Who is to blame?

That at least 400 men harassed a woman in broad day light at the Greater Iqbal Park in Lahore is apparently not enough to set right the moral decay in the society. The incident that took place on August 14 this year led to all the wrong discourse despite the shock and anger shown by women in the country. Character assassination of the female TikToker was in abundance; conspiracy theories of ‘people’ apparently attempting to defame Pakistan were highlighted; and the woman was said to have ‘staged’ the incident to gain popularity. The denial to accept that the harassment took place – let alone the fact that it was at such a large scale – was so rife that many now feel victorious after new details of the Minar-e-Pakistan incident has surfaced.

According to an alleged leaked audio message between Ayesha Ikram and her now arrested partner Amir Sohail, alias Rambo, the duo was planning to extort money from the suspects in the case. The victim had lodged a complaint following the harassment incident in which nearly 400 men were accused. In the purported leaked voice note, Ayesha can be heard saying that she had identified six men and was discussing options to blackmail them. While the new developments of the case are under investigation by the Lahore Police and it is too early to make any claims, social media users have already declared Ayesha guilty of orchestrating a drama and bringing ‘shame to the country’. The conversation has now completely taken light off from the harassment incident and put the onus on the victim itself.

But this isn’t new. In a highly patriarchal society like ours, women are often blamed for the violence they themselves endure. While this needs to change, so does the attitude of media organisations when highlighting issues of harassment or more broadly, gender-based discrimination. This attitude of public trial of cases that are sub judice is unfortunately a direct byproduct of media houses hosting prime time talk shows on such cases. The fact of the matter is journalists also need to be sensitized on matters pertaining to gender-based violence. The benevolent sexism that exists is doing a disservice. Whether Ayesha is involved in a black-mailing campaign of suspects or not, is for the police to decide. But the truth is that she was harassed by 400 men, who are among us. Only once we accept this reality, can we work towards the much-needed change in mindsets.