Ayesha Akram wanted to film people celebrating Pakistan’s Independence Day at the country’s most cherished monument, Minar-e-Pakistan. Photo: (left) Arif Ali/AFP and Ayesha Akram/Instagram
Ayesha Akram put on a new green outfit and headed to one of Pakistan’s most historic parks with her crew. The TikToker wanted to film people celebrating Pakistan’s Independence Day at the country’s most cherished monument, Minar-e-Pakistan. Soon, a large crowd of young men approached her to take selfies. What happened next was terrifying. “I couldn’t understand anything. The people were torturing and fondling me. There is no part of my body that isn’t covered with bruises,” Akram said in an interview with a local web channel.
The crowd swelled in size and began to spiral out of control. They charged towards Akram, who also goes by Ayesha Baig and has 115,000 TikTok followers. The park’s security guard tried to lead her beyond a gated fence bordering the monument. The mob, however, began jumping over the fence and breaking it to advance towards her. According to a police report, around 300 to 400 men cornered Akram and started tearing her clothes apart and assaulting her. They repeatedly tossed her in the air, and many filmed the incident. Akram’s crew was also attacked. The abuse continued from about 6.30 p.m. to 9 p.m. before she was rescued. “Why did this happen? Nobody there knew me. Is this punishment for being a daughter of Pakistan?” Akram exclaimed. According to Akram, some men appeared at first as though trying to save her, but then joined in the violence and abuse. “If one person would let go of my clothes then another person would come and try to tear at them,” she said. Akram’s ring and earrings disappeared in the chaos, presumably stolen. Her colleague’s phone, money and identity card went missing, too. Akram has registered a police complaint against the assailants under sections Sections 354 A, 382, 147 and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The charges fall under assault, theft, rioting and unlawful assembly. Lahore police are currently trying to identify and locate the culprits through CCTV footage and videos of the incident that have been circulating on social media. “[Those] who violated the woman’s honour and harassed [her team] will be brought within the ambit of the law,” said Lahore’s deputy inspector general of operations, Sajid Kiyani in a statement.
The incident has been widely condemned on social media. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and provincial chief minister Usman Buzdar have been in contact with the police regarding the investigation. Amnesty International has also tweeted a statement condemning the incident.
On a viral thread on Twitter, Pakistani women shared their experiences of feeling unsafe in public places and having to arm themselves with knives, scissors and other makeshift weapons to protect themselves. The assault on Akram is the latest in a series of recent cases of gender-based violence against women, including the murder of Noor Mukadam, a former diplomat’s daughter.
“It is men knowing that they can get away with something like this and that they are cheered on when they treat a woman this way. They can act with total impunity,” said journalist Sanam Maher, who has previously written about violence against women in Pakistan. “It’s just sport [for them]. A woman in front of you is not someone you see as a human being worthy of respect, care or basic decency. She’s considered a plaything,” Maher added.Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.