The controversial case of harassment concerning Pakistani artists Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar has made it to the Governor of Punjab. It was, however, dismissed on the basis that the appeal was not under the jurisdiction of the court because the law under which it was filed states that the individuals involved must be in an employer-employee scenario, and the court does not consider them to be as such.
While undoubtedly the ruling was be according to the law; it only goes to show the legal loophole in the law which not only has not expanded to take different professions and interactions into account but also limits its understanding of harassment to workplaces.
Sexual harassment has been a point of contention in social media circles for quite a while, especially after the “MeToo” movement saw its trickle-down effect in the country. Spaces like Facebook and Twitter became safety nets for many women who came forward with their stories and pointed out individuals who have harassed them. An example which many should be well versed in by now is that of Patari’s CEO Khalid Bajwa, who was exposed by several women on Twitter for taking advantage of his position and harassing women conveniently.
Till now, both our judiciary and politicians have been involved only in traditional issues and have not worked on identifying areas where the law needs to be updated. It is the need of the time to expand the scope of our laws and understand how in today’s day and age sexual harassment can take place. An issue as sensitive as harassment needs to be worked upon in order to help the people understand what actually is harassment and how will the law protect its citizens against those who violate the laws.
At this point, the options for Meesha Shafi are not very bright because legally there is no relief for non-employee situations. The other option that her team has is to file a criminal complaint. However, that again will increase the burden of proof on Meesha’s team and realising the sensitivity of the situation, harassment often does not come with a proof. In order to set the right precedent, the court along with the lawmakers should focus towards the expansion of the law. The fact that her case cannot be tried at all – despite there being a significant incident at the crux of it – shows us the deficiencies of our legal system.