On Wednesday, a woman was gang-raped in front of her children on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway. This incident has shaken the entire country. The details of the incident are so horrific that the women of this country are feeling unsafe, especially after the shocking statement made by CCPO Lahore Umar Sheikh. Mr Sheikh had the unbelievable audacity to tell the rape survivor that she should not have driven so late at night, she should have taken the busier GT Road instead of the stranded motorway and that she should have checked her car’s fuel tank before leaving the house. As if this was not enough, CCPO Lahore went on numerous channels to defend his statement, say that the survivor thought this was France and not Pakistan where society is different. And to add insult to injury, several ministers and cabinet members came to his defence.
SAPM Shahzad Akbar stood by the CCPO’s side at a press conference and also said his statement was being turned into a controversy unnecessarily. Planning Minister Asad Umar went on to ask that should the CCPO be removed for a bad statement when he has not done anything illegal. Rallies were taken out all over the country on Saturday, asking for the removal of CCPO Lahore. He has shown zero remorse and he sounds extremely confident that he is going nowhere. While the CCPO has been issued a show-cause notice for his remarks about the rape survivor by the IG Punjab, the question remains: why has he not been removed yet? Even if his appointment was political, the government should have removed him to make the women of this country feel safe.
CCPO Lahore’s statement has made each and every woman of this country feel unprotected and his casual sexism has laid bare the mindset prevalent in the police force about rape survivors. No wonder then that women who are raped do not report these crimes. When the police chief of the country’s second largest city is so dismissive of rape incidents, when he blames the survivor for an attack that could have been prevented with better policing and timely help, when many men on our televisions screens and online spaces are actually saying he said nothing wrong and this is what we were also thinking, how does it make a woman feel? In Punjab alone, there have been at least 2,043 registered cases of rape and 111 cases of gang rape this year. And these are the reported cases. What about those cases that are not reported because women and their families are afraid of the misogynist police mentality?
When the government stands by a man who thinks women should not step out at night, it means that the government is protecting a misogynist. It gives a clear message to the women of Pakistan: you are on your own, we cannot protect you. Unless and until the CCPO is not removed, the police force will not change its mindset when it comes to violence against women and gender-based crimes.