Unrepentant sexism

Updated 30 Sep 2020

Email

UNDETERRED by the outrage over his earlier callous remarks, CCPO Lahore Umar Sheikh once again exposed his sexist views on how women should behave when he appeared before a Senate panel this week.

Mr Sheikh was briefing the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights about progress on the case of a woman who was gang-raped in front of her children near the Lahore motorway, when he decided to indulge in the same victim-blaming exercise he was earlier vehemently — and correctly — criticised for. The CCPO claimed the woman set out for home at 1:30am ‘as she had gone to Lahore without seeking permission from her husband and was returning home out of fear of him’.

PPP Senator Krishna Kumari Kohli rebuked Mr Sheikh over his comment, saying he should not make such assumptions. When asked whether the victim had told him she was travelling without her husband’s permission, the CCPO shockingly said he was guessing it was so. That a top police official who blatantly and repeatedly fuels rape culture is tasked with solving this case is unacceptable.

What makes things worse is that despite being a repeat offender when it comes to dishing out unsolicited, victim-blaming ‘advice’, he enjoys the patronage and protection in the higher echelons of the Punjab government’s. Why does Mr Sheikh — an officer who has failed to nab the second suspect and has on multiple public occasions shown how incapable he is of understanding the fundamentals of a crime like rape — still have his job?

The women of this country are furious, frightened and simply fed up with the way the conversation about their safety is framed. In any civilised society, would the victim of a terror attack or shooting be blamed for leaving their home or for venturing out without permission? Why then are victims of rape, already uniquely vulnerable, blamed for their assault?

The CCPO must be sacked if the government wants to inspire any public confidence about solving this case. Citizens ought to have the assurance that a responsible, sensitised official is in charge of their safety. There is a dire need to sensitise the police force when it comes to violence against women, as they are often the first responders at crime scenes. Among other things, they must refrain at all costs from blaming the victim, trivialising the incident, passing judgement on a woman’s appearance or, like Mr Sheikh, ‘teaching’ women how to avoid getting raped.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2020