New Delhi: Pakistani social media erupted with rage following a viral video in which four women, one of whom was a garbage-picker, were seen stripped, beaten and paraded through a market in Faisalabad by a group of men who accused them of shoplifting.
Pakistani policy analyst and journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi called the incident “sickening”, “brutal” and “unacceptable”. Meanwhile, graphic clips of the scantily clad stripped off women begging for mercy from a large group of onlookers emerged online. Author and journalist Ayesha Siddqa asked: “Is the state dead and unable to dispense justice even punish people that mob justice has become the only way?”
On Tuesday, the four suspects — Saddam, the owner of Usman Electric Store, and his employee, Faisal, Zaheer Anwar, and Faqeer Hussain, the owner of a sanitary products’ shop — were arrested by local police. “IG Punjab is pursuing a zero tolerance policy on incidents of violence and harassment against women and children,” said the Punjab Police in a statement on its official Twitter handle.
However, many social media users continue to condemn the harrowing incident, with some calling for the relevant authorities to “make an example” out of perpetrators who commit “heinous crimes”.
“There will never be women empowerment when women are beaten and stripped naked. First Sialkot then Faisalabad. Make an example of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humanity,” said one user by the name of Qasim Sarwar.
Last week, a factory worker was brutally lynched by a mob in Pakistan’s Sialkot sparking outrage. Comments by Pakistan’s defence minister Pervez Khattak attempting to downplay the incident has only stoked the fire.
Revenge attacks ‘happen every now and then’
According to a Dawn report, the victim in the Faisalabad incident had gone to the market with three other women to collect garbage on Monday at around 10:30am. In the FIR, she stated that the women were thirsty and went inside a shop, Usman Electric Store, and asked for a bottle of water from Saddam, the owner of the shop who is now under arrest.
The victim claims Saddam began aggressively accusing them of shoplifting after which the other three suspects came to the scene and began beating and stripping the four women through the market for an hour.
Earlier in July, a similar incident occurred in Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in which three men allegedly stripped a woman to avenge her husband’s alleged liaison with their sister.
One social media user commented that such ‘revenge attacks’ were common in Pakistan.
“4 women beaten up, Paraded Naked today in Bawa Chak Market, Faisalabad. This cruelty and this barbaric event took place for no reason. Happens every now and then, Took place in Dera Ismail Khan earlier. It’s so pathetic, No Women safety but still as per some ‘Country is safe’,” they said.
‘Stop using aurat card’
Many Pakistani news channels like GTV aired clips of CCTV footage from inside Usman Electric Store which showed the women attempting to steal from the cashier counter. In the footage, one woman can be seen using a bowl while going behind the counter and then hiding it under her clothes.
Social media users started circulating clips from news channels with the caption: “Real story behind the scene”.
Re-sharing the CCTV footage, some argued that people should stop using the “aurat card” (woman card) to defend the victims. “The 4 women were at shop for looting purpose, when they caught they tore their clothes and put allegations on shopkeepers, shame! We must stop using #auratcard at this situation,” said one user.
A user by the name of Funnistan asked other users to spread the CCTV footage because “Indians will start cashing this fake story to damage the image of Pakistan”.
Meanwhile, users like fashion photographer Arslan Azaan said even though the women intended to steal, the subsequent humiliation they experienced is condemnable.
“Whatever happened in Faisalabad was condemnable. This Nation has failed humanity. All those women were robbers, I accept that. Hand them over to Police, file a case and present them in court,” he said.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.