“They were five men, they dragged me out of the house, they kicked me like a football, and then they poured gasoline on me and set me on fire; I recognized ‘Master Shaukat’ and yes, Arshad….” These were more or less the words recorded by 19 year old Maria Sadaqat, uttered in a police station but also recorded, gasping in agony, on a video, which I have seen today; this is now her ‘dying declaration’ acceptable in law, but will she get justice? Will her tormentors and killers ever be punished? Will an example be set? Is this only about her poor father and mother and four sisters or is it about all of us? These are some of the questions I was trying to find answers for the past 2 days, and these are the questions all of us, all of you need to wrestle with.
Maria Sadaqat was only 19. One of my daughters is five, other is eleven. Maria was the eldest of five sisters and one son, children of a poor mechanic. My daughters are being raised by a father, who is saving all his pennies so that his daughters can run away from this land of savage dishonorable men, of lawless society and impotent criminal justice system. After her FA, Maria started to work as a teacher in a private school, established by a certain ‘Master Shaukat’. Master Shaukat owned this school and his son, Haroon, was also a teacher in the same school. This is close to a village, Dewal Sharif, not far from Pakistan’s summer resort of Murree.
These wooded, haunted hills used to be the epicenter of Pakistan’s amorous love. In 1960’s when Pakistan brimmed with hope and confidence, Murree – fashioned by British on Shimla- used to be a Mecca for lovers who flocked here from as far away as Karachi. My parents spent their honey moon here, in the wooded British era Cecil and Bright land hotels. I grew up listening from my mother about Kashmir point, Pindi Point, her horse rides, Ayubia chairlift and cherries. In one of my school trips here, with my class, I held and straightened the gun while ‘she’, one of my class fellows, took shots and burst the balloons. We giggled, we had strange sensations running down our spines, I clapped for her, we thought we were in love – at least till the next few days, then came the exams; Physics and Chemistry drained all hormones. But I still have her pictures. Murree used to be full of all kinds of vendors; horse wallas, snake charmers, balloon shooters, magic card wallas, and those who offered you all kinds of tricks including the kaleidoscopes full of strange scenes from the world. None of those scenes was as horrible, as grotesque as that happened to Maria Sadaqat in Dewal Sharif, dragged from her house, snatched away from her little sister of six, kicked like a football by several men, doused by petrol and then set on fire. Murree hills of 2016. What is happening to this country?
Master Shaukat, has been arrested by the police. He is a man in his sixties. He has taken an oath on Quran that he is innocent. He says, he has not done what Maria has recorded in her dying declaration. Maria’s relatives have told media and police and the whole village knows it and many have privately told our reporters that Shaukat’s son, Haroon, wanted to marry Maria. But Maria rejected him. Her relatives hasten to add that Haroon was around 40, he was married before and had children. So does that mean that a woman can not refuse to marry a man, her suitor? A woman has no free choice? She has to have a good reason to refuse, to reject a proposal? She can not just refuse to marry because she does not like you? She is not interested? She has other ideas?
I wish I could narrate to Haroon and his father, ‘Master Shaukat’ that I have lost count of the girls and the women who refused, rebuffed and rejected me in school, in college, in university, and later in the marriage market. Some of them are good friends, and some of them I came across, many years later and I thanked my stars, ‘God! I am so lucky; I did not get married to her’. I would have stopped growing. But I am being unfair, cruel, dishonest and hypocrite. There is no comparison here; life and circumstances allowed me to become a post-modern man; Haroon and Shaukat are stuck in a medieval era of fragile egos and primitive sense of honor.
Pakistan Human Rights Commission has called it yet another crime against woman. Yes! It is. But this is not all. Father of Maria, who is psychologically drenched by his agony, who threatened self-immolation if police did not arrest the killers and her uncles who were protesting on roads are men too. Men who are abused, men who are crying and men who are weak and helpless. Describing it in binary terms of men and women won’t ever take us to the solutions. There is a bigger problem here. And this relates to issues of power in defining social order. This also relates to a failure of criminal justice system that has not established, not internalized a ‘deterrence’ for the ‘aggressor’. Master Shaukat is not a typical school master, working in a government school for salary. He was the owner of the school in which Maria worked as a teacher. In that poor village of Dewal Sharif, he is somewhat rich, he is powerful in that local context. And Maria is the poor daughter of a mechanic. Maria was weak; Its about power. There are women in Islamabad, in Lahore, in Karachi, all over Pakistan who we all are afraid of; because they are powerful. It is about power.
Many years ago, I watched ‘Disclosure’. Hollywood blockbuster, based on the novel by Dr. Michael Crichton. Harvard educated MD, who turned into a writer, a tv producer, a film maker. A post-modern man; some one who should inspire all of us. Dr. Crichton created ‘Jurrasic Park’ – first movie I watched with my first daughter – and he created the unforgettable ‘ER’ for American TV; and he wrote, ‘Disclosure’ that was turned into a powerful film in 1994. Michel Douglas, an IT executive, finds himself becoming subordinate to his old flame, ex-girl friend, beautiful Demi Moore. An angry Demi Moore has a plot; she drugs Michel and assaults him, and then blames him, next morning for sexual assault. Its an interesting drama and you can watch the movie to know what happened. But there was one sentence which riveted in my memory; one sentence that suddenly opened up the whole world of meaning in front of me. One sentence that was the gist of whole novel, something Harvard trained doctor, Dr. Michel Crichton wanted his readers to understand. Michel Douglas (the actor; not the character) is confronted by his wife who believes he has raped Demi Moore. He retorts: ‘Rape is an act of power; where did I ever have power in that equation’. Michael Crichton was severely criticized by the American feminists for showing a woman raping a man. He defended his ‘reversal of roles’ by pointing out that without this, his message about ‘role of power’ would not be understood. I don’t know if the often repeated psychiatric expression, ‘Rape is not about sex, its about power’ was a common phrase in literature before that or nor. I suspect, Dr. Crichton played a role in making us understand this.
