“Men don’t sexually assault women because they are lustful; they do it because they want to dominate, humiliate and abuse women. They do it because they view women as objects” ―Kirsten Powers
Many times ordinary people have managed to catch hold of men trying to burgle or steal and all they do is beat the culprit until he is handed over to the police. Another ploy to disgrace the offender is to blacken his face and taken around the neighbourhood on a donkey. He may suffer some bruises or a fractured bone but one hardly ever hears of anyone being stripped naked in public and marched in the streets. Such is not the destiny of those unfortunate women who, because of reasons unknown, are compelled into becoming thieves or indulging in shop-lifting.
As the world was in the process of observing 16 Days of Activism, an international campaign (25 November 2021 to 10 December 2021) to raise awareness regarding gender-based violence, on 7 December 2021 back in Faisalabad, four women accused of theft were caught by the shopkeepers and who, together with the help of other men, stripped these women and not only subjected them to beating but forced them to parade naked in the market. The incident took a more bizarre turn when uncouth onlookers, making use of modern technology caught this hideousness on their mobiles and circulated it in their circles spreading it to the length and breadth of the country within no time. No words can sufficiently express the shame, disgust and disgrace that the entire episode has brought to these women and the country, especially as it closely followed the horrible Sialkot incident where a mob lynched and killed a foreign national.
Who gave these men the right to take the law in their hands and punish these women even if they were actually criminals? The rule is that anyone nabbed during a felonious act or accused of one, is to be handed over to the authorities in one piece and the law is supposed to take its course either exonerating or punishing the defendant depending upon the circumstances and judicial intervention. We live in organized and regulated societal structures where certain norms are applicable to maintain peace and order. When these are violated there is bound to be chaos leading to situations that can be horrific, perverse, repulsive, inhuman and having long-term psychological issues for the affected parties besides creating unrest and insecurity for other members of the society.
If for a moment someone did catch these women shop-lifting, was it justified to use the scourge of stripping them and exposing their bodies to the public? Did these so-called over-enthusiastic ‘custodians of morals’ and self-acclaimed reformers ever realize what could happen to them if the guardians of these women decided to avenge their dishonor themselves or if they retaliated in a more sinister manner putting at risk women and families of those involved in this abuse? What goes around comes around. If today people got up to dishonor just any woman on the street even in the nature of eve-teasing, there is definitely going to be a backlash on their own females. Sages have been warning since centuries that those who live in glass houses should not hurl stones at others therefore those who have female relatives must restrain themselves from inflicting cruelty on other women.
If observed closely, frequent occurrences of such savage incidents are in reality, clear symptoms of an extremely sick society where because of absence of timely justice, frustration in human beings peaks to such high levels that there is no stopping the avalanche of barbarousness and depravity. To control a charged mob, law enforcers need to have many times more strength and power. It is no joke to brace oneself against a crowd overcome with passion blinded by sensitive sentiments or monstrosity. Expecting scantily armed constabulary to stand against men with automatic weapons is like deliberately jumping into an erupting volcanic crater spewing the lava of hatred. Unless the police force is not properly trained and equipped with modern artillery, one cannot hold it responsible for the ensuing turmoil at the hands of a disorderly rabble.
Happening of such incidents bares the true face of governmental agencies and exposes their weakness in maintaining order in the society. These functional diseases need to be addressed on priority because without the requisite security and peace, there is no chance that normal human beings can function properly nor is there a possibility of attracting either foreigners or foreign direct investments this country badly needs to restore its economy. Only good economics can be instrumental in providing a healthy social environment. Barring a few mentally deranged persons, the general public does not like to engage in anti-state or unlawful activities that could invoke legal proceedings but when circumstances compel people to resort to crime then this is a clear indication of poor economy, bad governance and judicial imbalance requiring immediate restorative measures.
Each incident of this nature is a wake-up call for the people and the state to look within and check out whatever cancerous growth is preventing the society from functioning in a healthy manner. We seem to have missed out on many fronts since 1947 to end up in this quagmire of social degradation. Somewhere along the line, we lost touch with sanity and as a consequence, with humanity bringing the country to a point that today, according to the Human Development Index we are rated at 147 out of 170 countries for low human development. Considering the acts of violence and misogynistic temperament, this state of affairs will continue if not checked within time and on a war footing.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)