The Motorway incident was a stark reminder of the deeply entrenched issue of gender-based violence in Pakistan .It was a harrowing event that shook the nation and brought attention to critical issues surrounding safety, gender dynamics, and the role of media in shaping public discourse. It laid bare the vulnerability of women in public spaces, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive reform and awareness.
The victim of this traumatic incident was a Pakistani-French woman traveling with her two children. On the night of 7 September 2020, a woman was gang-raped and robbed in front of her children on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in Pakistan after her car broke down. While she waited for the police to arrive, two men approached her and held her at gunpoint, raped her, and robbed her of money and jewellery. What made this case even more disturbing was the victim-blaming that ensued in its aftermath. Umer Sheikh, the highest-ranking police official in Lahore, shockingly implied that the victim bore some responsibility for the incident. He questioned her choice of a less-traveled road and suggested she should have checked her fuel levels before embarking on her journey. He also commented on her belief that Pakistan was as safe as France, further compounding the victim-blaming narrative. These remarks, instead of offering support to the survivor, ignited a nationwide uproar. People from all walks of life united in condemnation of the victim-blaming and demanded justice for the survivor. His interview, was widely shared on social media with #RemoveCCPOLahore becoming one of the top trends on twitter.
The media, as the primary source of information for the public, played a pivotal role in covering the incident. Journalists and news outlets provided extensive coverage of the case, ensuring that the public was informed about the crime. The media played an indispensable role in giving voice to the victims of gender-based violence. By sharing their stories and experiences, survivors and victims found solace, breaking the silence and stigma surrounding such incidents. Pakistani celebrities of the entertainment industry came out on the roads of Karachi to protest at the Press Club, for the recent motorway incident which has shocked and frightened everyone, from women to children, no one feels safe in Pakistan. Celebrities including, Ayesha Omar, Mansha Pasha, Mahira Khan, Ali Rehman, Yasir Hussain and many others raised their voice. Everyone was holding placards to demand justice and safety for others.
The motorway rape case left an indelible mark on Pakistan's collective consciousness. It sparked a nationwide dialogue about the treatment of survivors, the importance of preserving their dignity, and the urgency of enacting stricter laws to punish sexual offenders. In response to this watershed moment, Pakistan enacted new rape laws, aimed at expediting trials and imposing more severe penalties for such crimes. The sentencing of Abid Malhi and Shafqat Ali (the rapists) to death for their grave offenses is a beacon of hope in the ongoing battle against gender-based violence in Pakistan. It underscores the significance of rejecting victim-blaming and working toward a society in which survivors receive unwavering support, and justice is served swiftly. While there is still much work to be done, this case serves as a testament to the possibility of a safer, more just Pakistan for women.
The Motorway Incident should act as a driving force for sustained efforts to combat gender-based violence, advance gender equality, and create a Pakistan where everyone, regardless of gender, feels safe and respected in public spaces. Both the media and the people hold the power to foster societal change and demand accountability to prevent the recurrence of such tragic incidents.