If anyone of you absorbs it then I will feel I have not failed in writing these lines, sleepless in Islamabad at 6am in the morning. I bring this understanding as someone who studied medicine, someone who was deeply interested in psychiatry, was raised by a doctor, someone who joined Civil Services of Pakistan to become powerful and realized the sheer impotency of Pakistan’s failing administrative structure and someone who found ‘nirvana’ in simplicity of honest expression and writing. Power to post-modern man is meaningless if cannot be used for the larger good of society. There has to be a purpose bigger than you. Expressions of power to satisfy primitive ego – as we have seen in Dewal Sharif – are symptoms of a pre-modern social order.
Master Shaukat of Dewal Sharif is not powerful for us; he is not powerful to girls and women in Lahore and Islamabad, he is not powerful to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan but there in that small village in the hills, he was all powerful to Maria Sadaqat. Maria’s refusal to marry his son, his Haroon, his progeny, his respect, his offspring, his creation, infuriates and insults him because he is powerful. And he is powerful in a social order, in a system which has no other value except ‘power’. Is this not generally true about Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, about whole of Pakistan. Most people respect me because they see me with powerful men, grilling politicians and leaders and challenging the government and they fallaciously internalize that I am powerful. They don’t respect me because of my knowledge. Pakistan’s social and political order is all about power. All underdeveloped polities are like that. But Pakistan has another problem.
Religions, all religions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism list is endless – have one central point, one central idea around which they stand: protection of the weak from the wrath, the aggression of the powerful. Religions are ideas for justice, religions degenerate to ritualism, but all religions are bigger, much bigger than their rituals. And all law, all basic law, whether its is Lex Caesarea or modern Common law is originally derived from principles of religion: protection of the weak from the aggression of the powerful. Any system of law that fails to protect weak from the wrath and aggression of the powerful is not a system of law and justice; it is something else. Its tyranny.
Pakistan’s criminal justice system has degenerated to become a tool, an instrument of control in the hands of rich and powerful; it has lost all its ability, all its capacity to provide a check on the ambitions of the powerful. Criminal Justice System, can never hold, prosecute and punish all criminals and aggressors, it is not possible for any system of law enforcement to do that; objective of law enforcement is to create a ‘deterrence’ and ‘internalization of law’ to send a general message, ‘thou shall be punished, thou can be punished’ by creating a credible fear in the people that their actions will bear consequence. Pakistan has lost it, lost that ‘deterrence’ it has lost that long ago.
A country in which elections can be manipulated in broad day light, in which Commissions of Enquiry headed by honorable men are set up to cover murder and mayhem, a country in which ‘Model Town Massacre’ can be blamed on few police officers, a country in which ‘Panama Files Scandal’ can be brushed aside without any logical explanation, a country in which all democratic opposition is part of the government in one way or the other, a country in which innocent can be endlessly blamed, prosecuted or scandalized, demonized for diversion purposes, a country in which paupers have become billionaires while holding public office and no explanation is ever due or can be demanded, a country in which unelected ‘powerful children’ of the dynasts can command the top public officials is a country and society built around one simple principle: Crude Exercise of Power.
Without addressing the issue of exercise of power, without holding powerful accountable in Islamabad, in Lahore, in Karachi, in Peshawar, in Quetta or Muzaffarabad, without creating a sense of ‘deterrence’ from the top, all around, overall in the system, you cannot expect ‘Master Shaukat’ to behave, in Dewal Sharif, and you cannot expect ‘Maria’ to be safe. Pakistan Human Right Commission will keep on telling you that this is Man versus Woman, but this is about power. And trust me this system can not get justice for this Maria or that Maria. Yes! The culprits have been arrested, but the police action looks less than credible.
Unlike the DPO in Abbottabad, a month ago, (who was taking calls past midnight) Punjab Police have not shared any details, they are hesitant in taking calls or just insensitive, it looks like a repeat of so many, dozens of previous cases, in which no convictions are obtained in the end. DPO, Khurram Rasheed, and his IGP, Nasir Durrani, in KP, in case of Ambareen, registered the case on behalf of the state; in Murree case has been registered by family of Maria; in Abottabad, Police investigated through ‘Call Data Record’ (CDR) and apprehended culprits through its own investigations, in case of Maria, CM Punjab has appointed a three member committee to investigate, and in this case in Murree it is all dependent upon the complaint and ‘Dying Declaration’ and local people allied with the killers have already started harassing media and started insisting that Maria has committed suicide. Usual process of watering down the nature of a crime has already started. Remember the Ayesha (or was that Amna) in Muzaffargarh, who was gang raped and who, almost two years ago, burnt herself to death, outside a police station? CM Shahbaz Sharif had personally gone there- descending from a helicopter from the skies dressed in white as an Avatar – to reprimand and suspend police officers, what happened? Google and find for yourself. It was not Shahbaz Sharif’s personal failure; he is more sensitive in such matters than anyone else in Punjab, but his system, the system under him, does not work.
[Moeed Pirzada is TV Anchor & Editor Strategic Affairs, Dunya News; he studied International Relations at Columbia University New York, Medicine from Punjab Univ, and Law at London School of Economics and Political Science. He tweets at MoeedNj]