LAHORE: A Pakistani policewoman, who has been recommended for a gallantry award for rescuing a woman from a blasphemy mob, said on Tuesday she went to the site of the incident to protect an innocent life as “it was my duty” and nothing more.
The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an.
Videos shared online showed the woman being sheltered in a shop, before a senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, arrives at the scene and rescues her to safety.
ASP Naqvi of Punjab police has since been showered with praise by politicians, senior police officials and general public, and has been recommended by the provincial police chief for the highest gallantry award for law enforcement in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, the senior policewoman said while it was a great honor to be recommended for the Quaid-e-Azam Police Medal, she only did her duty by taking the woman out of harm’s way.
“This is of course a great honor, and something that everyone in the service looks forward to, to be recognized for their hard work,” Naqvi told Arab News.
“But really, it was just work, it was my duty. Nothing more. I didn’t go out there to make a name for myself, I went there to protect an innocent life, and defuse a situation that could have gotten very violent.”
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
Naqvi recalled that the situation was quite tensed when the police arrived at the restaurant in Lahore’s Ichhra market, where the mob had surrounded the woman.
“We got an anonymous call around 1:30pm on Monday that a woman had been surrounded by a mob in Ichhra with rumors of something religiously offensive written on her dress,” she said.
“And this all was based on misinformation. They [mob] thought the dress had Qur’anic verses written on it but it was absolutely not the case. The narrative just came from certain segments of the religious community or certain people I would say.”
The dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script, according to the senior policewoman.
When the mob started chanting death threats, Naqvi and other police personnel decided to briefly speak to the charged crowd and then whisked the woman to the Gulberg police station by covering her face with a piece of cloth.
The reason Naqvi was at the forefront when the incident unfolded was that she had encountered a similar situation before, in which a man made similar claims at the city’s Liberty Market during protests over former prime minister Imran Khan’s brief arrest on May 9.
“Whether a mob gathers for political, social or religious reasons, our duty is to follow certain SOPs (standard operating procedures). First of all, law and order must be maintained. Then there are secondary concerns after the accused’s safety. That nearby shops don’t get damaged in mob violence, that no bystander’s life is harmed,” Naqvi told Arab News.
“So, to do all that we have to initiate dialogue, go to the mob, talk to them, because they need a voice of reason. You also need to identify the instigators behind it all. Those who are the most vocal in the mob, remove them and then take the bystanders into confidence.”
Naqvi said the situation in Lahore could have worsened if it was allowed to simmer for some time amid a delayed response from the police, but fortunately, they were able to get to the spot on time and secure the woman and her husband.
Separately, Pir Afzal Qadri, secretary-general of the Majlis-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat religious movement, visited the Gulberg police station on Tuesday and assured people that the incident was an outcome of a misunderstanding.
“Somebody read something wrong and then gathered a bunch of people, but I want to reiterate that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands,” Qadri told Arab News.
He said he had helped calm down the mob on Monday as well: “This was wrong, unethical and illegal.”