The official did what was necessary in an unideal situation to save a life

KARACHI:

Do women in top positions make a difference? In the last few decades, thanks to the mainstreaming of ‘identity politics’ discontents, this question has become the touchstone of both a politics’ sincerity and its longevity. This question is especially pressing now that Maryam Nawaz has taken the mantle of Punjab’s CM-ship, despite loud allegations of rigging plaguing the general election of 2024. And of course, this question concerns ASP Shehrbano Naqvi and another woman.

The aforementioned “another woman” was accused of blasphemy in a crowded Ichra Bazaar in Lahore on Sunday. A kurta sporting superimposed imprints of the Arabic word Halwa by a popular clothing brand led some to believe all Arabic denotes a Quranic verse. Within minutes, a mob of disgruntled and offended men gathered to avenge a wrong that existed solely in their imagination. The tale of a ‘mistaken blasphemy’ is an old, familiar one; a tale which would have met the old, familiar violent end if not for some brave shopkeepers and ASP Shehrbano.

Across the internet, the news of an impending mob and Shehrbano’s intervention spread like wildfire. Shopkeepers familiar with clothing featuring Arabic calligraphy came to the girl’s defense, sheltering her in a shop and explaining to the mob that it was merely an Arabic calligraphy print. Eyewitnesses reported that many in the mob were customers, visitors, or passersby, with garment traders who rescued the girl well aware of the Arabic calligraphy prints available in the market. A video circulating on social media captured the terrified girl hiding in a shop, refuting the allegations of blasphemy. She explained that the clothing with Arabic calligraphy was commonly worn in Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia.

The shopkeepers echoed her sentiments, emphasising that clothes carrying Arabic calligraphy were a part of the fashion industry and had no connection to holy verses. When the mob’s participants persisted with the ‘blasphemy’ charge, the shopkeepers called the police who, upon arrival and assessing the situation’s severity, had to refer to their seniors.

Among videos in circulation on social media, the ASP can be seen addressing the angry men with a direct stare, her voice loud and firm, reminding everyone to trust her and her team who has satisfactorily handled similar incidents in the past. As per Shehrbano, no blasphemous act had occurred. She, alongside other senior police officials, examined the dress and confirmed that the Arabic calligraphy was indeed unrelated to scripture. In her statement, the girl strongly rejected the allegations of blasphemy, emphasising her commitment to respecting Islam as she hailed from a religious family.

In the digital microcosm of social media platforms such as Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), ASP Shehrbano is being (rightfully) heralded for her courageous mediation and de-escalation of a life-threatening situation. The encounter undeniably gains more meaning when one acknowledges ASP Shehrbano as a woman taking a critical step and putting her life in harm’s way as she walks the wrongfully accused woman to safety in a sea of fuming zealots.

Is this the bare minimum? That the forces employed to protect us are effectively carrying out their duties? Perhaps so. However, a country whose heroes are recognised as such only when they die must laud living heroes, even if born out of self-inflicted debacles. In an unideal scenario, where violence spreads like a contagion, ASP Shehrbano did what was necessary to ensure a life was saved – even if it came at the expense of an unwarranted apology.

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