The article was written about nineteen years ago. Surprisingly, it is still timely) The rape of innocent young women by armed gangs particularly for religious revenge is an outrageous cruelty. The police and employers who side with such gangs are outrageously cruel culprits. There is no word in the dictionary of a civilized community to condemn these morbid fascinations of fanatics. The drama of such a morbid fascination was staged for four hours on the night of the 6th of May in the year 2000 near Lahore in Pakistan when eight young Christian women were returning home with their Muslim colleagues in the factory van after work.
Some women, tired and hungry, must have been looking forward to food and a good sleep in the comfort of home. Some may have been chatting and giggling. A handful of them must have been relaxing with their eyes closed. One element that threaded these over twenty-five Christian and Muslim workers together was the freedom from fear that they shared in the climate of fellow feelings because all worked in the same factory.
They were alarmed when their van was stopped by an armed masked group of males. They ordered them to get down and the Christian girls were separated from the Muslim ones. The only male Christian factory worker with them was tied to a tree. The Christian girls must have been frozen with fear at this point. The masked gang pulled them one by one to the nearby field and raped them at gunpoint. All the Muslim girls were spared.
The police tried to suppress the sickness of the religious revenge by intimidating and even bribing the victims and their families. The Muslim manager of the stitching factory also used the tactics of intimidation and bribery to silence the victims. Yet, the parents of the victims contacted the higher authorities. To punish the tiny religious minority of the victims, sixty Christian women who were employed in that factory were dismissed from their jobs.
This gang rape took place in a country in which the religious majority can kill their wives on the suspicion they have illicit relation with other men. They call it honor killing.
This gang rape happened in a country in which women are paraded often naked by those powers who want to disgrace the families of those women. Obviously, this revolting behaviour to eight helpless innocent women was to disgrace a tiny minority of Christians to send a warning once again that this tiny minority can live only as second class citizens without rights in a country of Muslims in which most laws are to defend the majority.
This gruesomeness took place in a country where the parents of those victims cannot walk without shame on the streets and cannot look straight into the eyes of their neighbours, relatives and friends. The victims and their families will always be under the fear of catching a disease like aids. The medical facilities to have routine check-ups which are available in the west are not there. The worst part is if one of them becomes pregnant.
It is pointed out that those women were gang raped because some Muslim males harassed them continuously using sexual language for which those girls once amassed their courage to rebuke them to put a stop to that undignified behaviour. For this courage, those women were challenged that they will have to pay, and they did pay heavily for that courage that night of rape. However, the atrocity did not stop there.
A few days after that rape, police raided the houses of the victims in the night. They took the parents of the women out of their houses and began beating them like hungry wolves. The police also caught hold of the bus driver of the factory vehicle that carried those girls. The police stripped him naked and began to beat him, asking the whereabouts of the rapists. The neighbours blocked their ears with their fingers because they could not bear those heart-rending cries of the driver. When this brutality to terrorize the victims and the witnesses was going on, the police asked them to sign blank papers, threatening them that they would be implicated in false cases if they would open their mouths to witness that night raid of the police. This further revenge was because a few lines about that gang rape appeared in a newspaper and because the parents of the victims had contacted the higher authorities for justice and protection.
The police knew the rape was the outcome of the sexual harassment of some Muslim males to those Christian victims around the factory. The police also knew that the van was stopped not very far from the office of a militant outfit which is against Christians on religious ground. The police knew that the militant group is fully armed and even the government is scared to challenge this and other militant outfits.
The night raid by the police on the houses of the victims was not to unravel the mystery of the rape. The night raid was evidently another step towards revenge and also to terrorize the victims to block further publicity of the incident of rape. However, the atrocities did not stop with the police raid that night. Fundamentalists threatened those girls and their families with additional reprisals. This time human rights activists moved in to place those victims and their families in unknown locations, or maybe out of the country.
Presumably, those unfortunate victims had their younger brothers, sisters and aged parents. Some parents or members of their families included toddlers. Some of them may have been sick. Some members of their families may be heart patients-- some may have asthma-- some may be afflicted with arthritis. To move all the eight females with their families to unknown locations within a day or two needed heroic hands, faultless planning and a reliable power in a country in which the population is 95 percent Muslim, life is based on religious considerations, and the police are openly unfair to minorities. How they were transported to safety in a way that was not suspicious to the neighbourhood can only be imagined. No amount of ink will do justice to describe the horror that must have lurked in that atmosphere in which the only cheap commodity was violence.
