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Monday April 15, 2024

Plunging into the abyss

If any of us professes shock that such a mob could gather like this, their surprise would ring rather hollow

By Editorial Board
February 27, 2024
The photo collage shows the curti with Arabic words printed on it along with a police officer can be seen rescuing the woman at Ichhra Bazaar, Lahore. — Facebook
The photo collage shows the curti with Arabic words printed on it along with a police officer can be seen rescuing the woman at Ichhra Bazaar, Lahore. — Facebook

One would have to have a very thick skin and very strong nerves to not be terrified at what transpired at Ichhra Bazaar in Lahore on Sunday. The imagery was stark: a scared and subdued woman surrounded by men accusing her of blasphemy being rescued by a very brave woman – this one in a police uniform. 

The story may be shocking at first hearing but given our already tainted past is just yet another one in a long line of incidents we should be ashamed of. On Sunday, the Punjab Police rescued a woman surrounded by a charged mob in Ichhra Bazaar on suspicion of blasphemy after she was seen wearing a printed shirt bearing Arabic script. The woman was saved by the police soon after being encircled and harassed by an angry crowd that wanted to punish her for allegedly wearing a dress that they mistook for being ‘blasphemous’. Led by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Syeda Shehrbano Naqvi, the police arrived at the scene to take the woman into their custody, saving her from the charged crowd. The woman later had to apologize to ensure the mob didn’t act out. Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi has commended the police but said that asking the woman to apologize was unjustified.

If any of us professes shock that such a mob could gather like this, their surprise would ring rather hollow. Pakistan has become home to more and more incidents involving attacks by mobs. Who can forget the heartbreaking lynching of Mashal Khan – a young man with so much promise? The fact is that we stand here today due to the impunity with which extremist groups operate in the country and the complicity of the state. Over the years, we have seen how such allegations have led to loss of lives, especially when a charged mob is concerned. From Mashal Khan to the Sri Lankan manager working at a factory in Sialkot, there are too many such incidents to recall. This is why anyone blaming the police may want to remember how even law enforcement becomes vulnerable in front of charged religious mobs. Past examples show that even police officers are unclear on how to deal with religiously charged mobs as any action by the police raises questions over their faith. This is why the female officer should be appreciated for handling a very sensitive issue and saving someone from harm’s way. The Punjab Police has rightly praised ASP Shehrbano for putting her “life in danger to rescue the woman from a violent crowd” and recommended her name for a bravery medal.

Nobody can imagine the trauma of the woman in Ichhra Bazaar. There are already not enough safe spaces for women in this country. Now the thought of wearing something that can mistakenly be taken as offensive is an additional fear. We live in a country where even the higher judiciary is not safe from dangerous allegations. The National Action Plan (NAP) promised to deal with hate speech but we have not seen anything substantial in this regard. For too long have state and government coddled and appeased such mobs. None of this will change as long as Pakistan continues playing with the future of its children by sustaining reactionary forces. It is an uphill task, given that we have already gone down a blackhole of regressive thought, but there is still time to bring Pakistani society back into the realm of law, order, and justice. Not mob rule.