March 22nd, 2022
By Hamid Riaz
An ongoing ceremony, guests mingling, cheering, and busy stuffing their mouths with food.
All the while merely a few feet away flies flit about the face of a lifeless man. The only courtesy afforded to him is a plain white cloth that barely covers his body.
All the while a nameless bystander records the appalling scene. This video uploaded to Pakistani social media some time on the night between Monday and Tuesday created an instant uproar as it jumped from newsfeed to newsfeed, with horrified viewers loudly demanding action by the authorities and also questioning the inhuman attitude portrayed in the footage.
This was your average Pakistani. If anyone cares to know, his name is Muhammad Ashraf, a ‘Papar’ vendor who witnesses say was tortured to death by guests at the same wedding inside the same wedding hall. The gentlemen would do odd jobs to feed his family.
On a fateful day, he decided to be a Papar seller and thought that a wedding venue not far from his village would be a good place to make a few bucks. But what happened there exactly is clouded by various contrasting versions. One thing is for sure, he is dead.
According to Ali Raza, a fruit vendor who was present outside the wedding hall, some half a dozen guests from the wedding accused Ashraf of stealing a mobile phone and started beating him. Ashraf, who had set up his stall near the main gate of the marriage hall, was later taken inside where further torture resulted in his death. The kin of the deceased stand by this version because it was Ali Raza who called them from the scene and informed them of the ordeal.
The police narrate a slightly different version of events. “I was there when the post-mortem was done. There were no visible marks of torture on Ashraf’s body,” says ASI Tahir, the investigating officer of the case. Another discrepancy is about the cause of the dispute. The police’s FIR makes no mention of the accusations of theft, instead, according to the official version, the guests quarreled with Ashraf over the purchase of a cracker (Papar). The conflict escalated and resulted in the tragedy. Interestingly different rungs of the police’s own hierarchy are also narrating contradictory accounts of the event.
The official Twitter account of Punjab police has claimed that some twelve people have been detained in connection with the case. The police have even shared pictures of the alleged culprits behind bars. On the other hand, the investigating officer, Tahir, maintains that even though some people were held for questioning no arrests have been made in the case so far.
“The incident happened at about 4 in the afternoon of Monday. Ali Raza called me from outside the marriage hall and informed me that a fight has broken out and Ashraf is being thrashed brutally. I rushed to the scene and got there fifteen to sixteen minutes past four. When I got there Ashraf was already dead,” says Pervaiz, brother-in-law of the deceased and the main complainant in the FIR while talking to VoicePk.net.
“When I got there most of the people had already left or were leaving. I went straight to the office of the hall’s manager, Vicky, and inquired about the death of my loved one. I asked him to show me the CCTV footage from the wedding so that we can ascertain how Ashraf died. But the manager told me that the marriage hall did not have any functioning CCTV cameras. I implored him to help me get in touch with the guests so that I can ask them directly about what had happened but to no avail. While the waiters we talked to on the scene confirmed that Ashraf had been tortured to death,” reveals Pervaiz.
“Even after my arrival at the marriage hall, Ashraf’s body lay there for another seven hours. Finally near midnight last night, the body was carried via ambulance to the Government hospital Patoki. The policemen on the scene did nothing to guide us. They just gave us one official who rode to the hospital with us at the back of our motorcycles going to the office. It took them some eight hours to register an FIR of the event and that too after pressure from media teams who had reached the police station,” continues Ashraf.
But Pervaiz’s night was far from over. “Once the body reached the hospital our relatives started pouring in. Some forty or so people gathered. Soon after the DPO along with some other senior police officials reached the scene and asked us to sit outside on the lawn of the hospital. We again waited there for hours. Throughout this time the only interaction we had with the officials was when they came out of the hospital with Ashraf’s clothes and belongings in a shopping bag and asked us to fetch fresh clothes for the body. Finally at 3:30 am (almost 12 hours after the murder) we were allowed to take his dead body home,” sighs Pervaiz.
Ashraf also vehemently opposes the IO’s claim about there being no visible marks of torture on Ashraf’s body. “I along with the Imam of our mosque bathed his body before burying him and we could see torture marks everywhere,” says Pervaiz. He remains deeply unsatisfied with the behavior of the authorities. While Ashraf’s brother, who was sitting right next to Pervaiz during his conversation with VoicePk.net could only mutter these words to the reporter “All I want is justice.”