There could have been one or several organizations which were involved in that humanitarian operation. One organization could have been human rights commission or
a church or an embassy or a combination of all and several other tolerant Muslims. Probably there was help from the military to take them out of that dangerous area. Perhaps, all those victims and their families were asked to cover themselves with complete veils, burkhas, which Muslim women wear to hide their identity. Will not the neighbours keep their eyes on their movement just for curiosity? How about if a Christians is bought with money to give information about them? These fears must have assaulted those humanitarians.
A few years ago, one of the tenants of a friend of mine moved out with a refrigerator that belonged to that apartment. A neighbour told my friend that the trailer that picked up the refrigerator bore the name of a store that dealt in old furniture. My friend phoned the police and with the help of police he was able to recover his property. It happened in Canada where people normally do not suspect their neighbours and do not keep an eye on who comes and goes in their neighbourhood, not as much as it is in Pakistan/India where gossips provide entertainments to daily life. The suspicion and curiosity would be much more than usual in that area where a grim incident based on religious revenge had taken place. How that risky operation was carried out in the cover of secrecy could be anyone's guess.
The rapists know those victims, but the victims do not know them, because they had masks. They cannot depend on police, because the police have demonstrated their support openly for the gang as they had demonstrated repeatedly previously. Will the new locations be safe? Will the victims be able to go shopping and attend church services alone? Will the company of their parents be enough if they need medical care or wish to attend family gatherings? Will their brothers and parents not tire of this dangerous duty? Will they be able to face the armed gangs of violent fanatics? Those rapists might have been from the police force or from influential segments of society. They could have been their next door neighbour, the persons they meet on the street or anyone, including their bosses in the factory where they worked. How can those poor families continue protecting themselves for the rest of their lives? Who will have the courage to marry those mobile carcasses? This has happened in a country where no decent person would think of proposing to those victims, where the demon of fear in one shape or form will follow them like their own shadows, where those victims will carry those deep, deep scars for ever, and where it is certain that their lives will not be normal from then on. No matter where they will go, those psychological wounds will go with them-- hounding them like mad dogs.
One hope is their church. Are their churches, who also need protection, in a position to protect them for the rest of their lives? Imagine those families confined day in and day out within the loneliness of their houses with their doors secured all the time. Any knock at the door or any stir by the wind will be enough to increase the palpitation of their hearts. How long will they be able to live at the mercy of their church and friends within that suffocating detention? Is it not an imprisonment? Will they be content with that life without freedom? It is not a matter of a day or a month or even of a year.
How long will those innocent souls be able to put up with those restrictions-- with that atmosphere filled with fear--with that burden of solitude--with those thorns of pain-- just for the sake of their personal religious beliefs? How long will they be able to hide from terrorism, money, politics and power which are in the hands of fanatics. Will they be able to find a consoling oasis in the tumultuous waters of religious bigotry? Who is going to rekindle the roots of their faith in the goodness of humanity? Who will prevent their plant of trust from withering?
Imagine living in a country in which the government is impotent in catching the criminals who have the courage to announce publicly for religious revenge on innocent
young women because they are from a group of religious minorities. Imagine how life would be if a section of citizens who are born in a country in which their ancestors were born have no recourse to any means, not even to their parliamentarians-- not even to the court-- to have their grievances redressed. Imagine a girl becoming homeless in her own home.
Most of the media was silent for obvious reasons over the gang rape. The lawyers have been timid for years to accept cases in which fundamentalists are involved. Bishop John Joseph was driven to commit suicide for this reason. The courts do not feel comfortable to hear such cases because of the threats-- Arif Hussain Bhatti, a supreme court judge was killed because he set a Christian free from the charge that he wrote something against Prophet Mohammed on the walls of a mosque.
The worst part is the destruction of the economic back of those innocent women. Is it not enough to destroy the peace of their days and nights? The other women workers of the same factory who had nothing to do with the rape were also dismissed because they were Christians. How must they have reacted at losing their financial security? Will they be sympathetic to these victims? Possibly some of them must be cursing those eight victims for bringing misery to them as well. Some of them may be needing money for medical treatment for their parents or spouses or to pay for the education of their children. Who can dare to stand by them openly in a country which is open to the stifling smoke of fanaticism and violence.
