According to a report, Asma Gulfam, a 28-year-old Christian housecleaner in the Paka Ghara area of Sialkot District, Punjab was allegedly beaten and confined for a week by her employers after expressing her desire to leave her job due to pregnancy.
The incident took place in early April, when Gulfam informed her employer, Huda Adnan, about her pregnancy and medical condition. However, Adnan insisted that she continue working.
On April 18, Adnan accused Gulfam of stealing 1 million rupees and called the police. When Gulfam denied the accusation, she was forcibly taken to a room where she encountered Adnan’s husband, along with a police assistant sub-inspector and three other policemen.
According to Gulfam, the police officers and her employer’s husband began verbally abusing and physically assaulting her, demanding that she confess to the alleged theft. Despite her pleas of innocence, the beatings continued, resulting in injuries and bleeding.
Gulfam maintained that the abuse lasted for eight days, during which she was repeatedly tortured. Meanwhile, her husband, Gulfam Masih, who had gone to the police station to report his wife missing, was also arrested and held in illegal confinement for a week.
Eventually, Asma Gulfam’s deteriorating health prompted her captors to release her, and she was rushed to a government hospital by her husband. Medical examinations confirmed physical abuse and internal hemorrhaging, but the unborn child was saved.
Gulfam later reported the incident to a police officer on May 10, but her complaint was allegedly dismissed without proper investigation.
In a turn of events, Gulfam’s former employers registered a theft charge against her and her husband on May 17, initially filing a First Information Report (FIR) against unknown persons but later naming the couple in a supplementary statement.
Determined to acquire justice, Asma with the support of Imran Sahotra, who is head of the Maseehi Bedari Tehreek, an advocacy group for religious minorities secured interim bail for herself and her husband, offering a glimmer of hope to the family. Yet, the road to justice remains steep and unpredictable, underscoring the inequities prevalent in the system.
Human Rights Defender, Advocate Dennis Daniel Murad argued the law of the country has given equal rights to all of the citizens for the pursuit to acquire justice, nothing is superior to the Constitution of the land. Citizens from all genders, race, color and religion maintain equal rights under the protective umbrella of law.
Pointing at the women’s harassment in the country, he stated that the majority of the women in Pakistan are not allowed to work due to values of paratracheal values of the country. Whereas, the last decade has witnessed great inclusion of female work force in the market, which is not only adding to the expansion of their transactional footprint but is also contributing to the economy of the country.
Condemning the incident of the Asma Gulfam he said, “Such incidents are discouraging women for participating in the economic activities, which is making them further vulnerable and dependent in society”, he added
Looking at the women’s struggle at workplaces in Pakistan; the case of Sobia Nazir holds great importance and relevance, On the 21st of March, 2022, Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabir of the Lahore High Court (LHC) delivered the landmark judgement in ‘Sobia Nazir vs Government of Punjab’ This judgment held that availing maternity leave is a fundamental right of women.
In coming to its decision, the LHC referred to the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973. The LHC observed that Art.35 of the Constitution mandates the State to protect the marriage, the family, the mother and the child. Moreover, Art.25 of the Constitution provides that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law and that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.
Additionally, the LHC referred to Art.37 (e) of the Constitution which provides that, the state shall secure just and humane conditions of work and ensure maternity benefits for women in employment. Further, the Court observed that due to the advanced position of pregnancy, a woman may not be able to perform her duties or be able to travel to her place of employment. The Court observed that forcing a woman to work during the advanced stage of pregnancy may amount to forced labour, which is prohibited by Art.11 of the Constitution.
Moreover, in accordance with the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWVA), workplace harassment and torture against women are serious offenses. Perpetrators found guilty of such acts can face severe punishment, including imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of up to PKR 500,000.
It is crucial for employers and employees to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations under the PPWVA. Implementing preventive measures, establishing clear policies against workplace harassment, and promptly addressing any reported incidents are vital to ensure a respectful and safe working environment for women and minorities.
Human Rights Activist Augustine Jacob articulated that, to overcome workplace discrimination for the weak, being a responsible citizen, we must push a collective effort to support and encourage the implementation of the law on equal grounds for everyone.
The opposition of systematic discrimination on the basis of race, color and religion prevailing in social discourse is the responsibility of all those wanting peaceful and just society around them, he stressed
Jacob, also urged authorities to bring police reforms to overcome the religious biases. he also suggested to dedicate separate complaint registering counters in police stations with trained officers to deal with the sensitive issues of minorities and women. The rule of law and access to justice must be considered as the paramount priority of the state, he concluded
Asma’s struggle for justice and survival serves as a call to action, urging society to confront the systemic biases that perpetuate such atrocities and to stand united in the pursuit of equality, justice, and dignity for all. Her pursuit of legal struggle despite various threats and difficulties underlines the message for the courage for the rest of the women of the nation.