Situation unfolded due to ‘confusion’, says Lahore cop after rescuing woman in Arabic print shirt from mob

Published February 26, 2024
A policewoman protects the teenage girl from a mob in Lahore.
A policewoman protects the teenage girl from a mob in Lahore.

Gulberg Circle Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehr Bano Naqvi, who saved a young woman wearing a dress with Arabic calligraphy printed on it from a mob attack in Lahore yesterday, said on Monday that the incident took place due to “mere confusion” and “miscommunication”.

A day earlier, a charged mob had gathered outside a shop in Lahore’s crowded Ichra Bazaar after someone alleged that a woman’s shirt had Quranic verses printed on it.

As per eyewitnesses, most of the people in the mob were either customers, visitors or passersby, while the garment traders who rescued the woman were aware of the calligraphy print being available in the market. But despite the traders’ explanation, some charged zealots insisted on a “blasphemy” charge.

A video clip on social media showed the girl hiding in a shop and shivering with fear.

Sensing the sensitivity of the issue, some police officials present at the site called in their higher-ups. Subsequently, a police team led by ASP Shehr Bano engaged the crowd, took the woman into protective custody and shifted her to the police station amid heightened security measures.

In a video shared by the Punjab police on X, the ASP could be seen rescuing the woman from the bazaar while a mob hurled abuses in the background. Another showed her addressing the mob, urging them to trust the police while convincing them that no blasphemous act had been committed.

Speaking to the media today, ASP Shehr Bano provided details on how the incident unfolded.

“At 1:30pm, we received a call that a blasphemous act took place near Pakistan Chowk in the jurisdiction of Ichra,” she said. “The caller chose to stay anonymous and just mentioned that a woman was wearing a dress with calligraphy that, God forbid, seemed to be Quranic verses.”

Upon arriving at the scene, a charged mob had gathered around the shop where the woman was, she said. “There, it emerged that the woman was very scared and the mob was religiously charged,” she said.

The ASP highlighted that the area was very crowded and congested, which prevented the police from taking their vehicles inside.

She further highlighted that the shop opposite the one where the woman was supposedly being kept safe had a burning stove, adding that police feared the shop could be set ablaze if the people mobilised.

“At that time, our survival instinct kicked in that we need to get the woman out of here. We arranged a burqa, covered her face and told people not to take the law into their hands,” she said, adding that the mob was informed about the concept of verification in Islam and assured that prompt action would be taken if a blasphemous incident had taken place.

ASP Shehr Bano recalled that the most difficult stage during the operation was transporting the woman from the shop to the police vehicle.

In response to a question, the police official refused to reveal the woman’s identity. She further stated that the calligraphy on the woman’s clothes did not bear Quranic verses.

“The word written [on the clothes] is doing the rounds on social media […] the meaning of the word is literally sincerity, love, goodness, life, humanity,” she said, adding that the dress belonged to a brand based in a foreign Muslim country.

To another question, ASP Shehr Bano said the entire incident began when a man in the locality went up to the woman — who was in the shop along with her husband — and told her to change her clothes. “The woman asked why should she change and during that heated argument, considering it a religious matter, people started gathering.

“So the situation unfolded because of mere confusion, miscommunication, lack of verification and playing on mob psychology,” the official said.

She further said that a video which emerged later, that showed the woman apologising alongside religious scholars, was filmed with “consent”.

“As a police officer, our major concern was that the sanctity, respect and life of that woman should remain safe. Second was that we should not take the law into our hands and there should be due course of justice,” the ASP stressed.

She further stated that some situations called for “long-term thinking” and that the police had to think about the woman’s long-term safety.

“Therefore, that video and the coming together of all stakeholders and saying that the incident took place because of confusion was very important so that the life of a victim is protected,” ASP Shehr Bano explained.

She added that this case should become an example for everyone that action is always preceded by an investigation.

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