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“We felt violated and unsafe”: Pakistan society event sparks online abuse towards students

A London University “Qawwali night” on March 3rd garnered controversy as attendees claim they were not notified that there would be a press presence and were filmed without their consent. 

The event was hosted by the London School of Economic’s Pakistan Society, in collaboration with the same student groups at King’s and Queen Mary, University of London. A now-deleted Instagram post from the KCL Pakistan Society (PakSoc) advertised a “night of Live Qawwali, Insta-worthy pictures, great vibes in the heart of London and so much more”.

An attendee at the event, who wished to be kept anonymous, reached out to Roar and detailed her experiences. She mentioned being surprised at the presence of multiple news outlets at the event and recalled being filmed without giving consent. She found it inappropriate that this sort of event was being covered by non-student outlets, commenting “What business does a 40-year-old man have at a university event? We were left feeling violated and unsafe”. There was no mention that there would be a press presence or that the event would be recorded on PakSoc’s Instagram post.

Description of the “Qawwali night” from KCL PakSoc’s Instagram in a since-deleted post

The issue went beyond just being recorded without consent, however. After the event, one of the journalists covering the event from Dunya TV, a Pakistani news channel, posted a video on TikTok and Instagram of students dancing that caused a stir amongst some in Pakistan. As is standard at university events, the video showed students, both male and female, intermixing and women without head coverings. Our source claimed that this offended some “religious extremists” in Pakistan.

A copy of the original video that circulated on Instagram garnered a vitriolic reaction. Comments translated from Urdu on the re-post of the video read:

“I wonder if any of their companions have seen them doing this, would their necks be safe or not?”

“Scarf is meant to hide [bare] arms!”

“Doomsday will also come brothers and sisters, this is the start of it. ”

“They want to go to hell”

Our source explained that she direct messaged the Instagram account that re-posted the video and asked for it to be taken down. However, they refused and posted our source’s DMs on their public story. Our source then says that she received several, “abusive” direct messages from followers of the account. She claims to know five other students who have had similar experiences. She remarked “As a student from a country where honour killings are common, this video has put my safety at risk.”

This reaction prompted our source to reach out to KCL PakSoc, who claimed that they had not organised the event and merely collaborated with the LSE and Queen Mary groups. As a result, they were not made aware of the press presence in advance and could not notify attendees.

“I tried to discuss this matter with the KCL Pakistan Society, but they denied any responsibility, stating that they were just collaborators and not organisers” our source said. After she confronted PakSoc on what more they were doing to resolve complaints from attendees, our source said that they stopped responding to her. She then contacted the Queen Mary and LSE Pakistan Societies, who apologised multiple times and reportedly were more helpful in having the videos taken down. Since then, the original TikTok video has been removed though the aforementioned copies on Instagram and Facebook remain in circulation.

The KCL Pakistan Society left the following statement for Roar: “We collaborated with two other renowned, London University Pakistan Societies trusting them just as people trusted them when they bought tickets for the event. However, we were not in charge of the media nor organising the event and the person who posted the video is in no way linked or affiliated with us either”.

Our source responded: “They should not have collaborated with other societies if they were unsure about the safety at this event as they advertised it everyday on their Instagram pages and posts…If the KCL Pakistan Society had no control over the media, they should have mentioned it in their posts before promising to provide a ‘safe environment’ because the society is registered with the university”.

Neither the LSE Pakistan Society nor Dunya TV are yet to respond to Roar’s request for comment.

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