The victims have been stigmatized. Therefore, it is unlikely for them to get another job particularly when unemployment and discrimination are on the increase. Possible employers will be afraid of hiring them for fear of reprisals from the rapists and police. The wings of their freedom have been clipped. Who would like to socialize with them? There would be a wall of fear and doubt on both sides. Perhaps only those eight families will socialize with one another cut off from the rest of the world, always expecting some unexpected blows from somewhere. This means a lifelong responsibility of the humanitarian agency or agencies to look after them if those victims are inside the country. This also means their lifelong silent suffering--their death at every moment if they are not moved to a country of freedom and hope.
This rape happened in a country which has yet to recognize a woman as a full human being. According to the law of the land, a woman's evidence in court is half of the male. This rape happened in a country in which the laws of evidence and adultery do not meet the accepted international standards. This rape happened in a country in which several Christian victims of rape had been accused of adultery in the past. There have been a number of cases when the abducted Christian girls were forced at gunpoint to recite the Muslim creed which is all that is needed to be a Muslim. This gives the abductor a legal right to marry his victim even if the victim is already married and has children. There is no need to have the former marriage legally dissolved and settle the fate of the children. Such victims, converted Muslims under force, are not allowed by law to see their families because they became of a different religion.
It has happened with Asiya Parveen when she was 13 years old. 12 witnesses saw Javad Iqbal following her into the fields on the 12th of October, 1996. In spite of witnesses, police and judiciary sided with the rapists. A judge charged her for having sex outside marriage. The penalty for Asiya under this law was 80 times lashes as well as damages. The establishment turned a victim into a criminal, manipulating the law. It also happened to 14 year old Nasreen Daniel Neno who was abducted, and raped several times. She was also convicted of having sex outside of her marriage. Even in her case, a victim became a criminal. She was forced to marry her abductor publicly to save her life and also of her parents.
If it can happen to Asiya Parveen and Nasreen Daniel Neno and to several others, anything can happen to these unfortunate victims any time. There is one word for those victims and their families. And that word is despair-- that word could be loneliness-- that word could be frustration-- that word could be moving carcases.
They will be breathing all their lives with hurt and humiliations in an environment that is hostile and religiously revengeful. How can they run away from 95 percent of the population and police when they have gone to the higher authorities for justice. Even those higher authorities will not be able to give justice in spite of their desire to do so because of the climate in which religion dominates every segment of Pakistan society.
It also means that fanaticism has penetrated even at those places where it is not supposed to. The police do not seem to be the defenders of the weak any more. Instead of the defenders of the weak, police are now the defenders of the faith of Islam.
One ardent testimony is the murder of Naimat Ahmar on the 6th of January in 1992 which is the first known murder of a Christian for blasphemy. Naimat was stabbed seventeen times in the school compound where he was a teacher while the staff was around. The police officer who came to arrest, first embraced the murderer for doing his duty. In jail, the murderer was visited daily by several people who garlanded him and also gave gifts for his courage and for saving the honour of the Prophet. Several Muslim cleric and organizations issued statements in the favour of the murderer, calling him a martyr. He received special treatment because the jail authorities considered him a devotee of the Prophet Mohammed. In Faisalabad, the killer became a hero over night.
Another case is the attack on Shantinagar and Khanewal. When around forty thousand zealots attacked Shantinagar, a Christian village, there were around two hundred police officers with them. Those zealots destroyed the village right in front of the police.
There is prejudice among police officers towards the minorities. They usually side with Muslims as much as it would be possible for them. Just one case from Human Rights Monitor 2000 by the National Commission for Justice, Lahore, explains it further through the case of a 12 year old Rabina from Chak 27/2-RA of District Okara. Shafiq and Nasir attempted to rape her on the 7th of May, 1999. As she shouted desperately for help, both culprits ran away. The police refused to register the case because the culprits belonged to influential circles.
It has been pointed out often in the media that police officials are recruited not on the basis of their eligibility but on the basis of who recommends them for the job and also on the basis of the bribes they offer to the selecting team. After the selection, these new recruits want their money back and also to make a profit. This cycle of bribery does not break. Moreover, they are puppets in the hands of those who recommend them. Above all, their salaries are very low. For this single reason, they can be bought easily by culprits. Also, it has been pointed out that these police officers have enormous powers. Often girls are gang-raped by the police officials themselves because they are in a position to manipulate the laws of the country.
