It was a cold winter evening, the sun had just set and the thick mist (read: smog) of Lahore was setting in. I was waiting for a friend outside a serene park set in the middle of a busy junction in Lahore, even with its location, somehow the trees muffled out the loud sound of traffic, making it a tranquil place away from the chaos of the city. Sitting a few steps away from me was a couple, just 2 kids randomly sitting outside the park and holding hands. Ah! The innocent, sweet romance of youth.
But maybe Lahore’s trees are not strong enough to keep other evils at bay, for in a few moment two policemen on a motorbike arrived. They started harassing the couple; shamming the girl for being an “awara slut” and physically handling the boy.
To know more about this, PG conducted interviews with young couples from a diverse background, the results were somewhat predictable. Most couples had stories of harassment at the hands of the police.
Mahima*, a university student from Lahore, recalled her story for us. “My best friend and I were in a car with our boyfriends, coming back from an event, when a police car started chasing us. We parked the car at a side and two policemen approached us. They called the men outside and started harassing them; threatening to arrest all four of us and telling us how all this is haram. We were literally just sitting in the same car.”
“In the end we had to pay them whatever we had at the moment because there was no bank or ATM around, that’s when they left us.” concluded Mahima
During these interviews we realized that even though all young couples faced such harassment, the less privileged are more likely to be a target of this.
This harassment is not just limited to officials; it is not uncommon for people to police young couples. We all remember the incident when students of PU beat up the husband of a student on the assumption that they were dating. And then there was the High Court judge “banning” Valentine’s day; the issue of censoring relationships and love is something that is deep-seated in society.
The police cannot really charge young couples for sitting with each other or going out on a date, which is why the threat is usually of informing the parents. We all know that dating is not widely acceptable in Pakistan. Even though all young people date, it is done without informing their parents which gives an opportunity to these corrupt policemen to exploit couples.
The police can neither really do anything about it and nor will they go through all the hassle required to book anyone on charges of attempted Zina (adultery). After a recent amendment in the law, it has become mandatory that if the suspect is a woman, action against her can only be taken by a superintendent of police and with permission from a magistrate. So, all they can do at most is call someone’s parents, which is a tricky situation depending on your family and parents.
But perhaps Sindh is a bit luckier than the rest of the country because they are actually trying to stop police from harassing couples, something the other provinces should follow. Recently the IG south issued a notice barring policemen from inquiring about the relation of a man and a woman if they are together. Steps like these curb such harassment and raise awareness about the issue.
This is one step towards a better attitude towards dating, but a lot more is needed to be done to save the youth from such senseless harassment.