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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Women Rights

A gang-rape survivor’s account: From Thatta to a police station in Karachi, and beyond

Text & Photographs By Urooj Zia

KARACHI: When I decided to look into a bike accident that had occurred near the Sakhi Hassan roundabout (North Nazimabad), little did I realise that I would stumble into what could arguably be a major prostitution racket in Thatta. I also had no idea that I would get a first-hand picture of our “thaana culture” and the medico-legal sector in Karachi.

A car hit a motorbike near the Sakhi Hasan roundabout around 02:10 a.m. Monday night, and fled the scene. The bike riders were fine, apart from minor scratches. Moments later, around 02:15 a.m., a white Toyota Corolla (P-1029) hit an empty car which had been parked nearby and tottered to a stop a distance away. A police mobile that had been on standby in the area rushed to the scene. Three doors of the car were wrenched open. Two men were dragged out of the front seats and a girl was dragged out of the back seat. The girl was shabbily dressed and male police officers grabbed her by the elbow and shoved her into the mobile van.

Another man was sitting on the back seat, but perhaps the police did not see him. The two men and the girl were taken to the Taimooria Police Station near Shafiq Morr (North Karachi). When the officers on duty at the police station were reminded that they could not keep the girl, “JB,” at the station, they claimed that they needed her there for investigations.

No female officers were brought in, nor were any efforts made to shift JB to the women’s police station. Early on in the investigations it became clear that JB was kidnapped and gang-raped by the men in the car. No efforts were made, however, to have a medico-legal examination done, even though in cases of rape, a medico-legal examination is paramount, and should be conducted as soon as possible, or vital evidence is lost.

While at the police station, JB was initially verbally abused by lower officers on duty. On the intervention of ASI Naeem Shaikh, however, the treatment being meted out to her improved. She was fed, and not abused verbally. Nine hours later, however, she was still being held captive at the police station. “Of course we’re not detaining her here!” SHO Tahir claimed. This went against the ground reality where he was not allowing anyone at all to take JB away.

JB said she hailed from Chilya Band in Thatta. She was married, and had a son “about this high,” she said, pointing to around two feet from the ground. She doesn’t know how old she is, nor does she know the age of her child. Her husband makes a living via minor manual labour “wherever he can find it.”

She said she had come to Thatta city to meet her mother-in-law who lives “near the police station.” She was on her way back home to her husband in Chilya Band in the evening, when she was allegedly accosted by 20-year-old Haji and Nawaz. Haji is a rickshaw driver and also works at the house of a local “thekeydaar,” Ameerudin Jokhio. Nawaz is also one of Jokhio’s employees.

“I paid Rs 100 to a rickshaw driver to take me home, when Haji and Nawaz said they’ll drop me home. They dragged me to a car and then took me to the Seth’s house,” JB said in her native Sindhi dialect. She was referring to Jokhio as “the Seth.”

“They locked me up in a room in the house, and one of the men stood guard outside,” she said. “Later, the seth gave me Rs 500. I took it at the time because I was afraid the three of them would beat me up. Then I gave it back to them.” Haji agreed that JB had given the money back to him.

“They then dragged me to the car again. All of them were drunk. When we passed the Makli graveyard, I begged them to let me go even there. I wanted to go home, but they didn’t listen to me,” JB said.

Haji and Nawaz had a different version of the story to offer here. “She’s a sex worker. She does this for a living,” they alleged. “She has been to the Seth’s house several times. Yesterday too, the Seth called for her, and we went out looking for her. We found JB boarding a rickshaw, and told her that the Seth wanted her. She came with us willingly. When the Seth gave her Rs 500, she bargained and said she’d spend the night with him for Rs 2,000.”

When asked why they felt the need to bring her all the way to Karachi if “bargains” had been struck in Thatta, both Haji and Nawaz remained silent. Incidentally, Jokhio was the fourth person in the car in Karachi Monday night. “At the time of the accident, he had been raping me again. He was very drunk,” JB said.

Ironically, SHO Tahir chose to believe Haji and Nawaz’s side of the story, even though he has yet to find proof for either version. JB said that she had been raped multiple times in the car. An officer on duty who was taking her version down in front of us chose to mould this story to read: “JB says the car was stopped at the Super Highway and she was raped there.” Representatives of War Against Rape (WAR) had accompanied me to the police station Tuesday evening. Khalida Ahmed Qadri, the WAR legal adviser, protested the officer’s version and asked him to take down exactly what JB was saying. At this point, SHO Tahir interjected with “This can’t be possible in a moving car in Karachi. I can’t accept this statement.” When he was reminded that this was merely the survivor’s statement, and what he believed or did not believe was a different matter altogether, he shrugged and said, “Oh well, I was just telling you people what I thought.”

