GUJRAT: Police have arrested some people after a married woman, who had set herself on fire after being raped on the order of a panchayat (village council) in Dhillu Gharbi village of Gujrat district, died in Lahore’s Mayo Hospital about two weeks ago.

According to sources, the woman was about five-month pregnant when she set herself on fire in the house of her in-laws in a village of the Bhimber district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Oct 18.

In a statement to police at the Mayo Hospital a few days before her death, the woman said she had got pregnant after the rape and that she set herself on fire because she did not want to face her husband who had just returned from abroad.

The sources said the ordeal of the poor woman began a few months ago when her father was caught attempting to molest a minor girl in Dhillu Gharbi village. She was living at her parents’ home at the time because her husband worked abroad. She was sent to her in-laws’ house after she had been raped on the order of the panchayat.

Police booked her father for the attempted rape of the minor girl and arrested him on March 30. However, he was released after sometime and the matter was brought to the panchayat.

The panchayat decided that the father of the minor girl would rape the woman in punishment for her father’s attempt to molest the girl.

The sources said the woman was brought to the Mayo Hospital in a critical condition. Before her death she gave birth to a stillborn baby at the hospital.

Gujrat District Police Officer Sohail Zafar Chattha told Dawn that the superintendent of police in Bhimber sent a letter to the Gujrat police on Nov 7, informing them that a woman had attempted suicide by setting herself on fire at her in-laws’ house in Bhimber district on Oct 18 and she later died in a hospital in Lahore.

He said the woman’s father, the minor girl’s father and some members of the panchayat had been taken into custody after registration of a case against them on Nov 10.

However, he added, the matter took a new turn when parents of the deceased woman, all the suspects in the case and some people in the village denied that any meeting of the Panchayat had been held and that the woman was raped by the minor girl’s father.

The sources said the police were in search of body of the stillborn baby, who had either been buried somewhere in Lahore or thrown away somewhere after the premature delivery, in order to get a DNA report to establish whether or not the minor girl’s father was the biological father of the baby.

They said it was not clear who had removed the body from the Mayo Hospital.

The husband of the woman had produced a piece of cloth from the garbage dump at the hospital in which, he claimed, the stillborn baby had been kept after the premature delivery.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2016

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