THE dusty, potholed 11-kilometre access road that links Hussain Khanwala village with Kasur was one of the busiest in the area until a few days ago. Now, it has regained its old quiet which is broken only occasionally by the blaring horn of a motorcycle or a trundling tractor.
Life at the Hussain Khanwala adda, the central marketplace for a cluster of Kasur’s border villages, appears to have regained some normality, with the villagers lazing around and conversing about everyday affairs. One topic is the “media’s focus”, which the villagers say they are tired of.
This focus narrowed down on the village after reports of the sexual abuse of several children from the area. The villagers now speak tremulously — the shakiness of those who have barely survived a vicious storm.
“People knew about the existence of the recordings of assaults on children for quite some time,” says Mohammad Ashraf, a tea vendor in his mid-50s. “But few, if any, could claim to have actually watched the clips. It wasn’t until early this year that the recordings started to come into circulation, travelling rapidly from one mobile telephone set to another.”
It was one such recording that forced the issue into the public domain. Some six months ago, the mother of one of the victims approached the local police for the registration of a case against those who had subjected her son to sexual abuse, filmed the act and extorted money from him.
“Instead of giving us justice, the police threatened us with dire consequences if we insisted on the registration of the complaint,” the boy, who had accompanied his mother to the police station, tells Dawn.
The police snub kept the other victims from approaching the police — until July, when Mubin Ghaznavi, a young man from the village said to be previously linked to the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamaatud Dawa, somehow came into possession of several such recordings.
“Initially we tried to involve the village elders in getting justice for the victims and their families, but they didn’t listen to us,” Ghaznavi claims. “Later we approached the police but they were also under the influence of the suspects, who were being supported by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz member of the Punjab Assembly from the area, and refused to register the cases.”
Even after a series of public protests by the relatives of the victims, the police — and provincial ministers including Rana Sanaullah — kept defending the suspects, dismissing the allegation of the child sexual abuse as motivated by a “dispute over a piece of land” in the village between them and Ghaznavi.
“The land dispute has nothing to do with what the suspects have done to our children. It is being used as a ruse to cover up the scandal,” says a man who claims that his nephew was one of the children who were assaulted.
“The abuse started as far back as in 2006 and continued until 2012. The video clips that the police have seized are also from that period. How dare anyone link the land dispute [between the suspects and Ghaznavi] to the rape of children?” he asks.
One of the victims was 13 when, six years ago, the main suspect in the case forced him at gunpoint, he says, to accompany him to his place where he was drugged, raped, and filmed. “When I came to, he threatened me of dire consequences if I ever told anyone about the abuse. I kept my mouth shut all these years because of fear and shame. It was only after the recordings got out that I decided to speak up,” he says.
Others have similar stories to tell. The age of the victims when they were subjected to abuse ranged between 10 and 14; some say they were repeatedly raped for years and sometimes forced to molest others.
The exact number of children abused remains unclear because many are said to be still reluctant to step forward. “Now that we have successfully been able to rid the victims and their families of their fears, I expect more people to come forward and register cases with the police,” Ghaznavi says.
The police are not happy with the way the “media have handled the scandal”. “The facts have been exaggerated and distorted,” a police official tells Dawn on the condition of anonymity. Nevertheless, he admits the suspects might have gone entirely undetected if the media had not taken up the victims’ cause. Their plea needs to be pursued further so that some remedy can emerge. The dusty road linking Hussain Khanwala needs to be treaded a little more often, and a little more earnestly.
Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2015