May issue 2011

By | News & Politics | Published 13 years ago

Farman Ahmad, alias Phama, 35, was the older of the two brothers charged by police for exhuming bodies in order to eat the flesh.

Farman Ahmad, alias Phama, 35, was the older of the two brothers charged by police for exhuming bodies in order to eat the flesh.

“We wanted to lynch them,” says Sanaullah Khan, 35, the bulging veins in his forehead demonstrating real anger. A father of four, Khan says his children have been terrified since it happened. “We have stopped eating meat. And people have started cementing the graves of deceased family members.”

That is visible in the graveyard at Kahawarh Kallan, a village situated 10 kilometres away from Bhakkar, on the main road that leads to Darya Khan.

Like Khan, a majority of the residents of the area have been stunned by the ghoulish discovery of two alleged cannibals in their midst. On April 4, 2011, local police arrested two men on charges of exhuming the corpses of at least five victims and eating their flesh.

The alleged cannibals, Muhammad Arif alias Aphal, 31, and Farman Ahmad alias Phama, 35, are brothers and lived with their mentally ill sister Nusrat. Sons of small landowner Khalil Ahmed, the two men have clearly not had very stable lives given the circumstances: Arif divorced his wife a couple of years ago, who took their son with her when she left the house. Farman’s wife left him along with their five children three years ago and moved in with her parents. Villagers relate that like his sister, Arif also suffers from a mental disorder, while Farman Ahmed, his older sibling, is reportedly a drug addict.

According to the police investigation report, Farman admitted to stealing at least five corpses from local graveyards over a period of one-and-a half years and then consuming them. Arif, meanwhile, denied being a partner in crime with his elder brother, but he acknowledged he knew what Farman was doing. However, Farman contends that Arif was equally complicit in the cannibalism. “I often found some flesh I had stored missing; I believe Arif was consuming it.” And while Farman confesses to eating human flesh since September 2010, his brother told police that Farman had been indulging in the practice for much longer. It is the first recorded case of cannibalism in Pakistan.

In the aftermath of the discovery of the horrific crime, an interesting picture bolstered by the testimony of villagers and details from the police investigation, has emerged.

“I used to see them here a lot,” says Ghulam Hussain Baloch, 67, the caretaker at the graveyard where the brothers are said to have found their victims. “Sometimes Farman would be carrying a shovel.” Alarm was raised when the family of Saira Perveen, 24, who was buried on April 2, returned to the graveyard the following day, only to find that her grave had been vandalised and her body was missing. “That was even more shocking than the death of my young sister. At first I thought that it was some kind of black magic at work,” says Saira’s brother, Ijaz Hussain.

Hussain subsequently called his brothers and other political influentials in his village. “Within a few minutes, several people gathered at the graveyard and some of them corroborated what Baloch had told us: that they had seen the two alleged cannibals leaving the graveyard early that morning with a sack on the shoulder of one and a shovel in the hand of the other. We reported the matter at the concerned police station,” reports Hussain.

The police hired a local khoji (a traditional detective who studies and tracks the footprints found at the crime scene to their destination, and locates and interrogates witnesses or anyone who can offer clues to the identity of the perpetrators). “Both the khoji and eyewitnesses were almost certain that Farman and Arif were the culprits. So I raided their house, and I did so involving the locals because it was a very sensitive issue,” says Inspector Abdur Rahman, the Station House Officer (SHO) of the police station in Darya Khan.

According to members of the investigating team, the backyard of the accuseds’ house was littered with bone fragments and a small skull — most probably that of a dog — and was the first thing that welcomed them when they entered the premises. Inspector Rehman continues, “When we entered the house, we found some body parts of the young woman’s corpse in a pot, cooking over a stove. We also found and seized a few coffins from the premises and several bones, along with cutting and digging equipment.” Akhtar Ali, a neighbour, recalls: “We saw the police bring the mutilated bodies out of the brothers’ house. We also saw police personnel dig up some bones from the vicinity.”

Muhammad Arif alias Aphal, 31, said during interrogation by police that he had told his family about the first corpse his brother brought home to eat.

Muhammad Arif alias Aphal, 31, said during interrogation by police that he had told his family about the first corpse his brother brought home to eat.

Soon thereafter Arif was taken into custody, while Farman, who is considered the main culprit, was arrested a day later with the help of the family. The brothers’ confessional statements featuring in the investigation report are chilling. Farman Ahmad’s reads, “In September 2010, I stole my first corpse. So far, I have unearthed four bodies of small children and one of an older person. I boiled their flesh and then stored it, taking it out of storage, according to need.” And perhaps by way of explanation for his aberrant behaviour, he added, as noted in the report, “My father killed my mother during my childhood. He also tortured me a lot. These are the reasons why I consume human flesh.”

Residents of the village meanwhile, maintain the men’s mother died of complications during pregnancy.

The confessions aside, “The most pressing issue after their arrest was the registry of a case against them because there is no clause in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that covers cannibalism,” says a police official. Thus a case has been registered against them under Section 201 of the PPC and 16MPO (Causing the disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender), 297 (Trespassing on burial places, etc.) and 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs). Later the police added some charges against them based on sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997.

Interestingly, Pakistan is not the only country in the world where there is no provision in the law to tackle the crime of cannibalism. Lahore-based Barrister-at-Law Aiyan Bhutta, who deals with criminal cases, discloses that, “There is, in fact, no jurisdiction in the world where cannibalism is treated as a separate crime. Generally it is treated as murder or manslaughter.”