The power is in the hands of the main stream politicians who represent Muslims. The local administration is afraid of these politicians. The same politicians do not represent the Christian population of their constituency. By law, Christians cannot vote to a Muslim contestant. Therefore Christians go to Christian parliamentarians who do not represent their constituency-- they represent the whole country. And they live hundred of miles from the victims. Even if those parliamentarians show interest in the case, the local administration will not care because that Christian parliamentarian does not represent them. Christian victims are deprived of most human rights and have to approach authorities under the clouds of social, legal and religious discrimination.
The rape of eight Christian girls on the 6th of May is not the first scene nor it seems to be the last one on the stage of the religious terror. The January 2000 issue of Reader's Digest carried a sad story of Seema and her husband Khushia Masih who lost their three daughters. The other sad stories include those of Shazia, Nazia, Sahida Mughal, Angelina, Naseem Bibi, Nasreen Daniel, and the list can go on. These and several other acts of violence on girls from a tiny minority are the outcome of the terror that the Blasphemy laws have promoted.
Pakistan was built on the foundation of fear, including the fear of the exploitation of minorities by the majority. Fear did not disappear within the territory of the new Muslim country. The rulers of Pakistan always tried to spread more fears. Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled from 1977 to 1988, surpassed them all. In order to tighten the grip of rein, Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan, divided the citizens with the sword of fear and other means. He was successful in his purpose because the atmosphere of religious bigotry was already there from the day one in the life of Pakistan. He was successful as a ruler because he was ever ready to do anything to please the Muslim clergy.
During the reign of Zia, religion dominated politics. Zia's laws of blasphemy and the long history of martial laws have created nothing but fear in the land where the worst genocide of the twentieth century has taken place when the subcontinent was divided. The blasphemy laws, which are the most ambiguous laws of the twentieth century, have created fear in minorities.
The terror is spread mostly by religious extremist organizations who are known for recruiting notorious killers and other law-breakers, providing them with refuge and weapons. These well-trained young terrorists have been programmed to do anything in the name of religion. These robots are killing Christians, Ahmaddiys, Sunnis and Shias. They do not hesitate to enter a mosque in order to kill the praying congregation. They are ready to kill any number of innocent people in order to get their victim.
There are people all over Pakistan who are motivated on religious grounds to accuse non-Muslims or even Muslims of a different sect for having said or behaved against Islam. Religious parties of Islam are instigating illiterate Muslims against the Non-Muslims. They convince those illiterates to patronize holy wars to bring the glory of the past to Muslims; moreover to enter heaven. The religious fundamentalist elements in Pakistan are more active in the government and in the society than they were ever before.
Almost since Zia, no citizen is free at any level in Pakistan. Fear has made individuals so weak that they are afraid of expressing what they think is right, including the media as it has been testified to in the case of the eight Christian girls. The germs of fear are everywhere and in every form. In some places, Christians have stopped going to church because of the fear that the congregation would be attacked. Mothers tell their children every morning not to talk about religion in or outside the class with anyone. Minorities can neither work nor travel in peace. Even the expression of happiness seems dangerous. No one can tell when someone will appear with a revolver to kill for pleasure or to get a quick passport to heaven for killing an infidel. In some towns, when Christians leave the house for work or shopping, the family will pray for their safe return. If there is a knock at the door, the demons of fear will grab their hearts. They cannot sleep peacefully in the night. The peace of the day has gone. They are strangers in their own home.
This situation is the child of the separate election system and the blasphemy laws which were introduced to please Muslims. Minorities were happy when on the 21st of April of this year the Chief Executive of Pakistan Pervaiz Musharraf announced to make it difficult for the charges to be made under the blasphemy laws. Yet, on the 2nd of May, a mob armed with weapons, attacked the locality where Ashiq Masih was residing. Bloodshed was averted due to the timely arrival of police. The only crime of Ashiq Masih was to accept Christ again after becoming a Muslim. He was arrested and put in jail.
Within weeks of his announcement, Chief Executive General Pervaiz Musharraf backed off from his human rights package related to the procedural amendment in the blasphemy laws. He did it on the 20th of May under the pressure of Muslim clerics. It demonstrates that Islamic extremists in Pakistan are very strong and organized. Even the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, had admitted this fact when she demanded help from the USA to curb religious terrorism in Pakistan. General Musharraf knows the secret of the success of Zia-ul-Haq who ruled Pakistan for around fifteen years. He knows that the power of Nawaz Sharif was brought down by the same religious organizations.
