August Issue 2010

By | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

The Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) is still trying to come to grips with the rape of its 22-year-old, third-year Christian trainee nurse on July 13. As mixed details about the case emerge, the power play heats up and hopes of justice fizzle out.

The trainee nurse was found unconscious with a head injury near the Doctors’ Backyard Mess, where the accused medico-legal officer (MLO) Dr Jabbar Memon resided illegally. She was allegedly raped in his apartment and later pushed out through the window. Later, Dr Memon also jumped out of the window and hurt himself while trying to escape when hospital authorities showed up at his doorstep.

Since the rape, the nursing community, the media, some human rights organisations and government officials have agonised publicly over the assault. The accused, Dr Memon, has an unwavering record of illegal activities. Dr Seemi Jamali, the joint executive director of JPMC, admitted on several television channels after the incident that he was an “illegal occupant” at the hospital’s housing colony. According to a private news channel, the accused had been suspended and transferred several times during his tenure. After this incident, he was sacked by the government.

A source at the Sindh health department told Newsline that Dr Memon’s charge sheet consists of numerous offences including failure to appear in court and in front of the special medical board to defend medico-legal reports he had authored. The source said he had been suspended around two months prior to this incident. When asked why he wasn’t removed from the JPMC premises by the law-enforcement authorities, the source said that there are certain procedures that have to be followed before such actions can be taken, such as issuing show-cause notices. As far as Dr Jabbar’s illegal occupation is concerned, the source said that this was JPMC’s responsibility, not theirs.

The JPMC had issued several notices to Dr Memon to vacate. Ostensibly, a search operation is currently in progress at the JPMC to identify all illegal occupants and have them removed. “But this should have been done much earlier,” adds the source.

The Pakistan Nursing Association’s (PNA) Sehr Iqbal, appearing on the same television programme as Dr Jamali, added that Dr Memon had threatened the victim before the incident at the JPMC while she was on duty. She said that the rogue MLO along with a few other men — all in a drunken stupor — were then removed from the ward by the Rangers stationed at the hospital. But Dr Jamali said this was not on record. She added that an FIR against the MLO had been lodged and the hospital will also conduct an internal inquiry into the matter.

Preliminary medical reports suggested that the victim might have been subjected to gang rape. So did a lot of other statements.

After regaining consciousness, the victim apparently spoke to MPA Humaira Alwani. Alwani told the media that according to the victim she had been subjected to gang rape by the MLO and others after being forcibly taken to his apartment.

However, in her official statement, the victim has alleged that her friend, also a nurse at the JPMC, lured her into going to Dr Memon’s residence with promises of getting her marks in the nursing exams increased. Dr Memon’s driver picked her up along with her friend. A report in Dawn quotes a police official as saying, “The nurse was later left alone inside the apartment where the MLO allegedly sexually assaulted her. She jumped out of the kitchen window when the suspect became violent and slapped her several times across the face.”

However, the convener of the health department inquiry committee, Dr Abdul Majid, told Dawn that the victim said in her statement the MLO raped her and when she tried to escape he became extremely violent and threw her out of the kitchen window from his first-floor apartment.”

Dr Memon is in police custody but his driver as well as the nurse who brought the victim to the doctor’s house are still free. According to a report in Dawn, “the MLO conceded that the trainee nurse was present at his apartment on July 13 but denied that he assaulted her sexually.”

Meanwhile, the victim has been shifted to her house in Korangi. SSP Aamir Farouqui told Newsline that she needs to be cross-examined and the details of her statement need to be checked for authenticity.

In fact, there are discrepancies in the victim’s statement and those of others along with conflicting reports in the media. Was she pushed or did she jump herself? Was Dr Jabbar the only one who raped her? The answers to these questions have been changed by the victim and others involved in the case. This could lead to difficulties in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation, who was told by policemen that she could not meet the victim, says, “I fear that this victim will not get justice. Her sister and her family are receiving threats. They are scared now.”

Even Humera Alwani has not issued any further statements. She told Newsline that the victim was disoriented and in a state of trauma when she met her. This could be the reason why her statement changed.

But others are skeptical. There has been talk of Dr Memon’s political clout. A source at the JPMC said, “The fact that the JPMC’s administration has filed an FIR is a big step in itself given the backing that this MLO has. Dr Memon is rumoured to have links with the PPP and the Jiye Sindh Qaumi Mahaz.”

“I have heard that the MLO has links with the PPP, but our party leaders are with the victim,” says Alwani. PPP’s Sharmila Faruqi too has been ballyhooing her party’s support for the victim with frequent visits to the JPMC flanked by cameramen.

Meanwhile, this incident serves as an eye-opener on the plight of the nursing community. Sehr Iqbal of the PNA reveals that the two main problems nurses face at the JPMC are a lack of finances and inadequate security. “We placed a demand for changing rooms two years ago. Currently nurses don’t have changing rooms or any private space. Even though an engineer from the Pakistan Public Works Department (PWD) visited the hospital two years ago, he has yet to submit a report.”

“Doctors have four to five rooms,” says the vice president of PNA’s JPMC unit, Mohammad Akhtar Joya, “whereas nurses have no space.” After sunset the nursing staff becomes vulnerable to security threats. “We want a chaar diwari to make this a safe working place. After the bomb blast at JPMC just a few months ago, this issue was taken up with the high-ups; however, nothing has been done.”

“Even the World Health Organisation funds for advanced courses for nurses don’t reach us. And our stipend has only recently been increased through a notification. Otherwise it was lower than the national average,” Iqbal adds.

Another source of concern for the nursing staff is the residential accommodation for JPMC’s medical staff. “JPMC is a Mecca for political workers and members of student federations. They are extremely influential as is the qabza mafia. Allotment of housing is highly sought after at the JPMC,” says Joya. Other sources concurred, adding that nurses are at times coerced into having affairs with influential people and that doctors at the JPMC rent out their flats or use them for illegal practices.

Given that two women are heading the JPMC, Dr Tasneem Ahsan and Dr Seemi Jamali as executive director and joint executive director respectively, one would have expected them to be more receptive and sensitive to the needs of the nursing community. It is therefore surprising that these grievances remain unaddressed.

In the case of the trainee nurse, while the JPMC has filed an FIR, backdoor wheeling, dealing and out-of-sight slimeball lobbyists working in Dr Jabbar Memon’s favour cannot be ruled out. It remains to be seen whether the MLO will be sentenced or allowed to get away scot-free because of his political clout.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of the print version of Newsline.