A Failure To Introspect – Of Minar-E-Pakistan And Men

Outrage doesn’t begin to describe what women in Pakistan are going through today. Some incidents, like 400 men tossing a woman around brutally till her clothes tear, perhaps don’t warrant a response in decent language. And when all this unfolds in broad daylight at the foot of a national monument on a day of country-wide celebration, women experience cycles of numbness followed by mounting fear that despite being independent since 1947, to date they aren’t truly free.

A day ago, users on social media unabashedly shared videos showing a woman being assaulted by hundreds of men, who snatched her jewelry and attacked anyone who tried to help. The woman had dared to join the jubilations of August 14 and was filming a TikTok when the men closed in. An outpour of anger and resentment from politicians, celebrities, activists, and other citizens followed suit.

There are two types of gendered crimes in Pakistan, some happen behind closed doors and others take place amidst throngs of desensitized spectators. Noor Muqaddam’s brutal murder in July was a closed-door crime that sent shockwaves through the nation. Some tried to downplay the barbarism by calling it a crime of passion, a phrase that women were quick to reject and expel from public consciousness. Qurat-ul-Ain’s husband murdering her was another attack that many refered to as a private household matter.

What happened at Minar-e-Pakistan was an open crime and is one that is oft repeated. Many women since have come out to detail their own experiences of being groped and abused in public. A social media user claimed that the incident from August 14 brought back horrors of the time she and her sister were harassed at the same location. She penned down the incident from a few years ago on Twitter, questioning what the harassers ever get out of this abuse.

Another user revealed her harrowing experience on Murree’s Mall Road, a place that over the years has gained notoriety for being a breeding ground for hooliganism. She narrated how she tearfully broke down in the middle of the road after being groped by nearly 60 boys in the middle of a public space.

In all sexual harassment incidents reported and unreported, public or private, the nation’s response is putridly formulaic. A woman gets harassed and self-proclaimed defenders of morality begin victim blaming, while keyboard warriors renew calls for a public hanging. The outrage soon passes and as the media runs the incident’s end credits, some man perturbed by the calm, decides to hit play on next. Yet again, as people renew their calls for castration and possible hanging of hundreds of ‘unidentified assailants’, men in high places escape from public scrutiny unscathed. It was just last month that Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed that women in Muslim countries like Pakistan are treated with far more ‘dignity and respect’ than others. In June, the premier blamed women and their attire for men exhibiting predatory behaviors because ‘men aren’t robots’. Khan’s supporters, some women and mostly men, rushed to his defense and in typical fashion claimed, ‘this is not what he meant’. One wonders what punishment the public would decree for Khan and similar enablers of the ‘non-Robot army’.

Most incidents of sexual assault that make it to public have a ripple effect as the #MeToo movement resurfaces every now and then. This time too, women have rallied behind the banner of ‘yes all men’ with men and women, who have fallen to the patriarchy, retorting with a predicable ‘not all men’. Many men have disowned the 400 men, calling them monsters instead. But as women countrywide look at the video and feel the suffocation of the victim reach out from within, the ‘not all men’ brigade has answers to give. Does calling them monsters take away the crushing burden of a responsibility that you don’t want to fulfil? Maybe you fear that in saying ‘yes all men’, you are vulnerable to introspection that leaves you trembling at the answers that will come from within?

Saniya Rashid is the research editor at Minute Mirror. She holds a Master's in Journalism degree from Ryerson University, Canada and a BA (Hons) in History, South Asian and Contemporary Asian Studies from the University of Toronto. She has a keen interest in connecting the past to the present by conceptualizing current affairs through a theoretical lens from a variety of socio-cultural disciplines. To that end, she is most interested in unearthing subaltern narratives and is committed to shifting the way minorities and marginalized communities are covered and given a voice in the media. She can be reached at rashidsaniya@gmail.com.