The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Wednesday prohibited the broadcast of Geo TV drama ‘Hadsa’ on a complaint by lawyer Khadija Siddiqi, following criticism that the show was based on the 2020 motorway gang-rape case.
In September 2020, a French woman of Pakistani origin was gang raped on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway in front of her children while she was waiting for help after calling the motorway police’s helpline 130 when her car developed a fault. The incident shook the country and drew strong reactions as protests were held in major cities.
On August 21 — nearly three years after the incident — Geo TV began airing ‘Hadsa’, drawing criticism for similarities between the 2020 rape case and the story’s plot, allegedly not taking the rape survivor’s consent and the show’s treatment of sexual assault and its graphic portrayal.
However, the makers of the show have denied that drama is based on the incident.
Today, lawyer Muhammad Ahmad Pansota said the rape survivor had consulted him, and he and another lawyer, Siddiqi, approached Pemra on the matter.
According to Pemra’s notice, the complaint was filed by Pansota on Siddiqi’s behalf.
The notice, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said Pemra had received complaints about the drama other than Siddiqi’s as well.
“Pemra has also received numerous complaints from viewers with regards to the plot/ theme of the drama” on X, the notice said, adding that viewers were criticising the show for it being “based on a real incident that took place at the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway”.
“Furthermore, the public is of the opinion that portrayal of such heinous act will not only trigger the trauma of that unfortunate victim but would also tarnish the country’s image globally and viewers abroad would perceive Pakistan as an unsafe place for women,” the notice read.
It added that the serial was subsequently monitored based on the complaints and “it is observed that storyline/ plot of the said drama serial is highly inappropriate, disturbing and not depicting true picture of Pakistani society.”
The notice said the drama had created an “uproar” on social media and in society with Pemra also being criticised for not taking appropriate action.
Hence, “the broadcast/ re-broadcast of ‘Hadsa’ is hereby prohibited immediately under Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002 as amended by Pemra (Amendment) Act 2007”.
The matter was further referred to the Council of Complaints for appropriate recommendations to Pemra for a final decision, the notice added.
Following Pemra’s notice, Pansota said the other party could appeal the decision and “we will of course defend it tooth and nail”.
“Apart from that, we can consider going to the civil courts, and if necessary, criminal action will also be initiated,” he separately told Dawn.com.
Journalist Fereeha M Idrees — one of the few known to be in contact with the rape survivor — said the “aggrieved family has shown great relief at the action taken.”
“Retraumatisation is real! Her story has been duplicated without her consent and sensationalised under the guise of social awareness,” Siddiqi said while responding to the development.
As the drama drew criticism, Idrees had alleged on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that the producers of the show had not taken permission from the survivor to use her story.
Earlier today, she wrote on X that the show was a cause of “serious trauma” for the survivor, quoting a post by Pansota.
In his post, Pansota said the rape survivor had consulted him “to explore the legal remedies against the airing of the drama” and he had filed a complaint on Siddiqi’s behalf for the show’s immediate suspension.
He confirmed the same to Dawn.com, saying the survivor was “absolutely upset” over the matter. He added that her identity was kept protected since her name was not disclosed anywhere.
The complaint, posted by Pansota on X, said ‘Hadsa’ depicted the details of the 2020 rape incident, adding that while several dramas on social causes were being made today, “no one wonders where these stories come from and the impact of translating social issues into television dramas […] on the survivors of these problems”.
“In a heart-wrenching turn of events, a sombre revelation emerged when journalist Fereeha Idrees took to Twitter to unveil a thread. Within it, she cast a spotlight on her conversation with the survivor of the motorway rape incident that had shaken the nation some time ago.
The survivor expressed her turmoil and rage on the depiction of her real-life story in the drama serial Hadsa and how it has taken a toll on her mental health in the past few weeks,“ the complaint read.
It said that the content aired was in “clear violation” of Rule 8 of the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015, which says the identities of victims of rape, terrorism, sexual abuse or kidnapping or their family members should not be revealed without prior permission by the survivor or their guardians if they are minor.
It further refers to Idrees’ posts on X, saying she “highlights how the survivor was shocked to see the drama mirrors small details of her personal life, which were only known to a few people”.
According to the complaint, the survivor, via Idrees, “expressed her disapproval to the makers and all the people involved in executing the drama on narrating a story from her personal life without asking for her consent.
“The survivor went on to explain how she still feels traumatised after the incident and would like her identity to be left veiled. Instead, she believes this drama adds to her family’s distress and makes it harder for her to carry on with her life than it already is.
“The survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, adds that her culprits have still not been caught. She feels dejected that the real problem at hand remains still unresolved and her story is being brought to light instead.”
The complaint urged Pemra to immediately prohibit/suspend the drama’s broadcast and refer the matter to the Council of Complaints, further seeking appropriate action against the TV channel’s management for airing the show.
It further said that the “TV channel should be urgently to put to proof all the allegations that have been levied against them. Upon failure of which, the TV channel shall stop airing and broadcasting the TV show ‘Hadsa’ and suspend Geo TV’s licence.”
Earlier today, producer and director of the drama Wajahat Rauf responded to the criticism of the show, saying the only similarity between it and the 2020 rape case was that the place of the incident was a highway.
A day ago, singer Hadiqa Kiana — who plays the lead role in the show — also denied that the drama was based on the 2020 incident.
Responding to Rauf, Idrees quoted the survivor as saying that even if the drama was not based on her story, “it is morally wrong to dramatise the story of a victim.”