Days after a mob in Sialkot lynched a Sri Lankan factory manager, netizens were left shocked yet again after videos of several women being assaulted, stripped and filmed in a market in Faisalabad surfaced on social media. Many took to Twitter to express their horror and disgust over the incident and questioned whether society was "on the verge of moral bankruptcy", given that the incident is one of many instances of mob violence that have occurred recently.
An FIR was lodged by one of the assaulted women at the Millat Town police station, stating she was collecting solid waste with her three companions on Monday at around 10:30am in the Bawa Chak Market, Yousaf Chowk, when she felt thirsty and went inside a shop — Usman Electric Store — owned by a man named Saddam and asked for a bottle of water.
She said Saddam got annoyed and yelled at them and alleged that they entered his shop to steal money and electronic appliances. She stated that Saddam also called other shopkeepers and his helpers, who started beating them. The complainant alleged that the suspects also stripped them and dragged them through the market.
Several videos of the assault circulated on social media and led to widespread rage and shock online.
"A couple of women were stripped naked and beaten up by a bunch of men in Faisalabad. Other men, standing by, kept filming the incident on their phones. Horrible, sickening and disgusting," tweeted a user.
"Another day, another incident of mass violence," shared another.
For this user, the incident was not "a law enforcement issue" but rather a "symptom of a deeply sick society". They also questioned the "insensitivity" shown by the Punjab Police by retweeting the video of the assault without censoring the content or concealing the identities of the women.
Digital rights activist Nighat Dad also called upon law enforcement authorities to "maintain the dignity and privacy" of survivors, whether "women or other vulnerable individuals" by not sharing videos that reveal the identities of the assaulted.
Actor Adnan Siddiqui called for the need of introspection by society to gauge why such horrific incidents of mob violence towards women keep occurring. On August 14, a woman was sexually assaulted by over 400 men in an act of mob violence at Lahore's Greater Iqbal Park.
Users expressed concern over how acts of mob violence are now increasingly being perpetrated and reported.
"The Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad incidents, and others that happened in the recent past, point to the social rot of our society which does not seem to have an end," posted a user. In November, the Federal Investigation Agency arrested a four-member gang, including two personnel of the Punjab Police, involved in sexually harassing two teenage girls and filming them in Rawalpindi.
"Charsadda, Sialkot and now Faisalabad all in the space of 10 days. Make no mistake, the rule of the mob is here to stay," shared an enraged user. On November 29, hundreds of people were booked for setting a Charsadda police station on fire.
"Such actions are the result of a mentality that treats women as nothing more than objects," shared MNA Mohsin Dawar, who condemned the incident and demanded that the perpetrators "be tried to the fullest extent of the law".
One user questioned how much worse it must be for women who are victims of sexual assault "behind closed doors" if this is what is happening to women publicly.
Punjab IGP Rao Sardar Ali Khan said the suspects involved in the incident did not deserve any sympathy. He said the police had arrested all the suspects involved in the incident and further legal action was being taken against them.
While it is crucial that authorities take strict action against the perpetrators of such violence, it is important there be societal introspection as well, as highlighted many netizens on social media.
Many users online are arguing that the women were thieves and had the intention of the robbing the store. But even if that argument were to be considered, it doesn't justify stripping them naked and assaulting them. If there were suspicions that they were thieves, the authorities should have been summoned. There is nothing that can justify this — or any other kind of — violence.
This year has proven time and time again that Pakistan is not safe for women. The country has played witness to several horrifying cases of sexual assault against women, reported and otherwise. The latest incident in Faisalabad has left women feeling unsafe and vulnerable in a country they call their own. While it is crucial that the authorities take strict action against the perpetrators of such violence, it is also imperative that we consider why so many people are justifying the assault and where we as a nation have gone wrong.