Pakistan: Woman paraded naked in streets calls for justice


B, who was paraded naked in the streets of her village, Neelor Bala, a few days ago, still fears for her life and of her family members because the accused have not been apprehended. Her traumatised 10-year-old son also shakes in fear as he remembers his mother`s ordeal that he was a witness to. “They slapped me a couple of times before attacking my mother,” he recalls. “One of them held me by the arms when I tried to reach for her.”

B dissolves into tears as she narrates the incident. “I wanted my life to end,” she says. “But then I heard my son crying and all I wanted to do was hold him in my arms and console him. His voice also reminded me of the rest of the family and I thanked God that my daughter and daughter-in-law were not home.”

B`s ordeal at the hands of four armed brothers — M, I, A and S — took place during the afternoon of June 7. They entered her house, slapped her 10-year-old son and started beating her. They had earlier accused her son Kazim of having illicit relations with S`s wife.

As the four brothers and the self-styled tribal chief, MB, who supported them were stronger, B and her family were forced to flee the village and seek safety elsewhere.

But as chance would have it, a non-governmental organisation, Sahara Foundation, heard of her ordeal.

Under Sahara`s protection B has returned to the village to talk about her ordeal and demand justice. A day earlier, she testified before the court of a judicial magistrate.

The media attention and the NGO`s pressure have forced the police to act. Even the DIG, Abbottabad, Dr Naeem Khan, visited the village to monitor the progress of the case.

This is commendable as usually crimes in distant villages pass unnoticed. Situated some 22 kilometres from Haripur city, the village Neelor Bala is difficult to reach due to the rugged and narrow tracks leading to it.

However, despite the media attention, the main accused — the four brothers and MB, the self-proclaimed `lambardar` of the village are absconding. B, her son (who witnessed the entire event) and her husband, Ghulam Sarwar, driver at a private college in Lahore, fear for their lives.

Two men, Rakeeb and Matloob, out of the seven nominated by B have been arrested.

The police claim that local residents fear MB, who is better off than most of the villagers, is trying to acquire power by holding jirgas and passing decisions. Incidentally MB owns an arms shop in Haripur city.

However, the NGOs blame the police and judicial system that allow certain elements to the take law in their hands.

“The root cause of this situation is the jirga, which was organised by MB where S announced divorcing his wife after accusing her of having illicit relations with Kazim and his cousin Rashid,” said Qamar Hayat, Director of Sahara Development Foundation.

“Strict action has to be taken against those who take such decisions that damage the peace in society and public life,” he said. To illustrate that this trend of holding jirgas is growing in the Haripur area he cited another case that took place in another village though in the same union council in which a 14-year-old girl was killed by her family members on suspicion.

“We have strong evidence that the girl was killed after being hit by around 30 AK-47 bullets but the police said that she died accidentally of a single bullet while cleaning a pistol.”

Hayat said the stay order is pending at Abbottabad bench, KP High Court for eight months preventing the exhumation of the body and a post-mortem.

“Haripur is a peaceful area and if the government and the system continue to encourage those who simply do not respect women rights, society will collapse,” he warned.

Meanwhile, DIG Abbottabad, Naeem Khan, told Dawn that “the victim herself has shown courage and we will trace the five absconders”.

However, he too acknowledged that the culture of Jirga decision has to be abolished.

But dig below the surface and it is evident that women rights in this case may also have been abused for the age-old love of money.

Some local residents who did not want to be named explained that prior to the jirga on June 7, MB had forced S`s wife to sign khula papers (the right of a woman to seek divorce).

“Khula allows S and his family to retain the property given to her as `Haq Mehar`, said a villager.

Perhaps more than one woman is in the need of justice in this small village near Haripur.

By Kalbe Ali