March Issue 2019

By | Newsbeat National | Published 8 months ago

Villagers protesting Farishta’s disappearance.

Six-year-old Farishta has been missing for four months. On the day of her mysterious disappearance, she asked her mother for Rs 10 and ran to a nearby shop. No one has seen her since. Farishta’s father visited the local police station to lodge an FIR. Instead of registering the complaint, the police hurriedly started a search operation in the neighbourhood, but were unable to find any clue as to the minor’s whereabouts. 

Farishta’s maternal uncle, Saeed Khan, drove with a friend to the surrounding villages on his motorcycle, spreading the word of his niece’s disappearance. The news was also disseminated through the loudspeakers of mosques. Farishta’s family lives in the Chamtar Union Council of Mardan district. In the last few months, there have been frequent incidents of abduction, sexual assault and subsequent killing of minors in the district that have attracted the attention of the local media.

Women and men poured down the narrow alleys, towards Farishta’s home and hujra. “We are in a state of distress and don’t know what to do,” says Farishta’s father, Hazrat Bilal, who owns a tailor’s shop in the bazaar. He has searched almost the entire district as well as parts of Punjab, but has not been able to find his daughter. Parents are, undoubtedly, responsible for their kids, but where is the state? 

After waiting well over a month, the villagers and relatives of Farishta arranged a protest in front of the Mardan Press Club. They tried their best to highlight her abduction in the mainstream media but to no avail. “The state machinery and a dead society are responsible for the flourishing of the bestial,” says a distraught Saeed Khan. Despite the search, the police has failed to recover or find any information on the six-year-old girl.                                   

In October 2018, a Peshawar sessions court sentenced Attaullah Marwat, owner of a private school, to 105 years in jail and fined him Rs 1.4 million on charges that included sexually exploiting schoolchildren (boys and girls) and filming them with hidden cameras. Cases of abduction, sexual assault and killing of children have suddenly surfaced throughout the country in recent months. 

Abdul Sattar, who works for The Daily Surkhab and Radio Tribal News Network (TNN) in Mardan, and has covered most incidents of the child killings, says, “the hype of the Zainab case encouraged people in this part of the country to speak up, although it was not possible in the Pashtun belt, due to the fear of ‘honour’ and ‘shame.’” 

The case of Asma in Gujar Garhi Union Council received wide coverage in the media and it was the talk of the town for quite some time. However, the local PTI MPA attempted to have the words ‘sexual assault’ removed from the investigation; he and PTI workers were of the view that the girl had not been raped before being killed. The then district nazim, Himayat Ullah Mayar, of the Awami National Party (ANP), stood firmly with the family of the victim and informed the media that the girl had indeed been assaulted before being killed. The PTI MPA organised protests against the nazim on Swat Road, claiming that he had dishonoured the victim’s family by saying that she had been raped. When the forensic reports were made public, it became clear that the nazim had been correct all along. Now the culprit in the case is behind bars for life.

Eight-year-old Arif, Saeed Bacha’s only son, disappeared in July 2018, from Babini Union Council, where he lived. The entire village conducted a search for him but to no avail. Bacha, a driver, spent the entire night searching for his only son. His barely conscious mother, Khadija, prayed with the women of the neighbourhood for Arif’s safe recovery. After 24 hours, the dead body of the boy was found by his uncle in the sugarcane fields nearby and was rushed for a postmortem. Altaf Gul, a relative, who accompanied the body to the hospital, says the doctor took three days to produce the postmortem report. 

The police arrested some of Arif’s neighbours and cousins. One cousin, Kamran, a 17-year-old epilepsy patient, was found to be the culprit. He was the son of the uncle who had found Arif’s body in the fields. After a few weeks, the mother and the father of the dead boy appeared in court and forgave the killer. “It is an irreparable loss and massive shock, but we have to get over this phase of our lives,” says Bacha. 

Janis Khan, the Superintendent of Police in charge of the investigation, says that while such atrocities have always existed, it is the media that now enables parents to speak out. People from a wide range of backgrounds “are involved in the attempted rape and murder of minors – that’s why the police cannot blame it on only one segment of society,” he says. In Asma’s case, for instance, the culprit was an illiterate boy – a hotel employee, while in other cases, it turns out to be the relatives or people close to the victims, he adds.

In many cases, owing to a weak investigation and pressure from local feudals and jirgas in the name of honour, the perpetrators roam free. Despite the computerisation of police records, the district’s investigation bureau is unable to provide even an all-year-round data of sexual attacks on minors.

Jalala village is located in the Takht Bhai tehsil of Mardan district, on the Mardan-to-Swat road. Khan Bahadur, a retired employee of the Frontier Constabulary, led a contented life with his family. His 14-year-old son, Esa Khan, studied in Islamabad with the backing of his maternal uncles. Before his 10th grade exam, Esa Khan came to the village to meet family members, as he would be busy revising after that. A day before returning to Islamabad, he went to the local mosque for the Isha prayer. After a few hours, Esa’s dead body was presented to his parents, sisters and brothers.

“Without sex education, our society cannot overcome these heinous crimes,” warns psychiatrist Iftikhar Hussain. “Teachers and parents have to tell kids about when and how to protect themselves. Paedophiles are sexually attracted to children; they isolate them and then assault them,” he continues. “Because state institutions are so lax, paedophiles are psychologically strong and able to fulfil their lust.”

Esa Khan’s village public school teacher tried to sexually assault him. When Esa resisted, the teacher shot him with his pistol out of fear that he would tell his father. The world of Esa’s parents has ground to a halt since then. “Life is purposeless now, he [Esa] was our pride and asset,” says his mother, Aneela Gul. The teacher was arrested by the police, but was later released on bail. Esa’s family was pressurised to compromise, but the parents did not give in.

Today, the victim’s family live in Punjab and have taken on a new identity; they do not want to be traced. “I left my hometown, I hate that spot now,” Khan Bahadur says. “Esa was an intelligent, respectful and caring boy; he wasn’t made for this deceitful world.” Esa’s father could not pursue his son’s case as he could not afford to pay the lawyer’s fee. Getting justice in Pakistan is no easy task, he says. “I miss Esa badly and whenever I cry, I tell myself that justice will be served on judgement day – without a lawyer’s fee,” says Esa’s mother.