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    women dyeing in police custody

    Women dying in police custody

    Dr. Ijaz Ahsan
    The other day a young woman by the name of Masoom Fatima died in police custody in Liaquatabad Police Station area in Lahore. The police say she committed suicide by taking poison; the relatives allege the police forced her to take a poisonous liquid. This type of statement by the police that the prisoner committed suicide is not new, however the details of the story keep changing. Over a number of years and in dozens of cases the police story used to be that the prisoner committed suicide, nearly always in the bathroom. In the past they used to claim that he hanged himself from the shower. This is perhaps the first occasion that they are alleging that the accused drank the liquid kept for cleaning the sink, which was poisonous.
    The police never explain why a young person in the full bloom of her youth should commit suicide. If on the other hand one was to believe their statement that the prisoner in fact committed suicide, then they stand indicted on another charge; one can easily imagine how severe must have been the torture which forced a young person to commit suicide.
    One thing is certain and not even disputed by the police: the court ordered the police to take the prisoner to jail for judicial custody, while the police took her to the police station despite the clear court orders.
    The police investigating officer has mildly reprimanded the police station staff for keeping in the bathroom a poisonous substance where a prisoner could take it. Indirectly, he has tried to pass off the case as one of just a little carelessness on the part of the police staff. Another officer has expressed his dismay that the staff took the prisoner to the police station although there is no justification for keeping the accused in the police custody after the court refuses to grant physical remand. According to this officer, the staff made a mistake and got the police department in trouble, giving the relatives of the accused a chance to exploit the situation. But wait a minute. These same relatives had just lost a dear one. What is more. they lost a daughter, and she died in illegal police custody, considering the superior officer's own admission that she should have been taken to jail. And this was a young woman, not a man! Dear readers, if God forbid any of our own daughters had been taken away by the police who had in due course handed us her dead body, how would we have reacted if a police officer had shown his concern only at the slight embarrassment caused to the department?
    Young men have been dying in police custody since a number of years. Human rights groups have been crying hoarse over the matter, but their protests have proved to be cries in the wilderness. Now women have started dying in police custody. The people never believed the police in the past when they claimed they had not killed those young men. In the case of this woman people are going to be even less convinced by the police pleading innocence. They are all going to believe she was raped and killed, as her parents allege.
    Even in Kashmir, where human rights violations on massive scale have earned our loud protests and have attracted worldwide condemnation, although prisoners have been dying in police custody, it has never been women. It is easy to see what message this death gives to the world, and specially to Kashmiris, whom we would dearly love to vote in a plebiscite for accession to Pakistan. Why should they want to be a part of this country which is unique in the whole world in that over here even women die in police custody?
    The main reason why these women die unsung and unwept is that they are poor and have no resources for really high class legal aid. Other reasons include the fear on the part of reporting medical officers of reprisal by the law enforcers if they write the truth of the matter. However, the victims of cruelty by law enforcers in this country are not confined to the poor. Once in a blue moon even the daughter of a very big man suffers the same fate. The daughter of a very important political leader was gang-raped all night by law enforcers and yet the then President of Pakistan was not available to her father, who happened to be one of the most respected leaders of our independence movement.
    In that case the only reason was that the real perpetrators of the crime, at whose behest the obnoxious deed was done, were very important people, and closely linked with the President himself. Incidentally, it happened during a time we had a woman as prime minister. We talk a lot about introducing even-handed justice as in the time of Hazrat Omar; we insult the memory of the great and glorious caliph by so much as talking about him.
    In the case of a very big man, even the very important father of the victim could not get justice from the head of state because the real criminal was a close relative of the latter. In such a country it should not surprise anyone therefore that a poor man's daughter is fair game for anyone and everyone, specially a law enforcer.
    Every successive government comes in with a promise to reform the police. And yet acts of gross cruelty on the part of policemen get more and more common. This ghastly business of women dying in police custody has taken us another giant step down the steep and slippery slope of degeneration and decay. Considering the ever-worsening record of the law enforcement departments in this country I have the sickening feeling that this will not be the last death of a young woman in police custody. In fact now that this psychological barrier has been crossed successfully and uneventfully by the police, there will be many more such cases, in fact an ever-increasing number of them, until they cease to be news. The government should not look on helplessly but should do something. Else God have mercy on us!

    ŠThe Nation Group of Publications Pvt Ltd

    Lahore Karachi