I have spent several sleepless nights in the last few days. Yes! the burning of, 19 year old, Maria was gruesome, was shocking and hard to digest. One shudders to imagine the pain, the fear the stink of burning skin of a person surrounded by flames. And all that, not an accident but on purpose. That should have been enough to keep any sensitive person sleepless, but what followed since then was even more shocking, more tragic and this is what keeps me sleepless. Not for Maria, but for all of us, for Pakistan.
We all know Punjab Police is politicized, dysfunctional as an institution. We know how it is used, exploited and pushed to do things it should not be doing. Things that demean police officers and force as an institution. We know ‘Model Town Tragedy’ was created from the top, in the end Punjab Police was made to take the blame. We know how an upright officer like Mohammad Ali Nekokara, former SSP Islamabad, was treated, for taking a principled position; we know what happened to Shariq Kamal, DPO, Bahawalnagar recently when he was summarily surrendered from Punjab for doing the right thing.
But what happened to 19 year old Maria in Dewal Sharif, near Murree is not ‘Model Town fiasco’ its not Panama Files, its not Election Rigging or Dharnas; it has nothing to do with high stake politics of survival; Maria has not been killed because of the high and mighty planning something in Lahore or Islamabad; Maria’s soul is not being denied justice because Shahbaz Sharif or Zardari are influencing police; if anything I am sure Shahbaz Sharif will like justice to be done, he will like culprits to be punished, in this case, but yet it looks that nothing will happen; And this, precisely this aspect, that nothing will happen despite the ‘interest of the Chief Minister and the Govt of Punjab, makes it all the more frightening. This is the ‘system’s failure, system’s collapse, real nightmare’, if you care to understand.
And that process, of ‘Kuch Nahin Hona’ has already started. Maria was burnt on Sunday, 29th May. Girl’s family took her to a police station; she recorded her statement, identifying two out of the five persons who attacked her, who kicked her like a football and then doused her with petrol and burnt her alive and left her for dead. Her statement became ‘dying declaration’ when on Wed, 1st June she died in PIMS, Islamabad succumbing to 85% burns. Earth between Islamabad and Murree should have been shaken. But as they say, ‘Kuch Nahin hona’!
Gradually we start to hear, we find out the truth of our society, our values, we discover ourselves in the magical mirror of the ‘beauty and the beast’ only this time it is held by a dying girl, in a burns unit, and held right in front of our faces. In that magical mirror we find out: police never showed much initiative in arresting the principal accused. He was in the area, and has, as per his own admission, in his own video, surrendered voluntarily, apparently after getting good legal advice. And his 90 second long ‘ablution’ of washing himself for a sacred duty and holding Quran in his hands must have been the legal advice; his defense is ‘known piety’ and a ‘telephone set’ which may show him somewhere else.
In the magical mirror we then see: Crowds appearing outside a mosque, chanting in the favor of the accused. Some police officials, the local strong men of the area, convey their displeasure to the reporters, for making it such a big issue. A local bodies official, who has recently been elected, and who we hear is affiliated with the ruling party, thunders in front of the public: “I will see who arrests Master Shaukat?” And then people start talking of a minister who is trying to mediate, trying to reconcile both families, lets settle, lets do a ‘muk-mukka’. Elders of the villages warn the father of Maria that his daughter is dead, gone and now people will talk ill of her, she is dead, but now she will be dishonored. Many of these things start to happen, even before Maria’s death, while she was struggling with 85% burns in PIMS, writhing with pain, searching her last breaths in Islamabad.
But then Maria is dead. Police whisks away her body for a post-mortem, away from Islamabad, to civil hospital in Murree. We still don’t know what has been written in the post-mortem report. But now suddenly we hear that villagers believe that Maria had committed suicide. She was having an affair with Master Shaukat’s son; she may have been pregnant, Master reprimanded her father and once father insulted her, she committed suicide. Then we hear that may be her father had burnt her, and then blamed the pious man, Master Shaukat; Why? Because he owed him money.
More than two years ago, we were having a tv discussion. A woman had been gang raped somewhere in Punjab. A prominent, bold, important politician of Punjab, was with us. During the break, he turned towards me and the other participants and said: ‘Dr Saab, she was never raped, we have checked, she was their friend, she went out of her free will’. Surprised, I asked him: “She could be a friend to one; she could not be a friend to two or three of them? And rape is about aggression; what about the tears, abrasions, the medical examination? “Oh! Dr Saab, you are too educated; you have spent too much time outside, in the foreign, she was a friend to all of them, and such abrasions do happen in excitement; she is just blaming them for some money”
With attitudes like these, with such audacious unafraid expressions of primitive misogyny, you cannot talk about facts; it is about a culture and place of woman in it. And crowds in Ausia and men in Dewal Sharif, minions of police, local politicians, local media wallas, local clerics, heads of local bodies and local patriarchal old ladies may all be part of the same mind set. This needs an intervention from the outside; this asks for a trained, autonomous modern police; a police with a conscience, a police with a mind bigger than Dewal Sharif and Ausia; something which we don’t have in Punjab.
