March 27, 2022
By Xari Jalil & Ahmed Saeed
What was once a peaceful, serene neighbourhood, now carries the stench of something rotten.
Some time ago, nothing could break the cheeriness of the residents of Eden Villas – not the fading house paint, or even contesting the neighbourhood elections against each other. Everything was done in good sport, in a good-natured neighbourly manner.
Now, there is hushed whispering each time someone new walks through the community gates.
Women still go for their evening walk, but eye strangers warily. The men still gather after dinner, but their faces are grim.
And the children…they still come out to play, but far fewer than before. Most of the young ones are hiding inside the security of their own homes. The others get back before the evening sun gives way to dusk.
It was all peaceful – or seemed to be – until the police arrived one day under the watchful eye of the area residents, and dragged out a young boy from his house, hauling him in their van to the police station.
Arsalan was accused of raping and filming a boy in the neighbourhood.
BREAKING THE NEWS
Six-year-old Mohammad Mushtaq* has always been known to everyone as the neighbourhood ‘cutie’. The women loved him and even the men admit they stopped to talk to him when he passed and pinch his chubby cheeks.
“Lately though he appeared quite dim,” says his father. “It seemed as if a light inside him had been put out.”
Mushtaq himself explained it better.
“I was forced into a car with Arsalan, he made me undress– take my pants off – and then made me sit on his lap,” he said while speaking to Voicepk. When questioned, he said that he had indeed been penetrated, and also filmed.
“He also made me smoke cigarettes,” says Mushtaq, his brow furrowing, his eyes full of anguish. “But I was not the only one who was given this treatment. Almost all of the other boys like me have gone through the same thing.”
At times boys – other victims – were made to film their friends.
Salman* a little older than Mushtaq, and visibly upset since after the incident told Voicepk that he was forced to follow Arsalan into his home after Arsalan pulled his shirt a little to reveal a pistol.
“He always threatened me saying, he would kill me and my family if I ever told anyone,” says Salman. “That’s why I kept quiet.
Salman wrings his hands and clenches them into tight fists from time to time as he speaks.
“At first I got to know he had taken one of the other kids with him and done dirty things with him, but one day as I was coming from the mosque he intercepted me as well,” he recalls. “He showed me a gun which he kept under his shirt, tucked in his jeans and threatened to kill me. Then he made me follow him home.”
Salman says he was very afraid as he entered Arsalan’s house and followed him upstairs. “I thought he would beat me up but instead he made me undress and when I refused he showed me the gun again,” he says.
Recently other cases also surfaced – most of the victims were roughly under 12, and almost all claim to have been sexually abused (raped) and filmed. Currently, only four cases have been registered with the Chung police.
A CHILD PORN RING?
Residents who have gathered their courage to speak out on the issue say that Arsalan was more visible, but his partner Ammad, another boy of around 15 years was the main rapist – and they believe some handlers may be on the other side.
“A boy that young cannot be expected to think that cleverly,” says one resident. “Maybe it was the parents who were involved, or maybe they follow some criminal elements like drug dealers or others, from whom they get ideas about how to blackmail children and lead them astray, how to get money out of them.” He says the matter had apparently been happening for ages.
“Since Mushtaq complained about it, we have spoken to other families, it has been understood that this has been happening for a long time. Everyone in order to protect their self-respect and shame has maintained silence on this issue, in case they are forced to appear on media. But they have been carrying the burden of this shame and pain since the past three to four years.”
Mian Abid is one of the residents who is actively fighting and supporting the victims’ parents. He says they are being pressurized into keeping silent, and believes there are heavyweights behind it all.
At first Ammad’s father, Shahzad Warraich started to pressurize when he got to know his kid’s involvement.
“This is a racket, a strong one,” he says. “An army Major’s name has come up, and he is siding with Arsalan and his family, rather than with the complainants over the fact that there has been a heinous crime. And his sister lives here in the colony who even went to Arsalan’s house to fight on his behalf, over why there was a case being registered against him.”
He adds that the SP Saddar also seems to be protecting the family.
“Arsalan’s phone has still not been recovered,” he says. “The phone’s IMEI needs to be examined for forensics. Instead, the police show us they are working by examing his mother’s or father’s phone. That kid is in custody – he showed a pistol to the kids, which was stolen from the colony itself, it needs to be recovered. The car where he raped some of the children and which is a crime scene in itself is still parked outside their house. It is strange that SP Saddar is still protecting them despite these findings.”
