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April 24, 2019

Justice for Asmat


April 24, 2019

In a country where moral outrage and violence has been expressed over the conduct of a welcome party at a college campus, over vague allegations of blasphemy and over placards held up at the Aurat March, leading in some cases to murder or death threats, it is astonishing we do not have more outcry over the terrible death of Asmat Junejo. What happened to her at a hospital in Karachi is beyond horrific. Asmat, 26 years old, from Ibrahim Hyderi in Karachi, visited the Sindh Government Hospital in Korangi for treatment of a toothache. Shockingly, some hours later her family was told she was in critical condition. But what she went through went well beyond medical negligence. According to an FIR lodged by her family, the young woman was drugged by the doctor treating her and three male staff members sexually assaulted and murdered her. The doctor remains on the run; the three other men have reportedly been apprehended.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has expressed horror over the happenings. But horror is not sufficient. We have had too many similar cases in the past where women, especially those who are vulnerable and from less privileged sections of society, have been targeted by predators who hold positions of power and misuse them to torture and rape. Asmat is the latest victim. There is now a campaign on social media, demanding she be granted justice. But, like previous cases, it is likely that the moral storm, mainly over social media, will fizzle out in time. Other women will remain susceptible to similar acts of bestiality by those who call themselves professionals if we are unable to bring about wider change.

This can happen through the use of law to penalize those who are guilty, but also through a re-examination of the hypocrisy which underpins our morality and religiosity, which are used time and again to accuse women and other disadvantaged groups of various offences; these justifications are used to kill, rape, and issue death threats. But when a crime which can in no way be condoned by any law of religion and humanity occurs, there is a discernible silence. The voices we hear are too few and too scattered. Hollow promises made by those in positions of power may sound nice for the moment but they cannot change the demonized nature of the society we live in. It will not keep women safe when they visit places where they should be receiving care and professional help. The safety of women is not just a handy slogan to be bandied about at political rallies. What we need – what we demand – is a change in the way women are treated – by law, by society and by the state.

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