Sending a friend request might not be “harassment”, but Pakistanis made sure that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy feels harassed now

Published: October 30, 2017
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The public has brutally trolled, passed belittling comments and slut-shamed Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her sister on a much personal level. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Oscar and Emmy Award winner, and an all around advocate for women rights, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (SOC), like for many others, is an inspiration for me too. With documentaries like “A girl in the river” and “Saving Face”, she has won the hearts of millions of people all over the world.

A few days ago, one of my friends mentioned the news about SOC getting a doctor sacked from Agha Khan University Hospital (AKUH), a renowned hospital in Karachi. Hearing this, I had a million questions going around in my mind:

“What could the doctor possibly have done?”

“Did he make an inappropriate comment?”

“Perhaps he made an incorrect medical diagnosis?”

“Did his wrong diagnosis lead to incorrect treatment?”

Clearly, I expected the doctor to have done something very serious, but upon searching for the news myself, I came across what started the whole debate, and it left me baffled for a second!

SOC angrily tweeted that her sister who had sought treatment at AKUH, got a Facebook friend request a day later from the same doctor that treated her. The Emmy Award winner took to social media and lashed out at the doctor, asserting that there are zero boundaries in Pakistan.

The news spread like wildfire, with Pakistani social media taking sides and aggravating the entire fiasco. Some people sided with her for speaking up, but most just ridiculed her for classifying a friend request on Facebook as “harassment”.

Personally, while I acknowledge that the case of Doctor Sahib at AKUH might not have been dealt quite tactfully, but let us not ignore the fact that harassment exists and more often than not, it is ignored. How many times have you women out there been stared at in a lecherous manner, catcalled, or been undressed by the eyes of hungry-looking men? I’m sure, many more times than you can even recall. These incidents have become almost a norm in our society, seeing how they are so ingrained that it is more alarming to speak up than it is to suffer in silence.

It is no secret that we live in a chauvinistic society. So, if for once a man is penalised for his incorrect actions, then let him set an example for all the harassers out there. These incidents should not be simply told as anecdotes to people that fade away with time and are eventually forgotten.

The society, instead of letting this be a case where people realise that inappropriate actions come with repercussions, is giving more air to the fire that has been lit. Of course, when a woman asks a man to justify his actions, the real issue at hand will most certainly be ignored. Instead, the woman will be slut-shamed and blamed for doing something that might have instigated the incident.

In SOC’s case, people are digging out old pictures of her with Harvey Weinsten, calling her out for taking a picture with a real harasser and then amounting a mere friend request to harassment. Some people even shamed SOCfor her picture with Matt Damon, commenting on how close she was standing with the actor.

This was followed by a series of insults and memes about SOC’s family. Her sister’s dressing was brought into the conversation, reminding us that women who wear “indecent” clothes are “asking for it”. Nasty and derogatory comments circulated Pakistani social media for days, bashing SOC and her family ruthlessly. Talk about blowing things out of proportion!

Male 6670Her name is Mahjabeen Obaid (Sister of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy). Look at her vulgar dressing (see through…

Posted by UoK – All Confessions on Friday, October 27, 2017

If that was not border-line harassment, people made sure to make a mockery out of it by making a “Send Friend Request to Sharmeen Obaid” event on Facebook. According the event details,

“By joining the event, you are declaring the following terms:

  1. I hereby declare myself a social harasser”

This has gone way too far and I hope Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy makes a documentary showcasing every single person who is…

Posted by Sana Zulfiqar on Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ushna Shah, a Pakistani actress, came forward and explained this incident in a rational manner, defending SOC.

Photo: Screenshot

Mahira Khan shared her views on the issue, commenting that the doctor’s move was extremely unprofessional. She even called out people who were bashing and abusing SOC and her sister as “keyboard terrorists”. Hamza Ali Abbasi, on the other hand, surprised no one by sharing his opinion and arguing that this is not harassment. It seemed like all of Pakistan, including its celebrities, are in a debate of their own.

