This report is part of AGHS Legal Aid Cell’s campaign ‘Report SGBV – Break the Silence’.
July 2, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
Abbas and his wife Jannat Bibi, residents of the Hanjarwal area of Lahore, are searching high and low for their Sajida. But after four years and not even a trace of their young daughter, they are completely crestfallen.
Sajida was only 13 when she disappeared in August of 2019. She was last employed in the home of one Shahzad Hussain as a domestic worker, who took charge of sending her back home on weekends.
“They would drop her home on Saturday evenings, and I would bring her back on Sunday. Like always, we called the mistress of the house and asked her to send Sajida home, but she told us she was at the hospital,” Abbas recalled.
But when he called again a little while later, Hussain’s wife told him that she had sent the girl away in a rickshaw three hours ago.
“I got worried, so I set out to find her. I also went to [the mistress’s home], but she repeated that Sajida left the house. We have been looking for our daughter since.”
Abbas registered a case with the police. Although an investigation was launched, the police only recovered CCTV footage from a single location. He says that this has been the extent of the police’s action in the case.
“The police showed us a picture, but we could not make out her face. We knew who she was only by her clothes. The rickshaw’s number plate could not be clearly seen either,” he described the meagre evidence the police had shown him.
“They showed us maybe two or three pictures. They said ‘Look, your daughter is going toward Thokar.’ And then the police told us that the surveillance cameras ahead of Thokar Niaz Baig were faulty.”
Sajida’s parents claim that her employer’s brother, Jawad Hussain Mirza, would molest her. However, the police declared him innocent after a preliminary investigation.
“Another girl, Amna, who worked at the same house as our daughter, told the investigating officer that she was sitting on the bed when Jawad came into the room, grabbed her and started kissing her,” Sajida’s mother alleged. “He harassed Sajida the same way, but apologized to her when she raised alarm.”
Shahzad Hussain however told Voicepk.net that his family has nothing to do with Sajida’s disappearance, and that he had filed a first information report (FIR) of the incident through his own connections.
Despite having six different investigating officers over a four year period, police have yet to find any trace of Sajida. According to the current IO, Inspector Saeed, the police are fully cooperating with the parents. But Sajida’s parents tell a different story.
“Every time I visit the police station, I am separated from my husband and the police ask me humiliating questions,”
Jannat claimed. “The IO even went as far as to visit my sisters’ homes and tell them Sajida ran away from home because she is an illegitimate child. [The IO] knows that she is my second child. I have a son before her.
“The police pressure us,” Abbas also chimed in. “At first, the IOs refused to listen to us, and now they insult us by making us sit in front of the accused and urge us to talk it out and remove their name from the FIR. The DSP says to us that if we mention [the accused’s name], he will break my legs.”
Abbas works as a gardener and is the sole breadwinner. The family has emptied their savings pursuing this case.
“We have spent so much already. Whatever we earn, we spend it all on this case. Oftentimes our children have to go hungry,” Jannat laments. “We are now paying for this case with the money we are borrowing from our brothers and sisters.”
Abbas and Jannat have knocked on every possible door for the safe recovery of their daughter, but each one has led them to a dead end. However, they are not giving up the fight.
According to data compiled by the Punjab Police, upwards of 40,000 women were abducted from 2017 to 2022, of which 3,000 women and girls remain missing.