Once again Pakistani social media has been set ablaze with a controversial topic. This time the dispute arises from someone who has already been part of heated social media debates. Someone who is loved by some for her achievements and despised by others for Pakistan negatively. The Academy Award winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has been making the rounds in Pakistani media since the past few days, this time not because of her documentaries and neither for her pessimistic depiction of Pakistan but rather for an incident that occurred with her sister.
Mahjabeen Obaid Chinoy visited the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) for treatment. It was afterwards that her doctor used her personal information that is asked in the official hospital documentation to track her on social media and sent her a friend request on Facebook. Never in a million years did he imagine an outrage like this would be the result of his actions. Sharmeen titled this act as ‘Harassment’ and tweeted: “There are zero boundaries in #pakistan! Last night my sister went to AKU emergency & the doctor who tended to her tried 2 add her on FB ½” and “Unfortunately the doctor messed with the wrong women in the wrong family and I will definitely report him! Harassment has 2 stop!” Whilst some supported Sharmeen’s powerful stance, social media backlash was quick to follow. Her former depiction of Pakistan in negative, no matter how realistic, light was the basis for many to attack Chinoy. All this ‘Harassment’ fiasco did was add fire to the fuel!
Messed with the wrong family? Does that mean only a woman from a socially and economically strong background can defend herself in Pakistan from this so called Harassment? Was it unethical of this doctor? Yes! Was it unprofessional? Absolutely! However, the fact that Sharmeen called it Harassment is what this issue is all about.
How is a friend request considered to be ’normal.’ For two people to share the same social circle and having a similar taste in interests. These boundaries certainly exist outside a professional environment and is rather casual. The fact that this doctor, in a professional environment where confidentiality is guaranteed, checked her records and took out the time to search her on Facebook is what constitutes this as ‘creepy’, as many of Sharmeen’s supporters claimed the doctor to be. Unfortunately there is a vast difference in the word ‘creepy’ and the accusation of being a Harasser.
It seems like what an Oscar award-winner wants an Oscar award-winner gets! The doctor was sacked and fired from his job. People were quick to react to this ‘Injustice.’ Many were eager to defend the doctor and blamed Sharmeen for her ‘irresponsible’ use of social media and the word Harassment. Criticism was also aimed at AKUH for their strict action over a ‘mere’ friend request. AKUH responded by giving this statement and effectively removing themselves from the conversation and any further controversy or bad publicity. “The Agha Khan University Hospital always maintains the highest standards of confidentiality, regardless of patient or employees status and will not release any information on its patients or employees. AKUH follows its policies and makes its decisions based on facts, and not on any social pressure,”
Some prominent responses to the situation included an insightful one from Nighat Dad, the founder of Digital Rights Foundation who said “It’s a breach of confidentiality between a doctor and his patient. If a victim feels its harassment, we can’t take and shouldn’t take away her agency.” However, even she couldn’t deny AKU’s harsh punishment of denying a doctor their livelihood.
In-charge FIA cybercrime cell Karachi, Abdul Hameed Bhutto said that Blackmailing or sending obscene material is considered harassment, not a friend request which can be either accepted or rejected. He also agreed on AKUH’s action to be a little too strict but also noted that whilst the doctor’s actions may not have been against the law they might have been against AKUH’s policy and code of conduct.
The situation keeps on escalating ‘out of proportion’ on social media with influencers such as Hassan Niazi, Moeed Pirzada and Waqar Zaka blaming the documentary filmmaker for using her presence to get a doctor fired. The question being asked by everyone was: Would the doctor have been fired if this was a common person’s sister?
Instead of Pakistani shopping sites trying to capitalize on the situation, a hospital had the ridiculous idea of initiating a PR stunt. Hashmanis Hospital had this to say on their Facebook page: “The Doctor was recently fired on grounds of harassment because he sent a Facebook Friend request to a former patient. To our organization this is not what sexual harassment means! We don’t yet have the contact details of the Doctor but if somebody does please forward this message to him. Our management is offering him a full time job at Hashmanis Hospital’s casualty department at a similar role and pay scale as what he earned before. #Bringchange #ActionsSpeakLouderthanWords #Change –CEO.” To nobody’s surprise the reaction to Hashmanis Hospital was strong. Some labelled the post as funny and a brilliant marketing strategy whilst others called it a pathetic excuse to get mainstream attention.
This incident and the social media storm that followed it is undoubtedly blown way out of proportion. Everyone has their own opinions and personal definition regarding Harassment. At the end of the day the doctor is responsible for his action and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is responsible for hers