What is also important here is to highlight that AKUH, as an organisation, has a right to terminate contracts of employees if they violate the organisation’s code of conduct. I strongly believe that a doctor-patient relationship should be governed by a set of morals and ethics. I, for one, would feel highly uncomfortable visiting my doctor if he tried to enforce a personal relationship, even if just a friend request. It would make things awkward. What’s next? Liking my profile picture or my posts?

All organisations have a set of regulations that all its employees need to follow. For instance, a teacher and a student are not allowed to have any personal relationship. A husband and wife can not even work in the same department of a multinational organisation. Similarly, if the doctor violated the code of ethics of the organisation he works for, then it is fair to make him pay for his actions.

Photo: Aga Khan University Hospital Pakistan-AKUH

Days later, however, the public outrage continued, with a national frenzy over how it was ludicrous to label this incident as “harassment”. Some even stated that dozens of people follow and send them friend requests every day and it absolutely doesn’t mean that they have been harassed by each one of them, reinstating the arguing that SOC’s logic was flawed.

Others believed that getting someone fired for a mere friend request was a bit unfair, and that SOC was blowing things out of proportion, because throwing around such statements is actually taking away from the real victims of harassment.

Insensitivity was also common in tweets by the public, and well-known figures such as Ali Moeen Nawazish, shared his take on this matter with his followers:

“As I previously stated, I don’t think he harassed her by sending a friend request. But, it was unprofessional. Yet, I think firing is too extreme and wouldn’t have had happened if it wasn’t an influential celebrity in question.”

Displeasure and disapproval over this matter was also shown by controversial celebrities like Waqar Zaka, who jumped in and replied to SOC’s tweets, saying that harassment in reality is firing the doctor, and that he would help the doctor find a better job.

Was it really necessary to fire the physician and rant on Twitter instead of just directly reporting to the hospital? The doctor, who has four kids, was allegedly relieved of his duties. People backlashed at SOC, saying that the poor doctor’s career had ended and she had ruined his life for cheap publicity. People kept empathising with the doctor, and started giving one star ratings to AKUH on their Facebook page, bringing their rating down from 4.8 to 1.3.

Being a feminist at heart and standing up for the wrong, I have always stood by SOC. In this case, however, the grass isn’t green on either side.

Yes, SOC is a celebrity, her tweets have enough power to get a man fired, something which may not have happened if the accuser had less resources at their disposal. Maybe the issue was not as serious to justify the man’s firing. Maybe “harassment” was the right choice of word, or maybe what constitutes as “harassment” differs from person to person.

On the other hand, there are multiple claims on social media of how the doctor allegedly had previous cases of harassment filed against him as well, which certainly builds a case against the doctor. The debate, thus, is never ending.

Allah ko hazir nazir jaan kar…..got a call from a senior AKU board member who asked me to share this. Those so…

Posted by Ambareen Kazim Thompson on Saturday, October 28, 2017

However, the public has brutally trolled, passed belittling comments and slut-shamed SOC and her sister on a much personal level. One thing becomes clear – even if SOC’s sister wasn’t really harassed by getting just a Facebook friend request, the people of Pakistan have ensured that she has definitely been harassed now.

Tania Saeed

Tania Saeed

The author has a Masters in Media and Communication from City, University of London. She has a flair for writing and loves to travel. She tweets @TaniaSaeed1 (twitter.com/TaniaSaeed1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abubakar Jamshaid

    Could you please stop it. What’s next? An article that your second level harassment is not harassment. It’s more like Phoebe’s dialogue “They don’t know that we know they know we know!”Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    I think word “Friend” is completely misunderstood by most of the people including desi intellectuals. In English, word “Friend” has a very vast meaning contrary to our languages. In FB, word “Friend” is for everyone, even if I want to add my mother, father, brother, sister or anyone else, I have no other choice except to send a friend’s request. If FB had been in Urdu and I send friend’s request to my mother in law, the reaction would be completely different. In my view, everyone has been wrong and judgmental esp. SOC, Hospital and Social Media Warriors. Nobody knows what Doctor meant and what his intentions were but everybody thought that Doctor began his adventure by sending a friend’s request which would have ended in sleeping with her. Our disgusting mentality is same, whether we are Oscar winner or a common folk.Recommend

