September 25th, 2020

By Haider Kaleem


Since the gang-rape incident took place off the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, there has been a notable spike in the reportage of rape cases across the country. But in these newly reported cases possibly none of them have ‘tested’ our legal system like the horrific yet convoluted incident which jolted Gujranwala on September 10, 2020.

The incident

The ordeal began with what seemed to be a small neighborhood scuffle in Bismillah Colony, GujranwalaAccording to the FIR, on September 9, a woman named Salma upon feeling unwell went out to the market to buy medicine for herself. On her way to the pharmacy, she encountered a group of boys blocking her way. Salma was in a hurry and asked them to move aside but they refused blatantly. A verbal fight ensued before she could make her way out from there.

Before long several people had surrounded her house, threatening violence. Seeing no other way out, Salma decided to immediately launch a complaint at the Aroop police station. The police ensured her of their support.

“I hurried back home from the police station,” said Salma speaking to in an exclusive interview. “But as soon as daylight receded, a mob formed outside my house. I asked my children to lock all the doors and windows but this did not stop the mob. Some people scaled our walls, entered the house, and opened the main door. Several people flooded my house…they beat my children and husband and tore our clothes. I can’t even begin to explain what we were subjected to that night,” says Salma breaking down.

During the attack, Salma’s son, Qasim dialed for emergency services at 15. A police Sub-Inspector Abdullah arrived on the scene. “Instead of listening to our plight Abdullah started shaming us. He abused us and blamed my ‘character’ for causing the assault in the first place,” continues Salma. The next morning ASI Mubashar came to Salma’s house, claiming that he wanted to ‘investigate’ the application Salma filed in the police station the previous day. Salma claims that he was not even in uniform.

“He was wearing a grey T-shirt and trousers at the time. He claimed that he wanted to interrogate each family member in isolation and took my daughter, Mariyum, into another room. He locked the door and spent three hours inside, raping my daughter. During that time, I kept on pleading him to open the door. He had already snatched away our phones so we could not even call anyone. After coming out of the room he barely said a word to us and left. It was only after he had gone that my daughter mustered up the courage to tell me that she had been raped,” continued Salma with tears rolling down her face.

Despite his deplorable behavior, ASI Mubashar dared to call the family to the police station the very next day, on September 11. Shahid, Salma’s husband, went to the police station and lodged an application for the mob attack on his house. He claims that Mubashar threatened him and his children with “false drug peddling charges” if he pursued the rape case against him.

In the meantime, a journalist spotted the family at the station. “As soon as he laid eyes on us I think instantly realized that we have been physically assaulted. He approached us and we told him everything,” says Salma.

As soon as the reporter floated the video it went viral on social media – everyone witnessed the family’s plight. The family was called to the police station once again on September 14. They had to face the same threats all over again, only this time the station’s SHO allegedly joined Mubashar in threatening the family, but they refused to back down.

Finally, on September 15, owing to the increased exposure the case was receiving as a result of the media report, an FIR regarding the attack against the family was finally lodged. It took the complainants another five excruciating days and several written applications to senior police officials, including one to the CPO, to have a case lodged for the sexual assault. This time the case was allotted to a female Sub Inspector Riffat Rafaqat.

An FIR has been lodged against ASI Mubashar under Article 376 (punishment for rape) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). He was able to secure an interim bill until October 3.

After the intervention of senior police officials, the family is now satisfied with how both the cases are being pursued.

Accusations against the Victim

As the story unfolded, the woman’s neighbors have accused her daughter Mariyum of ‘soliciting sex for monetary gain’.

“She used to entertain clients at her house,” says Yasmeen, one of the neighbors. “Sometimes her clients would mistakenly come to our place, asking all sorts of inappropriate things. I had even asked the family to either relocate or at least make sure that their activities do not impact our household; this is what sparked the scuffle between us.”

According to Yasmeen, Salma’s family manipulated the police into arresting her husband and children, for she demanded due justice.

Other members of the community, including those nominated as witnesses in Salma’s police complaint, corroborate Yasmeen’s story.

Rape is a crime of consent also reached out to Advocate Hiba Akbar, an activist and one of the main organizers of the Aurat March says “The fact that the victim is allegedly a sex-worker should have no legal bearing in court; The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences Relating to Rape) Act 2016 makes it amply clear that the victims “past sexual conduct”, (even if it is with the perpetrator), should not be a consideration during a rape trial”.

“The law states that the history of sexual intercourse between the victim and the perpetrator should not even be mentioned during the trial”, says Sohail Akbar Waraich, a former member of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).

Hiba explains that the general perception that rapists are always strangers is grossly false. “In fact, in most of the rape cases the perpetrator is somehow related to the victim, hence questions of “sexual history” can be misleading. Rape is a crime of ‘consent’.”

SSP Dr. Rizwan, of the Gujranwala police, agrees “We are very clear about this. Any form of non-consensual sexual relation will be considered rape. Even evidence of a consensual sexual relationship between the two will not have any bearing on the rape investigation.”

 A history of retracting statements

 The victim has retracted her testimony at least twice now. Almost two weeks ago the victim released a video, allegedly shot by the DSP himself, that Mubashar had not raped her and that she had been manipulated by the media into releasing such statements against the police. Though later, the victim claimed that the DSP had ‘fooled’ her into making the video.

Now, new geo-fencing reports made public by police sources have revealed glaring loopholes in the victim’s testimony.

ASI Mubashar was present at the victim’s house for some 40 minutes instead of three hours as claimed by the victim’s family. Moreover, the victim made 16 phone calls during those three hours, one of which lasted for 25 minutes.

On top of this, the victim has recorded a statement under Article 164 of the Pakistan Code of Criminal Procedures in front of a magistrate that the rape case filed by her father was nothing but a ‘misunderstanding’.

But the case is far from over. An internal investigation is expected to be launched against ASI Mubashar for ‘abuse of authority’ and ‘misconduct’.

In Pakistan victims of rape often go back on their testimonies. The pressure exerted by powerful and well-connected perpetrators and deeply patriarchal societal norms is often too much for victims to bear. Even in this case, it is not hard to conceptualize the power imbalance between the victim, a naïve girl from a downtrodden family, and the accused, an officer of the law.

“Names of the entire family have been changed for their saftey