The repressive laws of blasphemy which result in religious revenge and which promote fear have failed to give jobs to citizens. There is so much addiction to drugs, and the weapons of destruction are easily available in the country. Also there is much environmental destruction. Evidently, the discriminatory laws have failed to usher in an era of peace. There is sufficient capital, technology and ability to open the doors to prosperity. But the resources are being wasted in feeding the tiger of fear. To prevent the economic wealth of the few, efforts are made to create imaginary giants to foster fears to keep the mind of the people busy. The result is violence, revenge and attacks, like on Shantinagar, Khanewal, churches, and false accusations under the blasphemy laws to condemn and kill the tiny minority of Christians. Instead of focusing on the economic ills, efforts are made to drug the citizens with the opium of religion and to terrorize minorities with morbid behaviours. The net result is more terror and hard life, particularly for Christians.
The outcome is more rapes-- more abductions of the girls from minorities--more forced conversions into Islam--more pains to young girls and their brothers, mothers and fathers-- more despair among Christians-- more responsibilities to poor churches who are now serving the poor-- more growth of fear and inferiority complexes. In the soul-destroying climate, Christians are likely to embrace Muslim practices to please their Muslim neighbours. The outcome of this frightening situation is more terror-- more locusts of lawlessness to hover freely-- more anarchy along with division and hatred among religions and denominations.
The incident of the gang rape of eight innocent Christian girls once again sends a message to non-Christian, particularly to Muslim and Hindu nations. It sets a bad example for them to be more unfair to the Christian population of their countries without fear from world opinion. It seems what is happening to Christians in India is due to the encouragement provided by such sad incidents in Pakistan and a silent or a semi-silent attitude of democratic governments.
The incident of the gang rape of eight Christian girls once again sends a message to the democracies of the world to break their silence and be more responsive-- to give due consideration to religious minorities, so that minorities may be able to lead a meaningful life with respect and dignity.
This incident of terror once again sends a message to most non-Christians who aspire to live in peace in a tolerant atmosphere. It is right time for peace-loving Muslims, other communities and Christians to join hands to break the cycle of fear to work for the betterment in a cycle of harmony. The new Millennium expects from them to work for the lifting of souls like those of eight victims and their families out of the dungeon of disability and despair into a world of freedom and hope.
This incident of religious revenge once again sends a message to the Christians of Pakistan that they cannot rely entirely on the west. It is mainly because religious cleansing of minorities is just a concept in
the west. Regions like North America have not gone through such religious riots and therefore it is hard for the people of this region to grasp its seriousness.
The Christians of Pakistan cannot depend on the west because the west does not understand how the minorities can be crushed under the religious culture of Pakistan. Due to this lack of understanding, these Christian nations have questionable policies concerning the acceptance of refugees. They do not realize that even to apply for a visa for a person from a minority group in Pakistan is beset with problems-- embassies like that of Canada are manned by local Muslims, who are more or less the product of the same environment. To expect them all to be fair towards minorities is a far-fetched expectation.
The raping of eight Christian girls by armed fanatics for religious revenge once again sends a message to the minorities that they have to help themselves. In a nation like Pakistan, they do not have constitutional rights to shout for a life-jacket when they are being sunk by the bear of hatred; they have no constitutional right to cry when they are wounded with the sword of injustice; they have no right to seek a balm when their body pains under the burden of discrimination. It is said that fanatics want to treat minorities as second class citizens. This is actually a mild term. Fanatics actually see a distorted image of the minorities in the dusty mirror of history. They see minorities as zimmies, slaves. This means that their assets, their properties in which they include also children and women, are at the mercy of their masters-- their rulers--their conquerors-- in other words, the majority. In order to change the course of their history once again, the minorities will have to find means from and within themselves.
About Stephen Gill:
Stephen Gill, a multiple award winning Indo/Canadian self-exiled poet, fiction-writer and essayist, has authored more than thirty books. He is the subject of doctoral dissertations, and research papers. Thirteen books of critical studies have been released by book publishers on his works and more are on the way. His poetry and prose have appeared in nearly one thousand publications. The focus of his writing is love and peace.