LAHORE: Politicians, entertainment personalities and members of civil society have expressed outrage over the sexual assault of a woman by around 400 men at Minar-i-Pakistan on Independence Day.

Police have identified 11 suspects involved in the assault, while videos viral on social media have been sent to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) for identification of the remaining suspects, said a senior police official on condition of anonymity.

The inspector general of police (IGP) called the Nadra chief on Wednesday and stressed early identification of the culprits who assaulted the woman. A police statement added that the Nadra staff was busy identifying the culprits despite the Ashura holidays.

Earlier, the Lahore police had registered a case on Tuesday against 400 unidentified men for assaulting and stealing from the YouTuber/TikToker and her companions. The case was registered under sections 354-A (assault or use of criminal force against woman and stripping her of her clothes), 382 (theft after preparation made for causing death, hurt or restraint in order to commit the theft), 147 (rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Safety sought for women at public places; misogyny in society highlighted

Prime Minister Imran Khan took notice of the harassment and ordered IGP Inam Ghani to arrest those responsible.

PTI leader Zulfi Bukhari tweeted that the PM had personally spoken to the IGP to ensure arrest of all the culprits as well as those who damaged the statue of Ranjit Singh at Lahore Fort.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also took notice of the incident and ordered the Lahore capital city police officer to take action against the culprits.

Punjab chief minister’s focal person for digital media Azhar Mashwani said non-bailable clauses had been added to the first information report (FIR) of the incident and the CM had taken notice.

He said four police teams had been constituted to investigate the case, while videos of the incident had been collected from the Safe City Authority, Parks and Horticulture Authority and social media and sent to Nadra, adding that teams were working to identify the culprits.

Besides government officials, leaders of various opposition parties also condemned the incident and highlighted how it reflected the deep-rooted misogyny in society.

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif termed the incident shameful, tweeting: “Deeply disturbed at the harassment of a young woman & her companions by hundreds of people at Greater Iqbal Park in Lahore. What is more worrying is the direction our society is headed in. The recent anti-women incidents are a reminder that malaise is deep-rooted. Very Shameful!”

PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz demanded justice for the woman. “Heart-wrenching scenes at Minar-i-Pakistan warrant collective introspection. We as parents, teachers & leaders need to reflect upon the upbringing of our youngsters to make public spaces safe for women. Those involved must be dragged to justice to create deterrence for future.”

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari expressed displeasure at the assault of the woman. “The assault of a young woman by a mob at #minarepakistan should shame every Pakistani. It speaks to a rot in our society. Those responsible must be brought to justice. The women of Pakistan feel insecure and it is all our responsibility to ensure safety and equal rights to all,” he tweeted.

Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari also tweeted: “We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand. #Pakistan is not safe. Not for our women. Not for our children. Our children aren’t safe from rape even in death. This is the disgusting shameful reality.”

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar termed the incident a heinous crime, adding that there would be no compromise on ensuring protection and safety for women. He tweeted that such incidents should not be tolerated under any circumstances, stressing that every Pakistani must fulfil their responsibility towards the protection of women.

Former finance minister Ishaq Dar in his tweet demanded exemplary punishment for the culprits, blaming the culture allegedly perpetuated by the prime minister’s anti-women statements in his public gatherings and sit-ins for such a horrific incident.

Entertainment personalities and the civil society also spoke up against the assault. In a couple of tweets, film star Mahira Khan said: “Can’t believe what I just saw!!! I’ve said it before and I will say it again - make an example out of these men! Damn I’m sorry. I keep forgetting - it was her fault!! Poor 400 men. they couldn’t help it.”

Lawyer and political activist Jibran Nasir tweeted: “They didn’t care for sanctity of another person’s body, they didn’t care about sanctity of #MinarePakistan, they didn’t care about sanctity of #Muharram and they didn’t care that stripping a woman carries the death penalty. Laws alone can’t fix our moral and social degeneration.”

Writer Fatima Bhutto tweeted: “While assaulting a woman at Minar e Pakistan, the hundreds of men involved filmed themselves. Thanks to the abundance of video evidence, can we expect over 400 arrests to be made in Lahore without delay?”

Indian film actor Kangana Ranaut also shared the video on her social media platform, referring to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan while the horrific incident took place here.

Following the harrowing assault, the Aurat Foundation (AF) questioned women’s freedom in the country. Its director Mumtaz Mughal said the incident raised several questions over women’s freedom and safety in Pakistan. Its legal expert Waheed demanded inclusion of anti-terrorism sections to the case.

The AF Lahore provincial coordinators demanded those responsible be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the Uks Research Centre and Pakistani Women’s Media Network strongly condemned the heinous incident, saying the men who attacked a woman at a public place proved that women were the problem; they excited men by their mere presence, and that public spaces were not safe for women.

“We demand immediate action against the culprits. They should be arrested and brought to justice.”

The organisations also called out some television anchors for acting “irresponsibly while trying to play the Messiah and visited the woman’s house and got themselves photographed while ‘placing their hands on her head’. We appeal to all media to kindly respect the privacy of the suffering woman”.

They also appealed to all government officials, politicians and others that if they believed women were equal citizens of this country, “then prove it with strong legislations and safety mechanisms that would make women feel safe anywhere at any time of the day and wearing whatever they choose to. Pakistani women don’t go around in public places scantily clad or half naked. They know the society and dress accordingly. But it should be their choice. The woman at Minar-i-Pakistan wasn’t dressed ‘inappropriately’ as some would have loved to argue, and yet she fell victim to a mob of maniacs. With this incident, the claims that ‘Pakistan is the safest place for women’, and that ‘we know how to respect women’ don’t hold true. Time to act and prove your claims is now”.

The Amnesty International is also alarmed at the assault of the woman. They said that at a time when the country was reeling from the murder of Noor Mukadam and Quratulain, this episode compounded the horror even more.

“Authorities must immediately hold the perpetrators to account and provide greater protection for women in public spaces, which women have every right to but are prevented from accessing fully, for fear of attacks exactly like this.”

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021

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