The recent thrashing of a veiled student at Khyber Medical College, Peshawar shocked many within the institution as well as other students across the country after a professor allegedly hit a young female student for wearing the veil. According to students within the anatomy class, Rahim Bangash chose to hit a young student after an altercation; he insisted that she ought to cease wearing the veil after becoming the class representative despite the student’s vociferous opposition. His reasoning for such a step was that the student left a ‘regressive’ and ‘backward’ impression as a representative. As the argument spiraled out of control, he resorted to physical violence.

The battle over female autonomy operates in both ways: Ultra-conservatives within organized religious unions hound women for not donning the veil while, in several Western societies, secular liberals have chosen to stigmatize women for their religious coverings. In either case, the principle stance is the same: A woman is unanswerable to no one else but herself. Whether or not she chooses to remain veiled or unveiled, no man – let alone society – retains the right to question her decision. The premise of patriarchy is such that the right to expression and mobility of women is unfairly left to male discretion.

A woman’s understanding of her own empowerment and liberation is hers alone. Social interference and coercion expressed under whatever ill-founded logic to ‘save’ or ‘correct’ her only inhibit her from her own potential. This applies to all lifestyles women in the country choose; whether conservative or liberal, with head-covering on or not, men should be reminded – through all means necessary – that women do not constitute as society’s dispensable property that can be censored, harassed or hounded for any reason. It is time for us as a nation to realize our moral policing of women must stop; otherwise this harassment will go on unchecked.