A rape in one of the main public parks in the capital means that women are safe nowhere
he recent rape incident in Fatima Jinnah Park has raised many questions regarding the safety of women in public places in the capital city.
Islamabad was ranked the safest city in Pakistan by World Crime Index in 2019 and the second safest city in South Asia in 2021 by Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user-contributed data about cities and countries.
Fatima Jinnah Park, also known as Capital Park or F-9 Park, covers an entire sector and spans an area of 304 hectares (750 acres). The park, which is at a central location and covered in dense foliage, receives heavy footfall and is often referred to as ‘the sleeping heart of Islamabad’. Amongst other structures, it houses a wildlife sanctuary and a vaccination centre. Residents routinely visit the park for exercise and recreational activities.
Concerns about safety in this park resurfaced when two armed men raped a woman at gunpoint early evening last Thursday. According to the FIR, the survivor and a colleague had gone to Fatima Jinnah Park to take a walk at 8pm when two armed men appeared. They ushered both of them to a secluded part of the park that was covered with trees. Ignoring the pleas of the survivor who begged the rapists to let her go, they took her away from her male colleague.
The survivor stated that one of the men slapped her and threatened to call more ‘friends’ if she raised her voice. After taking turns, the rapists returned the survivor’s belongings, threw her clothes some distance away, gave her a thousand rupee bill and told her to keep her mouth shut. Before disappearing behind the trees, they also told her not to visit the park at night.
The Gender Protection Unit of the Islamabad Police is investigating the incident. The police say they are examining the evidence to identify the rapists.
“The police and the district administration are improving the security arrangements at the Park,” a statement issued by the police in the wake of the incident said. The police also exhorted citizens visiting the park in the evening to stay in the well-lit parts of the park.
The incident caused widespread fear and led to outrage on the social media. Several human rights institutions and women rights forums strongly condemned it and demanded swift action against the perpetrators.
Many Islamabad residents, especially women, expressed grief and disappointment. Many reported earlier incidents of harassment at F-9 Park and other public spaces in the capital. Some also came forward with accounts of harassment they had faced from the park staff.
According to police records, 36 cases of criminal activity were reported in the F-9 Park during the past year. Out of those, six were rape cases reported by women. Incidents of looting and armed robbery have been commonplace.
Some people blamed the victim for visiting the park “late at night with a boy.”
The police advice to the visitors was indeed irrelevant as the survivor clearly mentioned in the FIR that she was taken to the forest area (not well-lit) at gunpoint.
The incident also highlighted the fact that F-9 Park has been an unsafe place for women as well as men.
According to police records, 36 cases of criminal activity were reported in the F-9 Park during the past year. Out of those six were rape cases reported by women. Incidents of looting and armed robbery have been commonplace.
Last summer, Qasim Awan, a university graduate who worked as a manager in a food delivery company, was murdered when he encountered some thieves during his jog in the F-9 Park.
After the recent incident, a protest demonstration was organised by Aurat March in front of Fatima Jinnah Park on February 6. Some of the protestors said that the fact that such an incident could occur in the capital was telling. Others chanted slogans and demanded that the rapists be arrested immediately.
The protesters also undertook a walked in the F-9 Park at night to ‘reclaim’ it and register their protest against the police advice. Some of them tied pieces of cloth and dopattas on the Park gate.
Some of the protestors said that the high crime rate in F-9 Park showed that the Islamabad Safe City Project was little more than a joke. They regretted that the culprits had still not been found despite the survivor cooperating with the police.
Talking to TNS, human rights activist Tahira Abdullah lambasted the police’s advice to women. “The authorities responded by asking women not to go on a walk in the F-9 Park after sunset,” she said. She called this advice “a horrible example of victim-blaming.”
She said it seemed that rather than admitting their failure to protect the residents of the Federal Capital, the authorities were more interested in policing women.
She said that less than three per cent of rape accused were ever arrested and less than one per cent were convicted.
She also demanded the implementation of the 2016 law on rape. She said that rape convicts should be handed life imprisonment sentences, without any possibility of release, parole or remission. However, she condemned the castration clause of a subsequent amendment in the law. She also said that it was not the severity but the certainty of punishment that would be an effective deterrent.
“Women are not safe in their homes or in public spaces. Yet, some people in this country find ways to blame the survivors,” said Farzana Bari, who represented Women Democratic Front and the Awami Workers Party.
A statement issued by WDF said that the state had failed to protect its women in the capital and other cities. The statement saluted the survivor for her courage in filing the FIR. “We will stand by her until justice is brought to the armed rapists,” it said.
The writer is a reporter for The News International