KARACHI: As evening falls in Karachi, Ahmed* and his girlfriend Manahil* head out on a dinner date. This wasn’t just any date, the 24-year-old wanted to surprise his girlfriend with the news that his family had agreed to their marriage. But fate had another surprise in store for them: a stark reminder of the fact that they live in Pakistan, where love costs a thing or two.
On the way back from dinner, Ahmed took a detour and stopped his car on the service road. The couple shared a kiss. “It was nothing more than that,” says Manahil. “But before we knew it, two uniformed law enforcers on a bike came out of nowhere and one put his pistol on the window,” she recalls.
Ahmed opened the door and stepped out of the car, only to be hit by the personnel on his head. “They took my partner away and took away our mobile phones and wallets,” she says.
The policemen continued to harass the young couple for almost 20 minutes. They threatened them with jail time and said they would only be released if their parents came to the police station. “I started crying. They even called me a slut,” Manahil recounts. “They took Ahmed to the nearest ATM and let us go only after taking a total Rs17,000 from us.”
Manahil and Ahmed are not the only couple to fall victim to the police’s high-handedness. Of late, numerous couples have shared their experiences with Cutacut, recalling how they were shamed, threatened and at times physically harmed when they were found with their partners by policemen.
“The police cannot stop couples when they are together even if they are getting intimate” – DIG South Azad Khan
So the question arises: does the law provide our police with the authority to stop couples on a date?
When we talked to lawyer and rights activist Abira Ashfaq, who works at Qaaf se Qanoon, a non-for-protfit legal initiative, she said: “The police can file an FIR for attempted zina (adultery) and only then arrest the accused.” But after an amendment made in Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 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.
In an interview with Cutacut, Karachi’s DIG South Azad Khan said, “Let me be straightforward, there are only a few policemen doing this just to extort money from young men and women. There is no law which the police can use to stop couples when they are driving or are found in public places while dating.”
He further said that there is, however, a section in Pakistan Penal Code which prohibits people from doing obscene acts causing nuisance to general public.
Section 294 of the PPC states: “Whoever, to the annoyance of others; a) does any obscene act in any public place, or b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both”.
But who defines what “obscenity” and “public space” are?
“I’ll say it again, the police cannot stop couples when they are together. Even if they are getting intimate inside their car, they can’t accuse them because their private vehicle is not a public space,” says the DIG. “The law doesn’t permit us to do that. It very clear,” he added.
He even went on to assure that they are making a new SOP following which policemen cannot ask a man what relationship he has with a woman sitting with him in the car.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
You can view our video on the subject here.