Haji and Nawaz are paid Rs 50 to Rs 100 per day by Jokhio. “He runs an entire business this way. We regularly get girls for him,” they said. Jokhio is a known name in Dhabeji, and owns most of the shops in the bazaar there. He also runs a transport business.

Another point where Haji and Nawaz, and JB’s versions of the story diverged was the name of the place where the men found her. “She was roaming around in Workshop,” the men said. “Workshop” is a colony behind the DIG petrol pump near Makli. It is known for its brothels. A number of major communities live there, including Memons, Mallahs and Dars. A woman called Seema Memon is a known brothel owner in the area, sources from the region told Daily Times.

“No I wasn’t anywhere near that place. They lie!” JB countered. “My mother-in-law lives near the police station - nowhere near THAT place,” she said, referring to “Workshop.”

The car involved in the accident in Karachi Monday night is registered in Jokhio’s name, SHO Tahir said. “We checked the address listed there. It’s not complete, though. It read something like ‘Flat No. 7-C, Block 17, Gulshan-e-Iqbal.’ It doesn’t mention the name of the apartments,” he said. “We raided the place, but he was not there.”

When asked how a raid could have been conducted when the name of the apartment block was not mentioned, SHO Tahir changed the topic. I asked Haji and Nawaz if they had any contact numbers for their employer. “We have a mobile number,” they said. “But it is in a diary that was confiscated by the ASI last night. He said he tried dialling the number, but Seth saheb did not pick up the phone.”

Jokhio has an apartment in Karachi, they said, adding that they did not know where it was. He also had Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 in cash Monday night. “The trucks had come in, and handed the money to him. He was carrying all of it,” Haji and Nawaz said.

After spending 15 hours at the police station, JB was finally allowed to leave Tuesday evening when WAR representatives intervened and reminded the officers on duty that they had no right to detain the girl at the station. Also, 24 hours after she was first allegedly raped (05:30 p.m. Monday evening), her medico-legal examination was yet to be conducted. SHO Tahir claimed that all staff were busy in other cases, and JB’s examination would be conducted “in due time.”

“We had an entire spate of accidents in our jurisdiction Monday evening,” he said. “A woman was dying, and her relatives are influential people. They were continuously calling us up to make sure that the culprits were caught. I have to satisfy everyone who comes to me. We have limited resources here. You need a letter to have JB’s medico-legal examination conducted. It’ll be ready in two minutes.”

Half an hour later, there was still no sign of the “letter,” even though WAR representatives insisted that no such documents were required for a medico-legal examination. We then called up the Town Police Officer (TPO), who is also named Naeem Shaikh. The TPO called up the police station and the required letter was ready within the next 10 minutes. A female officer was called in to accompany us, and JB was finally free to go.

We took JB to the police surgeon’s office at the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK). The police surgeon’s office claims to function 24 hours a day. When we got there at 06:30 p.m. Tuesday, however, locks adorned all the doors, and everyone but the watchman had left. We then decided to take JB to the medico-legal department at the CHK. The Woman Medico-Legal Officer (WMLO) on duty was supposed to be Dr Farzana, a receptionist told us. Dr Farzana was nowhere to be found, even though a telephone call to her cellphone half an hour earlier had confirmed that she was at “a clinic.”

The whiteboard which marks the attendance at the Medico-Legal Department at the CHK was blank. When word went around that a rape survivor had been brought in for an examination, every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted to take a peek at her. Finally a male MLO came in. He said that he just found out that Dr Farzana had not been on duty since morning, and another WMLO would be called in from Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, North Nazimabad. He said he didn’t know how long it would take for her to get to CHK.

Forty-five minutes later, JB started getting agitated. We had made arrangements for her to be taken to Panah, a shelter home for women. She wanted to go home to her husband. When we tried to take her out of the hospital so that she could be taken to Panah, we were stopped by the female officer who had accompanied us from the Taimooria Police Station. She insisted that now the examination absolutely had to be conducted, no matter how long we had to wait for the WMLO.

The WMLO finally came in and JB was interrogated again multiple times. The examination was conducted. The female police officer accompanying us kept interrupting and asking JB a number of questions, which might be termed “unnecessary” for the sake of using a civil term. “Do you know Urdu?” she asked JB. “No,” she was told. “Really?” the officer exclaimed. “No Urdu? At all? Totally? Completely?”

She also kept pestering the entire WAR team for money for food and transport, and insisted that she had been promised that someone from the team would accompany her home. SHO Tahir had, however, clearly stated that the officer could go home on her own.

At 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night, JB was safely placed at Panah. She was heartbroken over the fact that she would not be able to see her son, but seemed satisfied with the shelter home. The next step is to reunite her with her family in Thatta.

No FIRs had been lodged until last reports came in. Officers at the Taimooria Police Station said that since JB was abducted in Thatta, the FIR would be lodged at a police station there.

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