Let’s look at this mindset one by one. So the crowds appeared in the village of Ausia. Local cleric declared that Master Shaukat is a pious man, who prays five times a day. Cleric and later the politico both blame and warn media for playing a larger game, veiled references towards the west, a mere death of a girl, though unfortunate, but a mere death, amongst many many problems of the country, has been turned into a global issue. “Ausia” has been made infamous around the world.
I had heard of German and French and Japanese nationalism, but never before had I seen the ‘nationalism of village’. Crowds were carrying painted banners declaring that ‘FIR is not Acceptable’; as someone pointed out on twitter, this was first public demonstration in human history against a woman who was burnt alive. Why? Because it was no one else but Maria, who had recorded her statement in police station before dying. Do we not know that ‘dying declaration’ has a certain legal strength behind it and for good reasons? Do we not know that such a congregation of men – as appeared in Ausia – is never spontaneous? Do we not know that for such demonstrations people are always collected and persuaded by some one influential? Do we not know that painting banners needs money, time and planning?
Maria committed suicide? She was 19, full of life and health, looking eagerly towards a future, towards doing a BA and a renewed career; suicide is a well studied phenomenon; Maria’s profile simply does not fit into the story of a suicide. And suicide, if it takes place, has certain kind of emotions, sentiments behind it; suicide has its own logic, its own perverted rationale; what kind of suicide is that in which a 19-year-old girl decides to finish herself off, in the most painful fashion, by burning herself when she is alone with her little epileptic sister, and then as a dying person lands in hospital, in agony, giving graphic details of ‘five men who kicked her like football and doused her with petrol and burnt her alive’. Did we not hear of countless women, daughter-in-laws, who died of burns due to cylinder bursts?
Wait! Her father burnt her alive and blamed ‘Master Shaukat’ as Master hints, without saying, in his video. And as so many other misogynists are saying openly in Ausia. Really? And her father, after burning her took her to police for a statement? And then to the hospital to save her life so that she can indict him at some stage? To those who took her to hospital on 29th May, her death was not certain by any means.
By now Maria’s burning alive and death has assumed a societal and political situation which surrounds every gang rape, most murders and every crime where a stronger party, even a marginally stronger party is involved. None of such cases ever sees a logical end.
What could have made the difference was a professional police; a depoliticized, autonomous police headed in the area by a young fearless, independent DPO/CPO. What could he and his men have done? Everything. They would have provided the connect between the medieval mind set of the villages and the world to which we belong. I was talking to one such professional policemen. And he was clear: Police should have immediately done ‘Geo-Fencing’ which can still be done within a time period of 45 days. Challenge was to determine the ‘time line of events’ and its relationship to various persons, those who were under accusation and those who were accusing. All accused should have been immediately arrested, without giving them the opportunity of creating alibis, fake witnesses and interactions. All accused detained – and even Maria’s family members – should have been isolated from each other, questioned and their descriptions and timelines of events of 29th May, should have been contrasted with each other and with others in the area and then checked against the ‘Call Data Records’ (CDR’s) which could identify the locations of all under scrutiny on 29th May. We have not seen or heard of any such police activity. Many will wonder why?
And every time we sack a SSP like ‘Mohammad Ali Nekokara’ or a DPO like Shariq Kamal, for doing what they ought to have done, for standing up for principles, for integrity, for the right institutional ethos and pride, we further weaken the institution of police.
Every time a crime hits us in the face and then buries itself somewhere in our consciousness without logical explanation, without the due process of law, without a believable outcome, we become even more disappointed from ourselves. We loathe ourselves, feel even more helpless. In the end, its not about Maria Sadaqat; its not about death or pain, or the shock of being burnt. Accidents happen, literally every day, every minute. Its about tyranny of one man against anther; its about ‘power of one man over the other – the weak. ’Its about control and being controlled. Whatever happened since 29th May is about ‘Power and Weakness’. When you study cancer, when you do a biopsy, you take a tiny microscopic tissue and examine it; it tells you about the tumor, the extent of growth, of malignancy and prognosis of the whole body. I am not sleepless about 19 year old Maria Sadaqat; I am sleepless about myself, all of us and about Pakistan. Tissue sample of Dewal Sharif and Ausia, of its politicos, police, clerics and its crowds does not offer a good prognosis for any of us.
[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]