February 15th, 2021 

By Ahmed Saeed & Shahrazad Agha


FAISALABAD 

Disillusioned by the criminal justice system in the country, especially in a case of heinous crime, like the abduction and gang rape of two sisters, the family has now thought of withdrawing the case from court.

Shazia*, 16 years and Sania*, just 12 years old, were both abducted and repeatedly raped by a group of men, who also made videos of the act. But despite trying hard for their pleas to be heard by the system, the family has been so discouraged, they feel they would rather just accept their fate, than wait for justice to be served – although even this they are not sure would happen.

‘Punished for refusing’

The incident took place last year in September 2020. Shazia and Sania live with their parents in a rented house in Faisalabad. The landlords, Ali and his wife Rabia lived on the first floor. Shazia claimed that Rabia had once urged the teenagers to make friends with a group of unfamiliar young men and that she could help them get married as well.

“She approached us on two different occasions, singing praises for these men, and suggested that we should have a ‘relationship’ with them,” Shazia had recounted her conversation with Rabia, in an earlier interview with Voicepk.net. “I told her we would not do any such thing, that we were not the kind of girls. We asked Rabiya Aunty why she was making these decisions for us, so later she urged my father to marry us off, but he too refused.”

Shazia says that she insisted that the suitors were excellent, but her father instead told her off for interfering in our family’s personal matters. He said he knew well enough when to have his daughters get married and refused to form any relations with the suitors.

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

“They mixed something in milk and gave it to me,” says Sania. “Then they raped me and made a video out of it, even showed it to me. They threatened me, saying that they had murdered several times before and would do me in as well if I told anyone about it.”

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 of the men, while her younger sister was taken to Gujranwala by two other indivduals – both sisters were subjected to beatings and sexual assault as well as being filmed while being raped.

Police ineptitude

Six months later however, only one man has been arrested. “Of course we want justice, but we are getting it from nowhere,” says Shazia, the elder sister. “The main culprit Salman, is still in police custody, but that’s about it. There is no one else in their custody, as none of the others have been nabbed.”

It was not an easy task for the parents to file an FIR against the rapists of their minor daughters, but the family struggled and fought for as long as they could. Despite facing difficulty, they resolved to fight the case.

Earlier, despite the refusal of the police, but on a court order, they conducted a medical test on the girls.

It was only after the report confirmed rape and violence that the police registered a case under the provisions of kidnapping and rape.

The main accused named in the case, Salman and Adnan, were roaming free without bail, but when civil society and the media raised the issue, the police arrested Salman and the other was granted bail by the court.

“What I want is for them to get the strictest punishment ever fopr what they have done to my girls,” says Parveen* Bibi, the girls’ mother. Parveen says they have been waiting for justice since months now. Now she will just take the case back. But when asked if she would take compensation, she refused outright.

“No, no, no! We will never make this kind of a mistake. Money won’t bring back our daughters’ honour,” she says. “Think about it – does money ever bring back lost honour and self esteem to anyone? No. I won’t be reconciling with them, on my daughter’s behalf, for the sake of money, and have them roaming around free.”

But she has made up her mind, thanks to the lax attitude of the police and courts.

“Basically now I am very tired,” she says. “I really cant follow this case anymore.”

But the girls maintain that the investigating officer is doing his duty honestly. It is the economic pressure that they are under that is causing an impediment. Getting justice is expensive and difficult.

Javed*, the father of the two girls says he earns Rs25,000 a month and it has become impossible for him to make ends meet ever since the case began.

“The longer the case goes on, the harder it will be for me to make a living,” he says. “Either the state takes over the case, or we withdraw it.”

He adds that the travelling itself costs a lot.

“We are sick of taking trips to the courts and the police station,” he says. “They tell us to bring the girls over for their statements, and we do, but then when we go there, the person who is meant to record the statement is absent from duty. The next day we go again, and we are told, that the judge is not well, or had to go somewhere. At the end of the day we all think, either they should solve my case, or give me justice.”

A very slow fight to the finish

Mudassir Yaseen, the girls’ lawyer says that DNA samples were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Lahore, but three months later, no report has been received by them,” he says. Yaseen, is fighting the case free of charge. In his opinion there are several reasons for the delay in the case.

“It takes time for the Punjab Forensic Science Lab to send us back the reports. There were also cell phones in which the videos of the rape incident were saved – no update about them either. That’s why the challan is not completed until now,” he says.

Meanwhile, the investigating officer says that further action will only be taken when the report is received.

Startling figures

Despite the frequent changes in the law, this is not the first time a family or survivors of rape and sexual abuse have experienced frustration with the delay in case development. Sadly, only two percent of rape cases in Pakistan have resulted in convictions.

In fact a Punjab based study by the legal researcher, and author of “Accountability for rape: A case study”, highlighted some shocking statistics. According to information that she had collected from the Punjab Prosecution Department itself, on rape cases that had taken place between 2016 and 2017, from 5,852 incidents only 200 convictions had taken place, while acquittals were over 5000. This means every 3 out of 4 cases were acquitted. She says her investigation revealed that the most number of acquittals was in Southern Punjab especially in Lodhran. “We looked through 63 of these judicial files, to note the procedural aspects, and how the judges assessed these, which is the broader scheme of the report,” she said.

 Bokhari pointed out that implementation of law was where the big gap was when it came to the country’s rape laws. She said that in spite of there being some solid laws in 2016, not all processes were being followed, including lack of medicolegal examinations. Another key gap was that not everyone in the criminal justice system was even aware of what the law said – there was a need to have capacity building.

Besides this, Bokhari pointed out, in 57% of the studied cases, the ML information was not present on file which means it never took place, while 70% of the cases showed that the ML investigation had taken palce after 72 hours.

“Unless there is no serious training and implementation designs, the same thing will happen in these new laws too,” she said. “A big reason for the delay in medicolegal exams was that there was an absence of a female MLO. Also in rural areas, the rape victim would have to delay his or her statement waiting for a female police officer. There are also jurisdiction issues which requires travelling. All this delays collection of meaningful evidence.”

Never-ending trauma

In the meantime, the trauma of the rape has not even been regarded in the least by the components of the justice system. The girls almost feel harassed the way they are meant to visit court everyday.

“In a week, we have to go every day to the court, we have become tired now,” says 12 year old Sania. “We have to go to court, to the police station, but there is no help from anywhere. They all just call us everyday, but there is nothing to talk about. We just keep sitting and sitting for hours on end and then at the end of the day we leave for home again. Its these things that have exhausted us.”

Advocate Yaseen adds, that there has been no arrangement to record any statement under Section 164 because the police does not bother to bring in the accused. “The police should bring them there and take the girls so they can record their statements. We went to court quite A few times but had to return because of the police.”

It is difficult for the girls to shake off and move from what happened to them. Parveen recalls that after the girls had returned home, they were in a drugged state and their bodies bore signs of torture.

“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.

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.

In their last interview with Voicepk.net, the girls had been more determined to fight their case.

“Whatever they have done to us, we don’t want them to do it to another,” Shazia had said.

Today, they have given up hope.

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