The lady reporter vs the FC constable

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 26.10.16

On October 20, Hassan Abbas, a constable rank officer of the Frontier Constabulary (FC)
deployed as a security guard at a building of the National Database and Registration
Authority (NADRA), Karachi, slapped Saima Kanwal, a female anchorperson/reporter of a
Karachi-based local TV channel, K-21. The general argument about this incident being
bandied about on social and electronic media is that the lady reporter was responsible for
the event as it was she who invited trouble by provoking the FC constable. This opinion
piece tries to examine the issue.

From the video clips available on the net, the following scenario appears. First, there was a
background to this incident. The lady reporter with her media team had visited the premises
of NADRA office earlier too to investigate into and highlight the problems faced by the
public especially women. At least, one such report had been aired recently. As K-21 is a
local, city-based TV channel, it searches for micro issues not commonly highlighted by
mainstream national TV channels. This is why the problems being faced by complainants at
NADRA office prompted K-21 to pay attention to the matter and revisit the premises.

Second, despite reporting by K-21 of problems faced by the masses in the past, no
improvement had been observed in the function and behaviour of NADRA officials. On the
other hand, the news about the misconduct of security guards towards masses especially
women kept pouring in. It was like a see-for-yourself situation. This is why the K-21 team
decided to revisit the NADRA office on October 20, which meant that the problems at the
NADRA office were well-entrenched.

Third, this time when the K-21 team visited the place, it was denied entrance into the main
building of NADRA. The refusal of NADRA officials to communicate with the visiting media
team reinforced the authenticity of people’s complaints, and the understanding of the
visiting team that the NADRA officials had something to hide.

Fourth, outside the main building of NADRA but within the NADRA premises, common
people especially women gathered around the media team led by a lady reporter, and
shared their grievances against NADRA officials including misbehaviour of security guards.
The response of the people emboldened the visiting media team to necessarily speak for
them.

Fifth, there were several FC security guards present in and around the NADRA premises,
but women complainants pointed out FC constable Abbas as the person who was
constantly misbehaving with them. Abbas had already misbehaved with the cameraman of
the visiting media team by forcing him to stop coverage. The lady reporter had come to the
rescue of the cameraman of her team. This is how all attention turned towards Abbas. So
far, the impudence of Abbas had been established in the eyes of both the people there and
the visiting media team; this led the lady reporter to accost him to shame him on his
misbehaviour with women. Though it is impossible that the brashness of Abbas was not
known to the NADRA officials, it is probable that he was deployed there purposefully. The
refusal of the NADRA officials to see the visiting media team set the team against the
guards.

Sixth, the guard tried to move whereas the lady reporter intercepted his path by touching
him to make him face the camera, which had been switched on again. The guard stopped,
turned around and picked up the condescending utterances of people in the background.
At this point, the lady reporter uttered the words “this is his attitude.” That is when the
guard lost his temper and slapped her. That is, between the act of touching him physically
and his reaction in terms of hurling a slap was her statement “this is his attitude”, which is
not a slur. If touching him physically had been an issue, the constable could have reacted
immediately instead of taking a pause and listening to her and people around her. In fact,
this was a case of when the FC constable felt that he was being held accountable for his
misdeeds in front of the masses he reacted violently.

Seventh, it was reported by the visiting media team that Abbas resorted to aerial firing, and
this was because people inside the NADRA premises reacted to the violence that Abbas
unleashed on the lady reporter. If the visiting media team had been in the wrong, people
there would not have reacted on its behalf.

The whole episode can be summarised in this way: complainants at NADRA invited the
media team that intended to speak on their behalf. The NADRA officials declined to meet
the media team. The behaviour of the NADRA officials and the helplessness of people
especially women pitted the media team against the guards. When the lady reporter
heading the team was physically attacked, onlookers tried to speak or act on her behalf.
The FC constable along with his colleagues had to resort to aerial firing to reassert his
authority on the infuriated, defenceless onlookers.

At this juncture, enter the defenders of the FC constable. One was (Retd) Major General
Aijaz Aiwan giving arguments on various TV channels that when girls joined the army, they
were told to be ready to face situations like their men colleagues bore in the field. Hence,
the lady reporter was a reporter first and a lady later, and the matter should be seen as a
confrontation between a reporter and an FC constable. Secondly, he said that the uniform
was sacrosanct and touching it by any member of the public was tantamount to an act of
sacrilege. Thirdly, after being touched by the lady reporter, the FC constable was justified
in his reaction, which could be any from slapping to aerial firing. With this kind of
arguments, what the general has tried to say is that the uniform is more sanctified than the
respect of a reporter, even if the reporter were a female. Secondly, a reporter can be
slapped in the face by uniformed personnel if they find that their uniform had been touched.
If the version forwarded by the retired army general is taken into consideration, a lady
working as an office secretary is a secretary first and a lady later. Similarly, a lady doctor is
a doctor first and a lady later, and so on.

If such were the case, he should consider why the law against harassment of women at
work place has been passed, and why it is called “The protection against harassment of
women at the work place Act 2010.” Though not directly applicable in this case, the Act
treats a lady official or worker as a lady first and an official or a worker later. For a lady
reporter, the work place is not confined to her media office but wherever her media house
sends her to perform reporting duties. In short, whereas the FC constable is guilty of the
crime of physical violence done publicly against the lady reporter, the retired general is
guilty of misleading the viewers by inflicting his ignorance on them. Both should be held
accountable.

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