Home Latest News Lahore Administration Denies NOC to Aurat March

Lahore Administration Denies NOC to Aurat March

Deputy commissioner cites security concerns, potential clashes with counter-Haya March, as organizers vow to march regardless

by Staff Report

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

Lahore Deputy Commissioner Rafia Haider this week refused to grant permission to the Aurat March, scheduled to take place on March 8 (Wednesday), citing security concerns, controversial banners supporting women’s rights, and the potential of clashes between the marchers and members of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)’s counter-Haya March.

Organizers of the Aurat March in the Punjab capital had requested a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the local administration for a rally at the city’s Nasir Bagh as well as a short march around its perimeter to mark International Women’s Day. However, this was rejected by the DC. “Following the current security scenario, threat alerts, and law and order situation, and in light of activities like controversial cards and banners for awareness of women’s rights and the strong reservation of the general public and religious organizations, especially JI’s women’s and student wings, who had also announced a program against the Aurat March,” read a statement from the DC’s Office. It said there was a threat of “conflict” between the opposing groups and so no permission could be granted for any demonstration on or around Mall Road.

The decision has been widely condemned, with civil society, political parties and rights organizations all demanding that the Aurat March be allowed to proceed, stressing that it has been organized peacefully for several years. In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan lamented that the Aurat March’s right to peaceful assembly was “routinely challenged by the district administration because ‘controversial’ placards and ‘strong reservations’ from the public and religious organizations ostensibly create law-and-order risks. This is a poor defense.” It also called on the caretaker Punjab government to allow the protest and provide the marchers with full security.

In their own statement, the march organizers said the DC’s denial was “unconstitutional” and questioned how a cricket tournament—the ongoing Pakistan Super League—could be allowed to proceed amidst the “security scenario” while a peaceful protest could not.

“Not only are we being denied permission to gather at our chosen route (Nasir Bagh), the rejection further goes out of its way to foreclose all previous venues of the March such as Press Club, Alhamra, and Mall Road,” it said. “The DC’s actions are a blatant denial of our fundamental rights as people’s movement. We do not require an NOC to exercise our constitutional right to march. There is no legitimate ‘public order’ rationale to prevent us from assembling, marching and making our voices heard,” it continued.

Noting that last year’s Aurat March was also “arbitrarily cut short” by the district administration, it regretted that “violent and hateful” groups were allowed to stage a counter-protest along the route of the march, with participants chanting slogans with death threats and harassing the women marchers. “This was a major security lapse and put the lives of marchers in danger. Out of respect for the office of the DC, we stayed silent,” it said, adding “a peaceful gathering of women and gender minorities is being silenced and denied their constitutional right to assembly.”

Questioning if cricket matches were more important than “issues of gender-based violence, child marriages, forced conversions, enforced disappearances, harassment and murder of transgender men and women” it stressed that both the Lahore and Islamabad High Courts had already upheld the Aurat March’s right to protest in 2020.

Vowing to proceed with the protest regardless of the NOC’s denial, it added: “We will march, upholding the rich history of Pakistani women and transgender activists defiantly fighting the systems that seek to oppress us. We will march because it is our right, and given the extreme violence being perpetrated against women and khawaja sira and transgender individuals in this country, we will march because our lives depend on it.”

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