What the Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy just happened?

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy; Source: Wikipedia commons

Just to be clear, I really didn’t want to write about this. Everyone and their extended family has tossed in their two cents. And over the course of a weekend, something that should have died down just picked up steam.

And I haven’t been this confused about something in a very long time. So, since everyone is lambasting twitter with their version of the truth, I thought I’d throw my questions at the wall. And boy do I have questions.


Who is responsible? (And, what exactly are they responsible for?)

There is a lot of talk about what Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy tweeted and how AKUH responded, but not enough talk about the unnamed doctor. Can we all take a step back and realize that it all started with his actions?

Just to be clear, I don’t know how I feel about his alleged termination. As while I don’t agree with what he did, I also think that firing him was a bit heavy handed. But then again, that depends on the AKUH code of ethics. Which we don’t know.

But I am still not over the man himself. Some people are convinced that whatever he did wasn’t harassment. Okay, I’ll humour you. But I’m assuming that we all agree that he shouldn’t have sent his patient a friend request? And, if his actions weren’t okay, then shouldn’t there be consequences? And, shouldn’t he take some responsibility for these consequences?

Also, and I know this has been said, but AKUH is responsible for (allegedly) firing him. Surely we all agree about this?

There is talk about Ms. Chinoy’s ‘influence’ and how she got the man ‘sacked’. But here’s a question, what did she actually do?

She tweeted, and based on what she tweeted we can assume she complained about him. His actions and those of the organisation he works for are not her responsibility. Right?


Who gets to define ‘harassment’?

There is a lot of debate about whether the doctor ‘harassed’ Sharmeen’s sister by sending her a Facebook friend request. And it extends beyond the twitter-sphere.

Even individuals that deal with harassment cases are not in synch.

Nighat Dad, from the Digital Rights Foundation, believes that this was harassment. Abdul Hameed Bhutto, from the FIA cybercrime cell in Karachi, doesn’t.

And the discrepancy goes back to the definition of harassment itself. I mentioned the Pakistani legislation that deals with sexual harassment in the workplace some time ago. According to the act, sexual harassment is,

“any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature … causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment…”

This is a very specific definition, because the act deals with sexual harassment in the workplace. But harassment is a broader phenomenon.

Webster’s dictionary defines harassment as,

“to annoy persistently…to create an unpleasant or hostile situation… especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.”

Internationally, legal jargon uses the same definition.

Whether this advance was of a ‘sexual nature’ we can debate about. But that it was ‘uninvited and unwelcome’ goes without saying.

So, was this harassment? Honestly that depends on which definition you want to adopt. And I know that a lot of people will argue that ‘cultural differences’ define how we see something. But when we’re talking about something like harassment, shouldn’t we accept a more universal definition?


So, if it isn’t harassment, does that make it excusable? And also, what actually happened?  

Everyone to varying degrees believes that the doctor shouldn’t have sent the friend request. Thankfully someone wrote an open letter that saves me from having to link multiple tweets here.

And yet, whether Ms. Chinoy and her sister should have taken offense seems to be up for debate.

I don’t understand how we can all agree that he was ‘unethical’ at least, and yet have a problem with the affected party reporting his behaviour. Because surely, if his actions were not ‘okay’ then he ought to have been reported? And if his place of work had a problem with such an act, he should have known?

And this is where it gets messier.

Whether AKUH were right to terminate him depends on their governing rules. What these are, we don’t know. And let’s take a further step back. Reports of him being fired originate from a Facebook post. Ali Moeen Nawazish got a message from someone claiming to be said doctor’s colleague. The legitimacy of this we cannot be sure of.

Do you see how far down the rabbit hole we have gone? We don’t know what happened. We don’t even know if it did happen. Yet we have worked ourselves into a frenzy. All we know is that someone tweeted something, someone else posted something on Facebook. And everyone else lost their collective minds.


Did Ms. Chinoy seriously pull out the ‘family’ card?

The media wasted no time in lapping the situation up. There is a particularly delicious piece that claims that the real problem is Ms. Chinoy’s choice of words. To re-iterate, Sharmeen said that the doctor had messed with the “wrong women in the wrong family”.

The article I am referring to claims that the tweet implies that she used her familial connections to get the man fired. Further stating, “that tone, rather than her highlighting of inappropriate conduct, is probably the only issue up for debate here.”

Okay, to the author of said article, do you even internet? That is not at all what people are arguing over. That is the straw-man of choice for this situation. But since it is something that has been alleged, let’s discuss.

I don’t know Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy personally, so I can’t know whether she would use her familial influence to get her way. But let’s think about it logically. If she were going to do that, she wouldn’t brag about it on social media. In light of this, can we please agree that she was just enunciating her anger a la Liam Neeson from Taken?

I cannot believe I am analyzing a tweet, but this is how far we have fallen Pakistan.


Does Sharmeen’s celebrity matter?

Finally, the ‘influential person’ aspect of this story. People have used this incident as an example of the powerful getting their way at the expense of the weak. How have they gotten to this conclusion, well because Ms. Chinoy is a celebrity of course!

And I am not going to claim that socio-economic standing does not matter. But Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s celebrity is not an indication of her socio-economic standing. But don’t get me wrong; it does matter. Just not in the way you think.

Her celebrity matters to the media, which cannot get over double Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and what she said. It matters to the blogosphere, which cannot get enough of the drama. And it matters to the public at large, who for some reason place celebrities on some gilded pedestal.

So, if we are going to argue that the only reason Ms. Chinoy got her way is because she’s a celebrity. Can we also acknowledge our own role in that hypocrisy? Had the same words been expressed by that annoying friend who tweets about everything, would we even have cared?

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