraged that such a public and prolonged display of violence was possible in a public space on a national holiday celebrating ‘independence’. This incident sends out a clear message: Public and National holidays are not for women to enjoy, and public spaces are not for women to inhabit. Instead, they are
hostile environments that constantly put women at risk.’

The women’s rights organization also mentioned the way women were being systematically denied their right, to access these spaces without the threat of being targeted or harassed because of deep-rooted misogyny embedded in our society.

‘The increasing rates of gender-based violence (GBV) and harassment in public spaces is not only terrifying but also reinforces the stereotype that women should be confined to their homes to seek safety, while the outside world becomes an evil place that is inaccessible to them. Why has the government and authorities of the Punjab government failed to take any substantial step towards ensuring that public spaces are more inclusive of and accessible to women and girls than too in the presence of thousands of safe city cameras in the city? Why is such a pressing matter ignored altogether when it hinders the mobility and safety of 50 per cent of our population daily?’

WAF also pointed out the irresponsible behaviour of the various media organizations and platforms during such a time. It was highlighted that the media was relentlessly circulating videos of the incident in an unethical manner, that too under a false narrative of ‘spreading awareness’.

It was pointed out that this kind of irresponsible and unempathetic media coverage would only have a long term impact on the survivor.

WAF representatives said that an interview taken of the survivor by a digital media organization was using trauma to create sensationalism. They called on the Chief Minister of Punjab Usman Buzdar, IGP Punjab Inam Ghani and DC Mudassir Riaz Malik for their blatant neglect towards women’s safety in public spaces, and for failing to provide the adequate measures that should have been in place to prevent such a dreadful incident from occurring.

A protest by civil society is expected to be held at Minar-e-Pakistan on Friday, August 20.



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