Supporters of the religious group 'Jamaat-e-Islami participate in a demonstration to condemn the incident of rape on a deserted highway, in Islamabad, Pakistan. Image Credit: AP

Case one: The motorway gang rape

Date: September 8, 2020

On September 16, Prime Minister Imran Khan, addressing the joint session of the two houses of parliament on passing of the FATF bill, said:

“The motorway gang rape has shaken our entire country. Since [the news of the rape] we’ve been thinking of passing an excellent legislation so that in future our women and our children have protection. Lives are destroyed due to [sexual] abuse. Even lives of their families are destroyed. I was thinking, in particular, about children, what they went through. It’s a lifelong trauma.

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"Our work will be three tiered: policing, registration of sex offenders, justice. Global statistics show that [most] sex offenders are repeat offenders. The suspect Abid [of the motorway gang rape] is on the run. He was convicted in an earlier gang rape. Whatever punishment he was given was obviously not ibraat-naak, and ergo he raped again. This rape was reported. [Who knows] how many such crimes he committed between his two reported gang rapes that were unreported.

"A very small number of rape cases are reported. Cases of abuse in which children are brutalised, and in rape cases of women, we can imagine the trauma and grief they [victims/survivors] go thorough.

"We are preparing to legislate a bill that has an ibraat-naak punishment. People should be scared. That if they destroy someone’s life, it would have consequences. InshaAllah, we’ll present the bill in a few days. We know it’s not easy to convict even after the arrest. The kind of evidence that is required in the witness box in court is very difficult [to handle]. We are preparing for that too. A witness [rape victim/survivor] must have protection [against uncomfortable cross-questioning].”

Ibraat-naak, roughly translated, is a punitive action so severe it becomes a standard for deterrence.

Case two: Ibsham Zahid’s harassment of Fatima Amir

Date on which it was reported on Twitter: September 15

On September 17, Punjab Minister of Information Fayaz-ul-Hasan Chohan, accompanied by Lahore CCPO and Fatima’s father, spoke to media in Lahore:

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“This hooligan of a boy was threatening them [Fatima and her family]–their lives, their honour. Videos [of his threats and exhibition of illegal pump action guns and other weapons] went viral on twitter. He was behaving like a villain from a movie. Some TV channels highlighted the news. I met Prime Minister Imran Khan [during his recent visit to Lahore] at a meeting at the Governor House on law and order and the motorway gang rape.”

Chohan informed Prime Minister Khan and Chief Minister Usman Buzdar about Fatima’s case. Instructions were given to take immediate action.

Chohan said: “I found Sheikh Amir through the internet. I talked to him. The way things are in our society–police, [civil] administration, red tape-ism. He refused to talk to me after thanking me and our government for reaching out to his family. He categorially told me that he wouldn’t come forward. I requested him in several phone calls: that today it’s your daughter; if we don’t make this monster a symbol of ibraat, tomorrow, he may do the same thing to someone else’s daughter. And that others like him would be emboldened by his behaviour. Sheikh Amir agreed [to pursue the case].”

Fatima’s father told Minister Chohan that an FIR was registered a year and three months ago. Amir also approached the Federal Investigation Agency’s cybercrime cell. The suspect had a pre-arrest bail, and his horrific threats of violence, rape, harm to her family, her rape in front of her family, and spreading of falsehoods about her character remained unabated.

Chohan said: “Through this press conference I’m going to place some demands to the federal government and the judiciary. FIA cybercrime wing didn’t do a thing. It is high time that we started to accept the flaws and lacunas in in our civil administration offices, police, FIA, [performance of] politicians, rulers, judiciary. All weak points must be made public so that officials of all governmental departments fix their way of working.”

According to Chohan, Chief Minister Buzdar demanded action in one day, “I asked the CCPO to give me results in 24 hours. In less than ten hours, an FIR against the boy and his father has been filed. Both of them have been arrested.”

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Fatima’s father speaking to a TV channel said, “I have been fighting for justice since 2019, but I got support from nowhere. My daughters kept telling me that we should share our case on social media, but I was not ready.”

Ibsham has been harassing Fatima since 2016. It took Twitter two days to ensure that her voice was heard.

Case three: beating of students in a private teaching academy

Date of the posting of the video of the beating on Twitter: September 16

On September 16 at 1:06 pm, Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda tweeted:

“These corporal punishments (beating, shaming) scar our children’s minds forever. Just received this video. Unacceptable behaviour. I’m on it. Have instructed DPO Jhelum to arrest him now. If need be, I will register an FIR.”

Jhelum is a city in the north of Punjab.

On September 16 at 3:59 pm, Punjab Minister of Education Murad Raas tweeted in response to Vawda’s tweet: “FIR 327/20 is registered in PS City Jhelum u/s 328A and the accused teacher is arrested.”

