Aurat March organisers demand judicial probe into Islamabad stone pelting incident

Updated March 11, 2020

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Organiser of a women’s march, Farzana Bari, speaks to media representatives at a press conference on Tuesday.—White Star
Organiser of a women’s march, Farzana Bari, speaks to media representatives at a press conference on Tuesday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Organisers of the Aurat Azadi March on Tuesday demanded a judicial inquiry into the stone-pelting incident that took place during a demonstration held on Sunday to mark International Women’s Day, urging authorities to take exemplary action against members of a right-wing group who they alleged was involved.

“The attack shows a lack of tolerance towards women in our society and the violent extent to which patriarchal right-wing forces would go to protect their interests and silence women. But we are not afraid of the threats and will continue our struggle for women’s liberation across the country,” they said at a press conference.

Rights activist Dr Farzana Bari said the violent attack took place partly because of the administration’s decision to allow religious parties’ Haya March at the same venue as that of the Aurat Azadi March.

Even though the march organisers had applied for an NOC for the event weeks in advance, the grant of the NOC was delayed till the last day because of pressure from right-wing parties who had only planned their march to disrupt the Aurat March, she said.

‘How were right-wing parties allowed to stockpile stones, chilli powder to use for attacks’

It was unacceptable that the Haya March organisers were allowed to set up right next to the Aurat Azadi March venue when the religious parties organising it — including the JUI-F, Jamia Hafsa and Sunni Ittehad among others — had actively threatened them with violence and then carried them out, she added.

“How were the members of right-wing parties allowed to stockpile stones, bricks, sticks and chilli powder to use for attacks against the Aurat Azadi March and why the violent attack was not reflected in the FIR?” she asked.

Despite some brave police officers who maintained the cordon, the police overall seemed unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the situation, lacking riot gear with which to quell the situation, she added.

All of these questions need to be answered immediately through an independent judicial inquiry with representation from Aurat Azadi March organisers, she said.

Women’s Democratic Front (WDF) information secretary and Aurat March organiser Tooba Syed said the Haya March participants directly threatened her and other organisers and made obscene gestures at them from afar.

She said that when the Aurat Azadi March was about to begin its walk towards the venue, the Haya March participants attacked, starting breaking down the cordon between them and hurling sticks, stones, bricks and shoes, which resulted in injuries to several organisers, including WDF president Ismat Shahjahan and others.

A day after the March, a car belonging to one of the organisers was vandalised, she added.

WDF president Ismat Shah­jahan, who was injured during the stone-pelting incident, said the attack was a reminder of why the March and feminist resistance to patriarchal violence were necessary, as even women marching against violence were subjected to barbaric violence by patriarchal status quo supporters.

BBC correspondent Irfana Yasir shared her story of violence at the March, saying she and her child was assaulted by a Haya March participant with chilli powder which temporarily blinded them.

Aurat Azadi March organiser Anam Rathore said that those who attacked the March were oblivious to the violence faced by women in Pakistan, which was one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women.

She said that 90 pere cent of Pakistani women reported having experienced domestic violence or sexual assault in their lifetimes, of whom only 0.4pc take it to court. “Over 1,000 honour killings occur every year. Child sexual abuse cases have also risen at an alarming rate, with over 2,000 reported cases in the last six months.”

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020