Abid also says that the police have not tried to collect any DNA samples, nor do a thorough medical examination. The investigation is badly compromised.
“When the Mushtaq’s mother called 15, the police came and recovered Arsalan’s phone at the time. But when the outpost in-charge Rana Anwar was checking the phone along with some other police officers, he erased the data! He even told us not to worry that he had reset factory settings and that the family had been given an hour to leave. We kept saying you were supposed to keep the evidence not destroy it. However we all got together and did not allow the family to leave. We won’t allow them to go after everything that has happened.”
Abid says that the police went so far as to say to the parents to bring their own evidence if the allegations were true.
Most importantly, the police have registered cases under Section 377 (Unnatural offences/sodomy) whereas the case should have been registered under the new Anti-Rape Act to be been investigated by a Grade 17 officer.
Some parents eventually traced the accomplices of the accused, one of whom confessed to making obscene videos of the children and uploading them on the Internet in a written affidavit on the condition of being a forgiving witness. Despite this, the police have not expanded the scope of their investigation.
Instead, the Investigating Officer (IO) while speaking to Voicepk, cut the conversation short and said that he would only be able to say anything if there was development but till now there was nothing he could share. “What is the use of collecting DNA, if the crime happened ages ago?” he asked blatantly.
Meanwhile when the Shershah Colony outpost in-charge was contacted, he denied disposing of the evidence adding that no such incident had even taken place in the area and that the parents of the children were filing such cases for the sake of fame.
A STOLEN GUN
“In 2018, my licensed weapon of 30 bore, and Rs19,500 from my drawer had gone missing,” recalls the father of Saad* one of the other victims. “At that time they used to be friends and Arsalan used to often visit our house. So I gave my application to the police to make my position safe in case the gun was used somewhere. But they didn’t register the FIR, only reported it in a simple application.”
Saad was raped one time by Arsalan and filmed, and on the basis of that, he was blackmailed and forced to make films of others. “To my son’s knowledge, there have been two other children abused. He said there was another boy along with Arsalan – whose name I cannot recall.”
Initially, Saad was taken to the police as a witness – that was how he was mentioned in the FIR, even though he had not raped anyone and was being forced himself.
“After I bailed him out and went home, he told me that Arsalan had threatened to shoot him if he told the police so he had remained quiet.”
ACCOMPLICE OR IGNORANT?
Amidst all this uproar, Rida, the mother of the main accused Arsalan, denies all the allegations and says that if there was any evidence against her son she herself would hand him over to the police.
The house is a mess. Rida says the police have come in twice to check everything but they have found absolutely nothing.
“I have been spending all day doing the backbreaking job of putting things in place. I am six months pregnant and all alone here, while Arsalan’s father has to be running back and forth looking for help in the case,” she says as she starts sobbing.
Arsalan’s own room is empty but for a bunk bed, shared with his two little sisters – both sleep on the lower bunk – and some sound recording equipment, mostly his father’s. Arshad does sound engineering for a prominent anchor’s TV show, and sometimes sound for music shows, says Rida. Except for a school tie hanging on the wall, and some clothes on the floor, nothing personal could be found in Arsalan’s room.
“My son was not that old, he could not have done these things. He was not that type of kid,” she says.
Instead, she claims that they have been targeting her family just to throw their weight around and because Mian Abid’s wife also has a salon. “I don’t know what kind of resentment they have against me and my husband that they are doing this to us,” she says. “Mian Abid beat my son, without reason. My son doesn’t even have a cell phone. They didn’t find anything so they started a sulah-nama. Then they began pressuring us to leave the house. At the same time, they are not even allowing us to leave.”
But Rida refuses that she had hidden any knowledge of such acts happening under her own roof. “What mother knows these things and allows it to happen? I can assure them that my son has not. These are just allegations.”
In any case, the incidents are a matter of grave concern especially in terms of a failed investigation. Nothing is helping to allay the anxiety of the victims’ parents but it is imperative that the cases are investigated under the new Anti-Rape Act whose implementation is still questionable.
At the same time, the families are all trying to deal with their own pain.
“My son used to tell me, my legs are aching, I have a backache…I used to think he was just feeling unwell. I didn’t know he was undergoing such torture,” says Saad’s father. “As a father I am angry – my son is just a class 5 student….how will he ever erase this memory from his mind?”
This is a developing story and will be presented in a series of investigative reports