A male teacher of Jhelum’s Mohalla Khansama’s Reformer Academy–the sheer irony of that name–was caught on video “manhandling one of his students, a young girl, holding her by the scruff of the neck, shoving and then hitting her on the back, after which she collapses on the floor.”

The father of that student and her sister, another victim of beating, had filed an FIR after noticing their “severe physical and mental pain.”

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, taking notice of the video, “sought a report from the regional police officer for Rawalpindi over the matter and ordered immediate action in accordance with the law against the arrested man.” Buzdar said: “Anyone who violently beats their students does not deserve any concessions.”

Three incidents, three responses, a ray of hope.

The intensity and the impact of the crime varies, but the common thread is the physical and emotional vulnerability of females and children, and the hopelessness in the system of justice. The mindsets behind the crimes will take a complex process of various short and long term behavioural and psychological evaluations, solutions and implementations, but the heartening development is the immediate public and governmental attention to injustices of all kinds.

It is not the first time a prime minister has issued a response to a heinous crime that has jolted the nation, setting into motion a sentiment that is inexplicable in its unifying power. It is not the first time, but it most definitely is one of Pakistan’s most vociferous collective responses to a life-altering crime, and is resonating in the terrified hearts of victims, is giving solace to the shrunken soul of a survivor. What is heart-warmingly positive after an unimaginably painful crime is the promptness of Prime Minister Khan’s response.

In a week after the gruesome gang rape of a woman stranded at the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in the Gujjurpura area of Lahore, visible action is seen. One suspect is in police custody, and for the arrest of the other, on the run, widescale efforts are in full force.

What has also happened is the prime minister of Pakistan saying in a nationally televised address to the nation that the government is standing with the victim of the motorway gang rape. That the government is standing with every victim of rape. That the government is devising a legal framework for punishments that would act as deterrence for future crimes against children and females. That despite countless sex crimes against children and females, now exists the promise of justice for each one of them.

Despite and beyond my categorical opposition to capital punishment, public hangings and chemical castrations, today I feel hopeful. Prime Minister Khan’s empathetic and prompt response is dappled sunlight in a dark dank dungeon of the weak and the flawed system of justice of Pakistan for the weak and the persecuted of Pakistan.

Minister Fayaz-ul-Hasan Chohan’s taking notice of the harassment of a teenager and having started the process of the arrest and prosecution of the suspect and his father have given an unequivocal message to every female of Pakistan: you are not alone. The filing of a new FIR with the assurance of the unavailability of a pre-arrest bail, the Punjab government and the Punjab police are reassuring millions of females in Punjab and elsewhere that if they raise their voice against harassment and dire threats, they will be heard.

It is an empathetic message that parents must never feel any shame in matters of harassment of their vulnerable daughters. Coming forward would be a collective handholding with all parents and family members of harassed females and even males that silence when being threatened is never an option.

The arrest of the children-beating teacher in Jhelum is another sliver of light for millions of people across Pakistan whose financial restraints make sending their beloved children to good schools an impossible dream. Chief Minister Buzdar took notice of the vicious beating. Federal Minister Faisal Vawda tweeted, and Punjab Minister of Education Murad Raas responded. To me these are all hugely consequential things. One perpetrator of violence of children is punished. Many children’s smiles will be brighter now.

Countless crimes against children and women occur, that is the dark, undeniable reality. One step in the right direction is one step closer to a safer world for children and females.

With these positive steps and many others reported or unreported, millions of Pakistanis now know that nothing that is being reported on social media would go unnoticed by a concerned authority or a governmental official or a member of parliament or a minister or a chief minister or the prime minister. Through tweets of compassionate Pakistanis, voices of the invisible are being amplified and reaching the right people. My deep gratitude is to all who speak up, and to those who take their voices forward–on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, print media, television.

Pakistan is a developing country but in almost every home a TV is an essential item. People know that in the 21st century many ways exist to have their voices heard. In every village, small town, and city of Punjab and Pakistan’s other provinces, children from underprivileged backgrounds face harsh treatment and corporal punishments. Now their teachers, their parents and their relatives know that there is a thing called social media, and through that platform their voice will even reach the prime minister.

Despite being unaware of Twitter, many of them know about the existence of a thing called Facebook. All that they need now is a person to make a video and post it on Facebook, tagging someone famous. Not all videos reach the right people, but many do.

Children, females, the persecuted, the vulnerable of Pakistan will be safe once they know that their screams of pain will not go unheard.

This is my Pakistan. Compassion, empathy, justice. For the voiceless human. For one human. For every human.

Mehr Tarar, Special to Gulf News-1592296810288