Archive | August, 2015

Kasur ka kiya qasur?

21 Aug

For security reasons and out of respect for the victims and their families, I will not be using any names in this piece.

On Thursday, 20th August 2015, I visited a village in Kasur known as “Hussain Khan Waala.” On entering Kasur, a local contact there, who had arranged my trip, received me and took me to a small kothi. As I walked into the Kothi, I was nervous. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I wasn’t sure how my lack of Punjabi skills would affect the quality of conversation. I didn’t know what to do if they asked me for something I could not give them. I was shown to a room where several mothers of the victims were seated. We said our salaams and then there was silence while they looked at my face and I at theirs. They were hospitable and kind from the onset, offering me soft drinks and asking me how I was, some referring to me as their daughter and some as their sister. I explained to them why I was there which went something along the lines of: “I’m here to listen to you and learn from you the real on-going scenario here and what is being done to help you. I’m not in government and I’m not affiliated with any political party so I cannot guarantee any result but I promise that I will get your message across and do whatever I can to help you.”

One of the mothers came and sat right next to me. She began by telling me that she, like the rest of them, was tired of giving bayaans when the outcome is zero. She told me that her child was now 15 years old and that the abuse had gone on for the last nine years. My math is terrible but my jaw dropped in shock and disgust as I registered the fact that her son was 7 years old when he was drugged, tortured and sexually assaulted. Each mother conveyed to me that her child was blackmailed – that they would scold their sons for stealing money and jewellery from their homes. One of the mothers told me about how she had bought her son a pair of shoes from Bata which cost her a lot of money. The perpetrators of the sexual abuse demanded that he give them his shoes. Her son told her that he had “lost” the shoes to which his mother responded with anger.

Each and every single mother told me, with tears streaming down their faces, how their children were angry and hostile for the period that they were abused – and each and every single parent asked: “How could we even have imagined that this was going on?” They informed me that the videos made had been sold for large amounts of money abroad and that the perpetrators made similar videos of their own wives for money. I asked if the victims were mainly boys to which they said that only the boys’ families had come forth as the girls had to be protected (that no one would marry them if their families came forward). I, then, proceeded to ask them what they needed immediately. They didn’t ask for money. They didn’t ask for media attention. They demanded justice: “Humein sirf insaaf chahiye.” Their lives have been destroyed. Their children’s futures have been destroyed and the only thing that can give them any relief is dispensation of justice. They informed me that certain political figures had visited them and spoken to them at length but the one person who had repeatedly refused to visit due to “security concerns” was the man responsible for the entire province, Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif. They were furious: “Saaro kay security concerns hotay hai lekin Shehbaz Sharif ek duffa bhee nahee aaya. Uss nay ek duffa bhee nahee aakar humaari hozla afzai karnay ki koshish ki.” My blood boiled as I thought: “What a disgusting human being. Imagine if, God forbid, this tragedy had occurred in his family, would he not want justice? Would he not do everything in his power to ensure that the people behind the torture and assault against his children be brought to justice?” While I was thinking this, one of the women put a smile across my face, not because of my anger towards Shehbaz Sharif but because of her understanding of the power of her vote, when she said, in a stern tone: “Jab vote chahiye hota hai, tou yeh ek ek ghar par aakar maangtay hai aur waaday kartay hain. In ko hum kabhi bhee agli duffa vote nahee deingay. Inho nay humaari liye kiya kiya? Inho nay humaray bacho kay liye kiya kiya?”

I was then informed that one of the perpetrators had gotten his own uncle killed to deflect responsibility and attribute blame for this act on the villagers: “Agar hum nei kissi ko qatl karna hota, tou hum mujrimo ko na kartay? Iss shukhs ka iss mei koi hissa hee nahee tha.” The JIT has been taking bayaans from these poor families and the police has been subsequently registering FIRs against the victims and their families, rather than the sick perpetrators behind this crime. In fact, one of the discoveries that disgusted me to the core was that the police have been moving the criminals from one prison to another to provide “security” to them whereas the victims and their families continue to be subjected to police apathy, brutality and harassment. The Punjab Police has broken down the doors of many of the victims’ homes. They have refused to register FIRs against the accused on behalf of several victims. They have made it increasingly difficult for the families to interact with one another. Moreover, they attacked peaceful protesters with immense brutality.

I was then taken to another room where I spoke to the victims. It is no exaggeration when I say I could feel their pain simply by looking into their eyes – to them, their lives are over. Many of the victims ran away from their respective villages to work elsewhere – leaving behind their hopes of educating themselves. Majority of the children have been able to resume going to school for fear of taunts they are likely to receive. They are ashamed even though it is not their fault that they were abused. I explained to them that they shouldn’t be the ones worried about their honour and respect – that we live in a society where there is a warped sense of honour and that these children must fight against it. I didn’t need to explain to them the importance of education as they spoke to me about if before I could even bring it up. They said they wanted to return to school and that education was something no one could take away from them. We then spoke about the role of the media in the area and I advised the children to stay away from the media. I explained to them that the media does not comprise trained medical professionals and psychologists – they have experienced trauma and they must be able to speak about that trauma to a professional, not a TV camera. On this point, all the children present, and their parents, completely agreed with me. They said that the media has done well in highlighting their cause but that they are constantly asked for interviews. At this juncture, in my personal capacity, I request all media channels to please stay away from these children. They are not to be used for ratings – they have to be seriously counselled and helped by trained professionals.

After around 2-3 hours, I was told that the women were going to leave to go back to their respective homes so I went back into the other room to say goodbye to them. One of them came up to me to shake my hand, and I just wrapped my arms around her. After that followed a series of hugs and kisses and duas for one another. On a parting note, one of the mothers wept to me and said: “Agar humei insaaf na millay, tou bacho sameth hum khudkushi kerdaingay. Humaray liye kiya zindagi reh gayee hai? Na paisay, na khaana, na insaaf.” I’ve promised to go back and visit these women and I have every intention of following through on that promise. They are wonderful, strong, courageous women who we all must learn from.

The local resident who had organized my trip, along with the headmaster of a school there (both lovely, amazing human beings), told me to come have lunch with them. We sat together and ate absolutely delicious food that had been made. I thanked them profusely and in the middle of my thanks, they sent me off with an elderly lady to another room, where I met another family. We had tea there and light-hearted conversation on every topic under the sun from exercise to work to raising children – you name it. They asked me to stay the night there and I genuinely wished I could but I had work the next day and had to be on my way. But I told them this wasn’t my last visit by a long shot. Here, I thought the visit had ended but the local resident I had been in touch with asked me if there was anything I wanted to see in Kasur and I immediately said: “Baba Bulleh Shah ka mazaar.” I explained to him that this wasn’t my last visit and we could do this another time but, at his insistence, we headed towards the city and the mazaar. And what an experience that was.

This entire trip was something that gave me perspective. Not everything you see in the media is accurate. The police is not doing its job. The government is complicit in the biggest child sex abuse scandal to ever occur in our country and unless we help these families and pressurize the government, these people will be left hopeless and helpless (and possibly suicidal). We must take responsibility.