November 1st, 2020

By Ahmad Saeed


FAISALABAD

“These people have taken away our honour and we fear that they will do the same with someone else again,” cries Shazia*, 17, her voice shaking and her eyes full of tears. She can see the long and painful road ahead of fighting the biggest battle of her life.

“Our dignity has been tainted; we demand justice! It has been so long since we have been visiting police stations, but our voices fall on deaf ears. We are trying so hard to find one sympathetic soul who will help us nab the accused and ensure them the severest punishment possible.”

Shazia and her 14-year-old sister Sania* have been shaken to the core, after they were kidnapped, and subjected to gang rape and torture, and now, they continue their fight for justice but they must face a convoluted and deficient justice system, starting with apathetic policemen. The incident took place a month ago when the sisters hailing from Faisalabad were abducted by a group of men and held captive for around a week, during which time they were repeatedly gang-raped.

Shazia and Sania lived with their parents in a rented house. The landlords, Ali and his wife Rabia lived on the first floor. Shazia claimed that Rabia had once urged the teenager to make friends with a group of unfamiliar young men and to marry.

“She approached us on two different occasions, singing praises for these men, and suggested that we should have a ‘relationship’ with them,” Shazia recounted her conversation with Rabia, whom she called used to call Aunty.

“I told her we would not, we were not the kind of girls to do such a thing. We asked Aunty, whom we considered a mother figure, why she was making these decisions for us? I told her to talk to my father instead, so she called him over upstairs and urged him to marry his daughters off. She insisted that the suitors were excellent, but my father instead told her off for interfering in our family’s personal matters. He said he knew well when to marry his daughters and when not to, and refused to form any relations with the suitors.”

Barely a few days later, Ali and Rabia together with some accomplices kidnapped the girls.

According to the first information report (FIR), 15 people including three women were found to be involved in the kidnapping and sexual assault of the two girls. Shazia was taken to an unknown location within Faisalabad by three men, while her younger sister was taken to Gujranwala by two individuals – both sisters were subjected to beatings and sexual assault. The girls further added that their assailants also filmed them being raped.

“They beat me and kept me locked inside a room. Sometimes they would remember to feed me, other times I went hungry. They thrashed me so much that it has been a month and the bruises and scars have yet to disappear,” Shazia said. “They put something in my drink, they drugged me and then raped me. They made videos and then showed them to me. They said if I ever told anyone that they kidnapped and raped me, they would kill me. They claimed they had killed before and it would not take them a second to kill me too, and if I wanted to save my life I should keep my mouth shut since they had already taken away my honour.”

During the ordeal, the older sister had managed to get a hold of one of her abductor’s phone and called her parents for help. Shazia was recovered after her parents alerted 15, while Sania was released by her abductors in Faisalabad.

The rape survivors’ mother related that when the girls finally returned home, they were in a drugged state and their bodies bore signs of torture.

“When they try recalling what happened to them, they tell me they do not know what those monsters did to them,” she said. “They were beaten so badly; their bodies were covered in wounds.”

An FIR was lodged on the complaint of the girl’s parents nearly a month after the incident had transpired. Their father claimed that he had wanted to register a case immediately, but his daughters were severely traumatized by their ordeal. Moreover, they had become so terrified of their assailants’ threats that they did not want to get the police involved.

“We did not register the FIR because the accused are influential people and have threatened to kill our only son. And to our girls, they said they will kill their brother and parents if they filed a complaint against us or took legal action,” he related. “The girls did not let us submit our complaint because they were afraid the accused would kill their only brother.”

“The accused have taken every chance to threaten us, so now we have decided that if we are going to die, then so be it, so long as they know that the law was our recourse.”

At first, the police showed reluctance in registering the case, but after a medico-legal examination of the girls under court orders confirmed rape and physical abuse, the police finally registered a case under provisions of rape and kidnapping. However, the accused were able to acquire interim bail till October 31.

Shazia recounted how during the investigation, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Sargodha, Arshad, had behaved so insultingly with her that a sub-inspector, who could no longer bear this humiliation, pleaded with his superior to refrain from asking ridiculous questions from the rape survivors.

“When we told DSP Arshad that the accused took us away in their cars, he demanded to know why we did not struggle. He told us that he thinks we went away with those people of our own accord,” she said. “I told him that the accused had shot videos of me being raped, and then showed them to me, to which he inquired why I watched it. I did not know how to respond to that. Sub-Inspector Musaddiq intervened. He told the DSP that we are little girls and that he should not be asking such questions from us.”

“After that, the DSP quietened down a bit and then said that if the accused claim the girls had run off with them of their own accord, he will jail us for seven years. So when the accused serve their sentence and are free, the girls will also be freed around then.”

Station House Officer (SHO) Ali Ahmed, whose police station is where the girls’ case is registered for further investigation, blamed the girls for the incident and expressed his suspicions that the rape-survivors had willingly accompanied the accused. When told that one of the girls, Sania, was fourteen according to her valid B-form and that according to provincial laws, sexual acts with any girl under the age of sixteen constitute rape, the SHO brushed it off, saying he can have such B-Forms made under ten minutes easily.

He further added that if the girls had claimed that the accused had made videos of the assault, then the rape survivors should supply the police with those videos. The SHO was then confronted with the fact that the videos were made with and saved in the accused’s mobile phones, and that it is the responsibility of the police to recover the footage. However, Ali Ahmed deflected this as well, stating that for now the accused are on bail and the police will only take action when their bails expire.

Where the sisters are reeling with trauma over what they had gone through back in September, the police’s refusal to cooperate is adding to the girls’ mother’s anguish. However, she is dead set on seeing the case reach its logical conclusion and has ruled out any possibility of coming to a settlement with the accused.

“We are not going to make the mistake of settling the matter,” she said. “Our daughters’ honour cannot be bought. Is such a thing even possible? That you can just buy back your daughters’ honour? Come high or hell water, for my two daughters’ sakes, I will never forgive them for any sum of money. I want them punished. I want the highest degree of punishment for them.”

Shazia and Sania still have hope in their parents, who had chosen to stand by their daughters in their struggle to attain justice.