Facebook friend request case: A tale of our collective ignorance

What if, the accused doctor is not found guilty of his act, will Sharmeen and this society return him the respect he earned from his work and profession?

6:42 PM, November 01, 2017

The fierce war of words between the liberals and conservatives of our society has fueled the fire, lit by an eminent celebrity Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy . The Oscar award winning film maker took a mundane societal practice to twitter and lambasted an institute and entire country in front of the social media users. Facebook friend request from a doctor to her patient has created ripples in the society which has less endurance towards rationality and pragmatism. In the clamor of ‘should have’ and ‘shouldn’t have’, the fundamental problem has jumped into oblivion, whilst remnants of it are being followed by pseudo-intellectuals.

The grave concern isn’t the friend request was sent; it is that we, as a society, are completely ignorant about the rules which have now become laws with practical significance. Hadn’t it be more sagacious of the female patient to file an FIR against the doctor through legal procedure? She despite submitted the case to her sister Sharmeen Obaid and that she was fighting it on twitter while verdicts were being asserted by different human rights activists on TV channels. What are courts for, then?

It is pertinent here to recall that Sharmeen has given life to some of the less discussed issues of Pakistan and projected them before the world. Advocating women empowerment and equality has been a robust narrative of Sharmeen but the might of fame has its own form of illusion. By using the celebrity power to belittle doctor and accused him of being harasser, she has projected the somber image of Pakistan on global landscape. The way she has botched this issue on twitter, even many of the liberals didn’t synchronize their voices with her rhetoric. But who knows, this incident concoct a picture of Pakistani women being miserable before the world.

The sort of perplexity inherited by this particular issue is an old wine in a new bottle for our society. Sending a Facebook request to a stranger might be classified as a societal crime yet it does not accommodate in the boundaries of harassment or even harassment at work place either. May a teacher not send a Facebook friend request to his students or a lawyer to his clients? This is more or less a trifling debate to come up with. The real issue is our collective ignorance. In America, it is considered an effective practice to send legal notices via Facebook. Technology has its own dynamics. It is us who define its virtues and repercussions.

Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 is an insignia of rule of law and that nobody needs to fight his or her case on social media. Article 21 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 deals with cyber stalking, nature of stalking and the punishment of the offender. Moreover, these cybercrimes are dealt by FIA . This particular issue falls in the category of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 rather than Sexual Harassment Act 2010. The dilemma is the societal approach to deal with such practices is crude and callow. It should have been the prime preference of Sharmeen to look into this matter in legal perspective and to set a precedent that how laws are effective in protecting our privacy had they be used accurately. Our society but tends to opt social media to spill their heart and mind and anticipates swift justice. What if, the accused doctor is not found guilty of his act, will Sharmeen and this society return him the respect he earned from his work and profession? I highly doubt that.

Our society needs to get aware and familiar with the cybercrime laws. Though, it is a new born baby yet it addresses most of the issues, if not all, related to internet usage and privacy. There is also a dire need to formulate SOPs to ensure professional ethics at workplace. If any professional infringes the SOPs of his/her organisation, punishment should be the answer. Debate is a crux of progress. We must talk issues to push the society forward yet we ought to consider that alleging someone decisively is not an individual’s jurisdiction. There are courts and the laws to decide culpability and innocence. During Second World War, Winston Churchil asked his subordinates, “Are courts working properly”? He was told, yes they are. Winston Churchil exclaimed with solace that “if courts are working properly in the times of war, there is then no need to worry about”. Nations evolve when courts serve their people and laws are the lifeblood of courts. We have laws but all we need is to get aware of them.