By Xari Jalil –
Six years ago, all the women of a household, down to the last one, were raped. This is their story
It is a cold dreary afternoon of December 2006. Kausar Bibi can sense something dreadful coming her way because her left eye has been twitching since morning. What she does not know is that whatever is to come will be something so horrible that neither she nor her family will ever forget it.
Perhaps that twitching eye of hers is right in a metaphorical way about seeing into the future because towards evening, when it has not begun to grow dark yet, she hears a rising murmur of voices outside her small mud house. Allah Ditta her husband, has gone to play his dhol at a wedding nearby. There is no man at home, so she dare not open up to see who it is.
As if to answer her conflict, the door is kicked down, and a whole crowd marches in with full force. All men! Kausar is quick to register: About 20 to 25 of them, she notes in her mind and before she can do anymore thinking, they are throwing things around.
They bark orders to the women, as they kick around the furniture and break utensils and light bulbs – anything fragile they can find. When they see a girl of about ten months they do not refrain. Their misogynistic streak is strong, and the child is hurled down on the ground by one of the men with intent to kill.
“Five of us were taken away by these men, and marched out on the road in the form of a procession,” remembers Kausar. Her eyes do not moisten as she tells the story, instead they grow harder. She has grown colder so she can block out the trauma better. “As we were dragged out with them, in front of the whole village they began to strip our clothes off. The beasts had us half naked by the time they took us to their den,” she tells.
There they keep the women for three days and two nights.
Cut to 2012
The family has moved away from their old village in Union Council Kookriwala. The only two kanals of land they ever owned was snatched away from them and forcibly transferred. Beaten down, and traumatized, haunted day and night by the ghosts of horrendous memories, they have spent long and painful years so that they can attempt to find some justice.
“We are poor people,” says Allah Ditta, his long mustache, twirled neatly downwards. He sits in a fly-ridden house, on his charpoy his traditional Punjabi style ‘dhoti’ (kilt) tied around his legs. Behind him two huge cows are grazing on some dry grass. That is all he owns. “We do not earn enough for the family. We are living in someone else’s house, which can be taken away from us any day. When this incident happened we expected that the media would come flocking to us, but we had no one to turn to.”
By miracle of nature, the baby who had been flung onto the ground has managed to survive but psychological scars still remain. She is now a girl of around three or four. As Kausar and the other women recount this incident, the child sits huddled a bit too close to her mother, her eyes wide open, her mouth forming an ‘O’. She is scared of anyone strange or unfamiliar. She has clearly become inhibited.
The five women who were taken by the men, Hameeda, Kausar, her sister in law Zareena, her niece Tahira and her daughter in law Shazia were made to do the worst things possible. “We were stripped completely naked and were made to dance on a kind of raised platform,” says Hameeda. “They made us drink alcohol and dance all night long…all night long they did what they wanted with us.”
One by one the women were gang raped; the youngest of them only 14 years old at the time. They describe their nightmarish ordeal sometimes cringing with horror at the recollection, at other times coiled inside so tightly with fright that it seems they will implode.
“One of them was leaving animal like bite marks on me,” says Tahira, who was 14 at that time. “The other was pulling my hair so I could not move. Not only did they rape us like this, they also beat us up several times. They kicked us as if we were worse than dogs.”
Some time before this had been happening Allah Ditta’s brother who was also Shazia’s husband was picked up by these men. Sadabahar who on his way home from Faisalabad (where he worked), was attacked by the same party of men who took him somewhere private and beat him up. Later he described the beating to have been so rough that his urine was bloody for some time after the incident. He was blackmailed into accepting a crime he never committed: eloping with the daughter of an influential who lived there.
In fact this is the reason that the family ties up to the violence that took place: a case of elopement where none of them had been involved. “These men were all relatives and friends of an influential named Haji Laal Gagrana,” says Allah Ditta. “Her daughter had run away and because they could not openly acknowledge this for honour’s sake, they decided to take ours because they needed a scapegoat; anyone who could take the blame for them.”
