There is a method to the madness associated with PTI activists whose behaviour is starkly worse than that of the workers of other political parties. The PTI members appear abusive to one and all, especially to people who dare to point out their political shortcomings.
Last week, a PTI rally culminated in another unfortunate episode of harassment towards women at the hands of unruly activists. The videos making rounds on social media show a woman nearly beaten down to the ground as men around her appear to be scavenging on an easy prey, while two other women are seen thrown onto barbed wire as they are trying to protect themselves. A video from another rally shows a woman hysterically crying as she tries to protect herself from men around her. These clips leave one with a feeling of absolute helplessness and humiliation.
In ensuring its workers the basic right to human dignity, the PTI has clearly, and frequently, failed. While the party chief has apologised for the harassment suffered by “our women,” his language is both damaging as it is degrading. It points to a sense of presumed ownership of women. They are someone’s maa, behen and beti at home, and in the public realm they are ‘his’ or, collectively, the PTI’s, with their dignity claimed.
Unfortunately, this harassment and abuse is not a first or new occurrence for a PTI event. Recount the brutal treatment of a female reporter working for a leading news channel at a rally in Lahore in 2014, where she was verbally abused by a crowd while plastic bottles were thrown at her as she was doing her job. At that time, there was so much hate being spewed against that particular channel by Imran Khan himself that it became kosher for PTI activists to subject a journalist to such abuse. Treatment towards the reporter was conveniently termed a “reaction” by some senior party members to the ongoing dispute with the channel.
Prior to this incident, in 2013, Quatrina Hosain, a well-known journalist, had an unpleasant experience at the hands of PTI activists in Wah and her team was attacked, leaving one person injured, while cameras were snatched away by the party’s members. Incidents of harassment at PTI rallies have also been cited by reporters of this paper during the time of the party’s dharna in the capital.
These frequent instances of molestation and abuse not only leave the direct victims and their families with long-term emotional scars, but affect all women in public spaces. It ensures that political participation is made more exclusionary for women than it already is. Next time a young girl wants to go to a political rally or event, she will be reminded of this barbarity from her family members. In fact, it is a cost that each one of us will bear in some way — even if it means the mere recollection of these events in our minds.
It may be a fair point that Imran Khan himself cannot be personally held responsible for all these incidents, but it does bear questioning as to why is it that the PTI’s rallies in particular are so unsafe for women. It also brings to notice the party’s previous conduct in politicising the queation of women’s rights.
In 2006, Khan opposed the landmark Protection of Women Act. He fumed against the Act calling it a ‘made-in-Washington Islamic system in the country’ and demanded why a law related to women could not have continued for one more year when it had been in place for the last 26 years. These were his comments on a bill that finally made a distinction between rape and adultery.
Little has changed since then. More recently, the PTI chief insisted that the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa domestic violence bill would first have to be approved by the Council of Islamic Ideology — a body that attempts to make itself relevant through its misogyny — before being presented in the provincial assembly. It would be fair to assume that child marriages and wife-beatings would also be acceptable to him since its only CII approval that appears to be his goal.
Harassment and abuse of women at PTI rallies, then, are not isolated events. They come from somewhere; they come from the leadership level and trickle down to the bottom. The PTI needs to own the problem, not women. Dupattas thrown on the floor and women on barbed wire is an ugly response to the ‘change’ that so many people had so devotedly believed in and hoped for.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2016.