“The gruesome nature of the crime has created panic in the village. Many people have given up eating meat and others are now regularly frequenting the graves of their loved ones to cement the kaccha graves or to just check on those that are interred there. Usually making graves pucca is done after 40 days of death,” says Abdul Majeed, whose nephew died a week before this incident. “Now,” he said, “many people are doing this straight after burial. Our family members visit the graveyard daily to ensure my nephew’s corpse is not disinterred.” Majeed maintains he is disappointed with the reaction of local political parties and the police to the grotesque crime. “These crimes have occurred in the constituency of the Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who is otherwise so active in fighting oppression. Yet he has not even issued a media statement to condemn the crime, leave alone pay a visit to the aggrieved families,” he says.

That notwithstanding, the police have almost completed their investigations, and the perpetrators have already been placed under judicial remand in Mianwali jail where they have been incarcerated in a special cell with high security. The superintendent of the Mianwali jail, Jam Asif discloses, “They appear to be in sound physical and mental condition. They have not been behaving weirdly at all. One of them sometimes acknowledges he has committed the crime of cannibalism, and at other times he denies it altogether. The brothers eat whatever we offer them.”

Ostensibly then, it would seem the case has been virtually solved — the culprits have been arrested, the evidence gathered against them is credible and it is almost certain they will soon be awarded exemplary punishment.

But is that really the end of it? Can a crime of this nature be equated with other ‘ordinary’ offences? The fact is that the police has treated the brothers as petty criminals. They have not been interrogated by psychologists or had any medical evaluation conducted. And so far, it has not been established without doubt what the men’s motivation really was: pure cannibalistic design or an aim to sell human organs, or — as per archaic myths that prevail in village culture — to acquire ‘magical powers.’ District Police Officer Bhakkar, Hamayun Saood Sindoo contends that any complicated investigation was beyond the ken of the local police because they do not have the required facilities there to conduct such inquiries. “Nonetheless, once our investigation is completed, all the missing links will be identified,” he says.

Dr Ayesha Sitwat, acting director of the Centre for Clinical Psychology, Punjab University, Lahore, thinks that the psychological investigation of the brothers is more important than any police investigation. “It is disappointing that the brothers have not been interrogated by a psychologist. It is very important to know whether it was purely a criminal mentality that led them to perform such acts or whether they have some genuine psychological problems. The police should invite a team of psychologists to study them, but given their past record, this is unlikely. Javed Iqbal who killed 100 children in Lahore was also never interrogated by psychologists and then he committed suicide. Not studying that case was a great loss,” she says.

Barrister Aiyan Bhutta endorses 
Dr Silwat’s contention. He says the police should have invited psychologists to examine the two men. “The insanity plea exists in Pakistani law, and their lawyer can ask the court to have them examined by psychologists. If they are proved [to be] insane, their punishment can even be reduced. However, in cases of cannibalism, international courts do not usually give the insanity plea a very sympathetic hearing. Generally courts have awarded cannibalism cases maximum punishments,” contends Bhutta.

Meanwhile, virtually the entire family of the accused claims to have severed all ties with them. There are, however, still many questions that beg to be answered by the perpetrators’ kin. For example, only one sister was supposedly living with the two men, but the police recovered a body of a female from another area of Bhakkar on April 4, the same day they arrested the brothers. “Their father has identified the corpse as that of his daughter,” discloses a police official, and how much the family knew is moot. During interrogation, Arif said, “When Farman brought the first child’s body home and ate it, I told my baradari (extended family). They stopped talking to us.” That would imply that several people knew about the brothers’ activities, but neither did they attempt to stop them, nor did they inform the police about their activities. The boundary walls of the brothers’ house are not higher than five feet and their activities can easily be monitored from adjacent houses. Thus, apart from family and clan, even neighbours appear complicit in the crime, at least by way of omission if not commission.

But most of the villagers deny any prior knowledge of the crime, maintaining they only learnt of it the day the police raided the brothers’ house and found Saira’s corpse. There are, however, a few that admit it was an open secret in the village that the brothers were cannibals. “Everybody in the village had some idea about their activities, but the people of their clan attempted a cover-up because they thought if it became common knowledge, it would bring a bad name to the Rana baradari,” says Imran Haider, 19, a resident of Kahawarh Kalan.

Lending credence to this is another telling incident. Ex-councillor Rana Khalil Ahmed revealed that six months before the accused were apprehended, the open grave of a small child had been discovered in the same area, and it was widely believed that the brothers had disinterred and eaten the corpse. But their baradari members and local elders suppressed the matter.

“People in the village always suspected the men of eating the flesh of dead humans, but our minds were never really ready to accept it,” says Ahmed. Additionally, there was an element of intimidation that probably contributed to the secrecy. “Farman used to publicly brandish a knife and convey the impression in the village that he had links with very influential people and nothing would happen to him even if he killed someone,” adds Ahmad.

As an elder of the Rana clan he, however, seems even more distraught about the “bad name” he says this has given the Rana baradari than he is about the actual gruesome crimes. Gloomily, he says, “People in the city have stared calling us eaters of human flesh. I wish the brothers’ activities had never been unearthed.”

This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue of Newsline magazine.