The friends who had helped the girl run away were a much stronger party so apparently they could not be ‘held accountable’, says Allah Ditta.
Meanwhile they kidnapped his wife and sister and nieces who were kept in a dingy, seedy hideout till the girl fortunately and coincidently decided to return three days later. What happened to her, no one really knows. But while they were under the rapists’ control, Kausar says she heard them say to each other ‘Keep them here till they become six months pregnant.’ Nothing was more horrifying to even imagine. However luckily for them, no one emerged from the tragedy impregnated.
Meanwhile, Amjad, who was a friend of the family, and also lived in the next village, helped them to come and live there. “I knew the MNA of my area who was Mian Sheikh Waqas Akram who gave space to this family in the village. It is with his support and help that they are now raising their voice once again for the media to pick up.”
Sheikh Waqas Akram is an MNA from PML-Q from the district, and is currently serving as Minister of State for Human Resource Development. He has served twice from the constituency NA-89. Adjacent to him is NA-90, where the incident took place. From where Saima Akhtar Bharwana won the elections. Saima Akhtar is the daughter of former Punjab Industries Minister and former District Council Jhang Chairman, Mehr Akhtar Abbas Bharwana. While previously she was an independent, on January 30, 2012 she announced her joining the PML-N.
Allah Ditta alleges that when the case occurred, the Bharwana family did not bother to take any action against the perpetrators. “It would not be too unfair to say that they knew about the case but did not do anything about it. I would go as far as saying that they supported it,” he says enraged. “These people would not have done this if they did not have power in their hands and the support of prominent people.”
Whether Bharwana actively supported the case, or whether she deliberately ignored it, cannot be proved yet because she could not be contacted. However there still remains a question mark because the incident did occur in her constituency. The fact remains that although the FIR has already been lodged in Jhang’s Saddar Police Station, under PPC 376 (2) and 36-B, not even one of the alleged criminals has been arrested, let alone brought in for questioning.
“There it is at the back of our minds,” says Kausar. “It haunts us everyday of our life. We can never overcome what has happened with us, yet these men can still be seen roaming around, sometimes they pass by on purpose to show us that they are still powerful and untouchable.”
“How can we ever get over the anguish that these men have given us and for no reason at all?” asks Zareena. “For a month we could not sit down, or walk, because the consistent raping left us all terribly injured. I wake up startled sometimes thinking that I am surrounded by them…” her voice trails off, and she averts her eyes afraid to show what she feels. Meanwhile Sheikh Waqas Akram says that ever since he has known about the case he has wanted to help bring justice to the family.
“I am doing this solely out of humanity. I have no personal or political motives. This is such a terrible thing to happen to anyone,” says the minister.
Sidra Humayun from War Against Rape (Lahore) says that the situation in Jhang is similar to that in other areas including Gujranwala, Jaranwala, and other places. “The further away from the centre you go, the worse it gets,” she says. “Jhang definitely has a high rape count, and even though I cannot give exact statistics for the district separately, I know that it is a sensitive area. Part of the reason is the immense vulnerability of the women there.”
She says that while little girls who were raped were somewhat more of a concern for the people there, if women were raped in general society did not lend support to them.
“The general perception is that women are mature enough to decide for themselves and if they were raped it must be because they had a hand in it somewhere,” she says. “Also in Jhang there are a lot of family issues, religious and sectarian problems and also property issues, and in most cases feudal lords and political people are involved. So many cases don’t go reported, and victims do not receive justice.” Being a more religiously conservative society, where parties like SSP and Sunni Tehreek rule the streets, any influence of an NGO or social workers is resisted.
Will Allah Ditta’s family find their passage to justice? Or will the criminals continue to roam around without check? Whilst the case is already in court, nothing much happened about it. The family can only wait. They are powerless.
The writer is a freelance journalist