  • syed

    Exactly the same thought came into my mind when i see people sharing her sisters personal pictures, but you cannot teach each and everyone, the person has to be careful about his own action and words in public otherwise we can see how she is getting treated!Recommend

  • PatelPara

    finally Sharmeen knows what is “social harassment”. A lesson to her and all those libtards who think they can get away with anything. next time don’t brag about your VIP status and family.Recommend

  • aamir abbasi

    I must say that this episode provided me an opportunity to educate myself and I end up changing my thoughts on this issue. I learned that actually people are drawing wrong comparisons. In fact I would like to render apologies on my earlier take on this episode.

    According to International practice of medical profession, getting your hands on a patient’s details and use them to connect on social media is totally unethical and leading to harassment. There are very solid reasons for that.

    A relationship between a doctor and patient is unique. lots of confidentiality has to be maintained. What if a patient is treated by a doctor for a sensitive issue? Put yourself in a patient’s shoes and ask that if you have to go to an emergency ward, how much confidentiality would you like to have? How will you feel when you see a friend request from a doctor who was in the team which treated you and who you don’t know personally? So, would it be a good idea to connect on social media and get closer to the social network of the patient, I mean getting at the striking distance to his/her privacy? Doesn’t this sound grossly unethical?

    Sharmeen is absolutely right in highlighting this and reporting to the hospital. In fact we should be thankful to her for flagging this issue. This must have been happening at a larger scale with even doctors knowing little about the ethical problems. Now that we know the issue, there are chances that more care will be taken in handling of patients at the hospitals and hospitals will include guidelines in their code of conduct for patient – doctor relationship.Recommend

  • Israr Khan

    hahaha so now she knows what it means to be harrassedRecommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    She deserves every bit of insult that comes her way.

    The pseudo liberals must be exposed.Recommend

  • jssidhoo

    Loose your job for sending a friend request –WHAT A JOKE , except for the poor doc .Recommend

  • Hasan Kazmi

    She definitely deserves it, what about other celebrities that have been mocked on daily basis for making mistakes on media, she is no special. Being a celebrity u should be v careful of what you share from your social media accounts specially with stature of SOC, one mistake and you will be grilled for that, we have seen many such instances in the recent past.
    I totally condemn the act of the Doctor, it is completely unethical of him, however, by no means it is harassment, I mean being a celebrity’s sister, he might have got carried away and added her. She should’ve ignored the request, I mean come on we all know how common it is these days, you being a girls must have got daily requests, it doesn’t mean you being harassed neither it is like he is the first guy who sent sharmeen’s sis a friends request.
    Finally, the tone that sharmeen used was intimidating and threatening, she said “messed with the wrong people”. this is a part of VIP culture where a middle man has no rights to even explanation of his act and she was right he got sacked the very next day by hospital like AKUH. SHAMERecommend

  • imran

    u r right. doctor and patient even have to maintain relationship to get updates about the patients. and in this case, Pakistani doc felt he would be obliged when he is in friend list of Oscar award winners’s sister. definitely, feel proud that he treated a celebrity and could get fame too. think other side of the coin too.Recommend

  • Hasan Kazmi

    Completely disagree, there should have been other ways to report this issue, it would have been better if she had quietly reported it to AKUH rather than making it public and ending the career of the poor doctor for good and inviting this backlash. Secondly, the tone she used is threatening and intimidating words like “messed with the wrong ppl and Harrasment” these are big words to use it in public for a person who she barely knows. what if this guy has never done it before and got carried away that she is SOC’s sister and why has she kept her friend’s request open for pubic even I being a guy has kept it for friends only. She also said that there are zero boundaries in Pakistan. it could have been happened anywhere in the world regardless of the country, its any individual act and no need to bring down coutnry’s name in it.Recommend

