The molestation of a female TikToker by 400 men at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore has yet again exposed the state in which Pakistan’s women have to live. 400 men surrounded and harassed the woman for hours, leaving her traumatised and shaken. The details of the incident are too disturbing for words. It is important to note that this is not the first such case, nor will it be the last.
Moreover, while the perpetrators’ action is being condemned, apologists have once again come forward to justify or downplay the incident. By questioning the ‘character’ of the victim, these apologists justify violence and harassment. Such mindset has gained strength in Pakistan because many influential voices in the country promote regressive views and peddle the narrative that blames the victims of sexual crimes instead of punishing the perpetrator. When such regressive voices shape the public discourse, people are bound to engage in victim-blaming. The lack of critical thinking skills makes them unable to understand and see the issue of sexual violence for what it is: the perpetrator’s fault.
Therefore, the collective conscience of Pakistani men is to blame for such acts of sexual violence and harassment.
Collective conscience was a term introduced by the French Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his book Division of Labour. The term explains the shared attitudes, tendencies, behaviors, beliefs and values that people of similar backgrounds possess. It also represents the herd mindset of a group of people. If our collective conscious is assessed, we will find out that people have no regard for the rule of law. In fact, most of our people routinely flout the law. The way they engage in business, their attitudes towards the state and the way they view women is all based on a social pact that contradicts rule of law that the state if ought to enforce.
But the problem doesn’t end here. Our social conscience discourages and makes us wary of anything modern. It watches with a sense of vindication anything that stands in contradiction with deeply rooted beliefs and views.
The behaviour is furthered when those in power fuel similar viewpoints by echoing the same flawed social conscience. Statements from public figures and politicians, their tweets — all carry forward the populist narrative — the followers of which are ideologically confused.
This sense of confusion results in a mindset that justifies acts of sexual harassment and assault, like the one at Minar-e-Pakistan. Sometimes this violent behaviour is even encouraged. A discourse of civility where misogyny is dealt with effectively through a counter-narrative can bring an end to this mindset.