F9 Park Incident: Nation's Collective Consciousness Is Broken

F9 Park Incident: Nation's Collective Consciousness Is Broken
Our collective psyche has painfully become reactive, waiting for a mishap to ignite our emotions and wake our conscience up from the deep slumber it has long fallen prey to. It becomes a matter of time before normalcy drags us back into apathy, and the vicious circle continues apace.

This time around, the mishap took place in the heart of our capital. A girl was gang raped on gunpoint in the F-9 Park, a place regularly visited by residents to relieve their stress and catch up with traces of healthiness in their otherwise increasingly unhealthy lifestyles. But what could’ve been a safe haven for that girl turned into hell that day.

This isn't an isolated incident. There are frequent occurrences of such incidents, both reported and majorly unreported in our surroundings, one in the same park not very long ago. No wonder why we’re ranked the second-worst country in terms of gender parity, ranking at 145 out of 146 countries, according to The World Economic Forum. While there are many contributing factors towards this ordeal, one major concern is our collective response to such incidents.

In any reasonable and pragmatic society, the usual recourse or response to such an incident would be an unconditional condemnation, which is the least of what we can do, and a concrete action plan to rehabilitate the victim, prosecute the perpetrators and prevent the possibility of any such mishap in the future. However, despite frequent occurrences, we still haven’t learned any better and unfortunately, what followed suit in this incident too, instead, is concerning.

Soon after the incident caught the attention of media, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) through a notification issued on 5th February decided to impose a blanket ban on broadcasting the incident, in its attempt to protect the ‘identity of the victim’.

While protecting the identity of the victim is of paramount consideration, reporting of such incidents is also crucial, which compels one to think as to whether it was really the victim's identity that this decision intended to protect or was it an attempt to provide a cover to the administration’s obvious lapses. It transpired later after the incident that in the place of occurrence, there were no functional lights, no CCTV cameras installed, damaged fencing and not adequate number of security personnel deployed.

The question then arises that by the imposition of a blanket ban on reporting such incidents, how can you spread awareness and ensure prevention of similar future incidents?

This action by PEMRA is a blatant disregard of the freedom of expression (Article 19) and the right to information on matters of public importance (Article 19A), guaranteed under the Constitution as fundamental rights, against which no derogation is permitted unless it falls within ‘reasonable restrictions’ imposed by the State.

A reasonable approach in this case, instead, would've been to restrict the broadcasters from revealing the victim's identity and issuing guidelines to report the incident responsibly and carefully, adhering to the sensitivity of the matter and to avoid disturbing the sentiments of those affected by it, particularly the victim and her dear ones.

Silencing has become the order of the day. Where reason ends, restrictions are placed on those who are more vulnerable.  This mindset manifested in its worst form in the conduct of the perpetrator, where he shamelessly rebuked the victim for visiting the park in the evening after raping her. As if the predicament wasn’t already enough, he went on to threaten to invite more of his friends to rape her in case of any resistance.

This behavior reeks of entitlement, self-policing, sanctimony, and viciousness, not only limiting to the perpetrators, but also to those who follow the same pattern or remain silent.

This bizarre pattern of victim blaming isn't anew, it’s a recurring response to conveniently letting anyone potentially responsible off the hook. While we adopt such discourse, we completely choose to keep a blind eye to the very fact that it’s always the perpetrator who should be blamed and held responsible for the vile act, never the victim.

The victim was equally entitled to her inherent fundamental rights of safety (Article 9), dignity (Article 14), freedom of movement (Article 15) and non-discrimination in respect of public places (Article 26). These fundamental rights are not subject to the gender of a person or the time of visiting any public place, but are available to persons by virtue of them being human beings without any discrimination. These rights are subject to any 'reasonable restrictions' imposed by the State and not by the vigilantes’ ideas of right and wrong.

In the wake of such unfortunate incidents reoccurring around us, it is time to rethink and revisit our attitude and usual response to such issues, on the State level, societal as well as a personal level. We also need to revalue our commitment towards basic, fundamental rights, and whether in our blatant disregard of the same, are we in turn favoring the predators and their sympathizers to walk freely among us without any repercussions.

Whether in directing our focus on trivial details such as the conduct of the victim, are we silencing the crucial questions around how many predators lurk among us?

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad and currently works as a Judicial Law Clerk at the Islamabad High Court.