A VIDEO of a woman being assaulted by a crowd of men during Independence Day celebrations near Minar-i-Pakistan has shaken citizens to the core. Clips of the incident, now viral on social media, are unbearable to watch. The woman is assaulted, manhandled and groped by scores of men, with some unabashedly filming the crime. The men are brazen and ruthless. The complainant says she was attacked by nearly 400 men, some of whom scaled the enclosures to attack her and rip her clothes off.
The episode has proved a trigger for many women who described on social media how they themselves were assaulted or how they feared they would sooner or later face a similar situation. The trauma and anger among the women is palpable. This incident rubs salt in the deep wounds inflicted by the misogyny rampant in our country — the toxic mentality that allows for repeated assaults, victim-blaming and gaslighting of women. A case has been registered by the Lahore police against hundreds of men, with officials saying the video footage of the attack will help authorities track down the culprits. But bringing these perpetrators to justice is just one part of the solution. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to correct the public narrative around women’s rights.
All too often, the country is gripped with horror as gruesome crimes against women make national news. While the thorough investigation of these cases is very important, it must be supported by unambiguous messaging by members of our government that such actions will be punished. Key officials must use their platforms not only to strongly condemn violence against women, but also to actively set the tone for women’s rights and opinion to be respected.
They must repeatedly and at every forum say that threats and harassment directed at women will not be tolerated, and then match these statements with action against the offenders. Unless the judicial process is supported by such a robust campaign, the environment that enables such crimes against women to take place will continue. But more needs to be done also at a subliminal level in the classrooms across this country when young Pakistanis are forming ideas about the world, and about the place of women in it. Respect for women is not conditional, and they are in the public sphere by right, not on the sufferance of the men in this country.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021