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Children light candles at a vigil for Zainab at Karachi Company on Thursday. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
Children light candles at a vigil for Zainab at Karachi Company on Thursday. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

RAWALPINDI/TAXILA: Indignation and anger over the brutal rape and murder of young Zainab spilled out onto the streets of the twin cities and nearby Taxila on Thursday, as students, activists, members of civil society and people from all walks of life came out to demand justice for the innocent girl.

In Rawalpindi, students from the Pir Mehar Ali Shah Arid Agriculture Rawalpindi (PMAS-AAUR) gathered on Murree Road near Shamasbad to protest the gruesome murder.

Carrying placards and banners bearing slogans decrying the role of the police and other law enforcement agencies, the activists called on the state to bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible.

‘Arrest the rapist and punish him publicly’, ‘Stop violence against children’ and ‘We condemn government silence over this sadistic incident’ were some the slogans.

Activists gather at Buddhist stupa in Taxila, block GT Road; students in Islamabad call on army chief to ensure justice for bereaved family

Addressing the protesters, student leaders vehemently condemned the Kasur incident and the subsequent episode of police brutality against innocent demonstrators. They said that as many as 12 children were sexually assaulted in Kasur over the past year, whereas police had failed in nabbing the culprits.

The sexual assault on Zainab have rattled the whole country, and scores of residents of the Glass Factory area also staged a protest against the kidnapping and murder of the eight-year-old. Blocking main Glass Factory Square to traffic, protesters decried the police and the Punjab government for their failure.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah activists also gathered outside the Rawalpindi Press Club and held a demonstration to condemn the killing of Zainab in Kasur. Carrying banners and placards, the protesters flayed the police and provincial government for not arresting the culprits so far and called on Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to take action against the negligent officials.

Meanwhile, in Islamabad, a few feet from a protest regarding missing persons, students from various universities in the capital gathered to condemn the Kasur tragedy.

However, instead of demanding justice from the Punjab government, students from Hamdard University, Quaid-i-Azam University, Preston University and others urged the army chief to intervene to ensure that justice was served.

“We do not want to ask the Punjab government for justice as it is responsible for human rights violations and was allegedly behind the Model Town killings. We can only turn to the army chief to bring punish Zainab Ansari’s murderers,” said Zabiullah, a student from Gilgit-Baltistan.

Another student demanded the public execution of Zainab’s murderer, saying: “If they can publicly hang a child molester in Iran, they can do the same here to show zero tolerance for such heinous crimes.”

In Taxila, a candlelight vigil was organised at the site of the ancient Buddhist Dharmarjika Stupa, near Taxila, and attended by students from different educational institutions. The site, which dates back to the 3rd century BC, is said to be the site of the revival of Buddha’s message of peace and tolerance.

Drawing parallels between the historic significance of the location, activist Asim Meer said: “Civil society has been mobilised, you will see participation from different institutions in the protest here and we all demand justice for Zainab.”

He said the site was selected for a candlelight vigil and prayers for Zainab as Mauryan emperor Ashoka selected this place for the revival of peace and tolerance.

In Attock, the legal fraternity observed a strike to register their protest against the murder of young Zainab, as well as the killing of two protesters by police. Lawyers boycotted the courts on the call of the Punjab Bar Council, while lawyers in Taxila also observed a “black day” on Thursday and have refused to attend routine proceedings of the courts.

In Taxila, various student groups rallied at Taxila Chowk and blocked traffic on GT Road to register their protest against the Punjab government’s highhandedness. In Wah Cantonment, a protest rally was taken out by the Islami Jamiat Talaba – the student wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami - at Lalarukh Chowk to protest against police failure to arrest the culprits responsible for the abduction, rape and murder of Zainab.

Jamal Shahid also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018