WITH the hashtag #JusticeForNoor across the social media and petitions signed by millions on digital platforms, the brutal murder of Noor Mukadam, a young and educated woman, has shaken the nation to the core. The accused, Zahir Jaffer, is said to have exhibited psychiatric issues, violent tendencies and drug abuse in the past for which he had even undergone counselling, but, ironically, he later started conducting sessions of his own, betraying in the process the incompetence and unreliability of various ‘mental health institutions’ that have cropped up in urban Pakistan.

The fact that the alleged murderer and the victim had been longtime friends highlights how vulnerable a Pakistani woman is even among her closest acquaintances. How can we possibly thrive in such a frightening male-dominated society?

As a female belonging to the same social class, age group and the exact locality where this horrendous crime had taken place, I have lost my sleep. I am extremely fortunate to have been brought up in an open-minded, educated family where gender equality has been of utmost importance.

As an advocate of social issues and women empowerment, my work keeps me updated about the human injustices that are rampant in society. Despite incessant surge in the number of cases of atrocities committed against women in Pakistan in the form of rape, child marriages, domestic violence and acid attacks, I have remained strong and fearless until this horrific episode. No one had ever imagined that a crime of this magnitude would occur in this very elite and educated neighbourhood.

Since the mishap and after much contemplation, I have realised that women rights is a crucial societal issue that gets sidelined by the authorities on a daily basis. It is the need of the hour to bring such cases in the limelight and expose the masses to the gravity of the issue on a broader scale.

We need to educate the women to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times. They must learn self-defence techniques, martial arts, kickboxing and should be equipped with safety tools, such as pepper sprays, tasers, pocket knives and whistles while going out. Online videos can provide great help in this regard.

Keeping in view the prevailing state of affairs, women should inform at least one or two family members about their whereabouts. Also, it is better to avoid leaving alone late at night.

Most importantly, it is time we dug deeper and focussed on the moral upbringing of boys. Parents and teachers must play their role to make them realise the implications of their so-called ‘casual’ attitudes, such as male gaze, catcalls, body-shaming and stalking. Nothing of the sort should be condoned at any cost.

It also needs to be acknowledged that mental health problems are real and need proper treatment just like any physical health issue. Unfortunately, it is still a taboo to talk about them. Drug users, alcoholics and psychiatric patients must come forward and seek help, and their families should support them instead of criticising them. Mental health issues must be treated on a priority basis.

Social media has once again helped the oppressed citizens to raise their voice. The public will hopefully keep the issue alive on social media until justice is served. Let us hope that there will be a time when we, as a society, will actually be able to tackle the social evils of misogyny and prejudice effectively.

Soha Nisar
Islamabad

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2021

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