Multiple lawmakers of the ruling party have sought to justify police official’s ‘advice’ for women to not leave homes without male companions
Several lawmakers aligned with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf on Thursday came out in seeming support of Lahore’s Capital City Police Officer Umar Sheikh as public outrage grew over his statements ‘advising’ women against leaving their homes without a guardian.
Sheikh, newly installed as the CCPO of Punjab’s provincial capital, appeared on various TV shows on Wednesday and Thursday following the horrifying rape and robbery of a woman on the Sialkot-Lahore Motorway. To questions on how the investigation was progressing, he sought to “advise” women on how to keep safe.
“I am astonished that a mother of three [chose to drive by the motorway] instead of the GT Road,” he said on Wednesday night. “If you have used this road, why didn’t you check your petrol [before leaving]?” he added, in a clear indication of trying to offload the blame on the victim. He then went on to question why she was driving so late at night, and to chastise her family for allowing her to travel in this manner.
As outrage over this statement mounted, with calls for the government to oust the CCPO for his insensitivity and for suggesting that the writ of state is so weak that women have no right to expect any level of safety in public places, he doubled down on his statement.
“Pakistani society would not let their sisters or daughters go out alone [late at night],” he told journalists on Thursday evening. Claiming that he was not “victim blaming,” the CCPO continued by stressing that he merely wanted to point that “our society is such that [men with] sisters and daughters should take care in future.” To a question, he then went on to say that the victim, a French national, had thought she was “in France” and had thus gone out late at night, without any guardian, because that was her orientation.
“[Western society] is secure due to rule of law and writ of law,” he said, claiming this is why women can travel alone and on motorways there, while damning his own police force and government for being unable to enforce its writ in Pakistan. Appearing on another TV show, he then went on to advise women to not travel outside their homes without having a male guardian, being accompanied by children, or be in large groups.
Journalists have slammed the CCPO’s statement, with talk shows on Thursday night primarily dedicated to calling for his ouster and for the government to stop the culture of victim blaming that makes it so difficult for victims to come forward. To all criticisms, the CCPO’s response has been to stick with his belief that “Pakistani culture” does not permit women to be out alone at night—or any time.
On Twitter, #RemoveCCPOLahore trended, with people of all political inclinations demanding that the government suspend or remove him from his position entirely. One Twitter user wrote that she “did not feel safe” knowing that men like Sheikh were in charge of keeping people safe. Another questioned why the cop was “whining” about having to do his job.
The PTI, in response to the criticism, has sought to allege that the opposition is maligning an “upstanding” officer. Special Assistant to the P.M. on Accountability Shehzad Akbar, in a press conference, told journalists that they shouldn’t fall under the “sway of the opposition” when they questioned the CCPO telling the women of Pakistan they “were not safe in public places.
In a subsequent post on Twitter, he again defended the CCPO, while claiming “objections” had been conveyed. “CCPO Lahore was conveyed objections of federal government on his remarks yesterday,” he said. “It is responsibility of all government functionaries, especially police to ensure safety for all. He has apologized for any unintended consequences,” he added in a claim that was immediately branded as false. There has been no public apology by the CCPO and in TV appearances after the tweet, he continued to suggest that women should just not leave their homes if they want to remain safe.
But Akbar is not the only senior lawmaker to implicitly support the CCPO’s mindset. Planning Minister Asad Umar, in an appearance on Geo News, said the cop had said nothing “unlawful” and no action was merited. “It was an unnecessary statement and I do not agree with it,” he added, in a token condemnation of the CCPO’s beliefs.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, meanwhile, didn’t even offer a token condemnation. “It is our duty to capture the culprits,” he told anchor Kamran Khan on Thursday night, while ignoring queries on the CCPO’s statement.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken “notice” of the incident, according to a statement issued by his office. He has not yet provided any statement on the CCPO, to retain whom he reportedly ordered the ouster of former Punjab Inspector General of Police Shoaib Dastgir.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan have been the only PTI lawmakers to unconditionally condemn Sheikh’s statement.