  • Sonia K

    Wow.. i am amazed at the narrative people have to build on this.
    It would become a harassment IF her sister would have approved of it. Which she didn’t and like you said she could have taken it to the management DIRECTLY instead of SLUT-SHAMING the guy on Twitter.
    The problem is that we don’t care how we want to educate people and how we want to bring change where we see a wrong. Unfortunately we opt for the most shocking and ruthless behaviour to bring something to notice and make people suffer as a result. You really think either of the 3 people would live in peace after this chaos. I hardly think so.Recommend

  • ThePrincekhan999

    Great Another Member Of The Desi Liberal Brigade Coming To The Rescue Of This Exploiter SharmeenRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    A woman who poses so proudly with a notorious massage addict and mass rapist, knows obviously only “ONE THING” about men and women relationships! With her baseless and primitive allegations against a professional doctor and family man, she has primarily stigmatized her very own sister as a sexual lust object, as she herself portrays in the photo with Harvey Weinstein!!!Recommend

  • Sheheryar Butt

    maaf kar do beechari ko !!Recommend

  • Nadir Sadiq

    Good Job. People who ever they are need to know their place!!!Recommend

  • MerchantofDreams ManofHonour

    Wait what? What do you think about the harassment of men? especially the educated class who are the one dare to send a friend request which you have the option to ignore with a single click if you want to? Are you free to blackmail and harass others and at the same time complain of your own harassment? Woman card is not a universal permit of harassing others and expecting others not to harass you back.Recommend

  • Atsuf Kalum

    Tania Saeed…. you work for a newspaper that reported in too much details of what happened in this incident and what she did in the first place, and then kept following up every inch of this incident as if this is Global security event.

    So News Medias made this individual stupidity into a NATIONAL NEWS, so why don’t you talk about this and do something about it first?

    Lets see… I am waiting…..Recommend

  • Leo

    So what else do you expect?? Another Oscar for her excellent Dramatization ! PatheticRecommend

  • MJ

    “Unfortunately the doctor messed with the wrong women in the wrong family”

    How wrong are these women? Ask the poor acid attack victim who was promised money and a house and then swindled.

    How wrong is this family? How about defaulting and writing off loans worth 100’s of crores and being named as major money laundering family in Panama leaks.Recommend

  • Hasan Kazmi

    Agreed! SOC will live in peace for sure our people forget easily, however, poor middle class Doctor carrier is ruined for good.Recommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    Good summation. Aptly putRecommend

  • KHAN IMRAN

    I remember I got my plastic surgery done some 6 years back and results didn’t come out all too well, nevertheless the doctor who performed the procedure gave me all kinds of information msn id etc for me to get in contact if I needed to.. had SOC phenomena existed then I would have felt “harassed” and tried to get my money back .. ALAS!Recommend

  • Expat

    Had she not mentioned Pakistan in her tweets considering people from the world follows her, the scenario would be whole lot different. She dragged the whole country herself in a personal family matter that could have been solved in a much better way.
    You should consider that people talk no matter what and she made sure people do the same, what a shame.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Very well explained. I guess that the Face Book management consider altering it for more clarity, a simple word ‘contact’ would do. I am not on face Book but have friends with whom I commnicate over phone or E mail. I do not entertain unwanted strangers by simply ignoring. SOC family is most probably not aware of just ignore response.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • alter ego

    Believe it or not, some doctors like to build personal relations with patients, helps to treat them better.
    If you have an issue with that , don’t accept his friend request.
    If the doctor used your personal medical history then report to hospital.
    Why is that so hard for you to understand?

    Did the doctor blackmail her? No .
    Did the doctor send strange messages?No
    Did the doctor threatened to expose her medical record ? No

    Obviously the ladies need a lesson on facebook usage.Recommend

  • Hassan Mirza

    Sharmeen Obaid should make Hollywood real Sexual harassment movie and then see how many Oscar & Emmy award she gets it .Recommend