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SAHIWAL: Amid a shutter-down strike, tension gripped Chichawatni town as scores of people protested against the “rape and murder” of a minor girl who had died a day earlier at a Lahore hospital and was laid to rest in Chichawatni on Tuesday.

Although police registered a murder FIR on a complaint of the girl’s family, they insisted that she was neither raped nor murdered. However, a high-level inquiry committee, headed by Sheikhupura Regional Police Officer Zulfiqar Hameed, has been formed on the order of the Punjab government.

The eight-year-old girl had gone to an area shop on Sunday afternoon to buy fireworks and potato crisps, but did not return. Her family mounted a search and finally some neighbours found her in what many residents claimed a deserted house with serious burn wounds.

Initially, she was taken to the Chichwatni THQ Hospital in an unconscious condition. As she suffered burn wounds, she was shifted to the Sahiwal DHQ Hospital and then to the Jinnah Hospital, Lahore for want of a burn units at the local health facilities.

The girl suffered 80 per cent burn wounds and died during treatment at the Lahore hospital.

The body was brought on Monday night to Chichawatni, where doctors carried out a post-mortem examination at the THQ Hospital and obtained samples for forensic and chemical tests.

As the news of her alleged rape and murder spread across the city, a large number of people, including youths, took to the streets and chanted slogans against culprits on Tuesday. However, their protests remained largely peaceful.

On the call of Markazi Anjuman Tajran, a complete shutter-down strike was also observed in the town.

The Tehsil Bar Association also observed a complete strike and no lawyer appeared in courts on Tuesday.

The funeral prayer for the girl was offered at the Rai Ali Nawaz Stadium at 3pm and a large number of people attended it.

A contingent of police was deployed at the girl’s house and nearby areas.

Sahiwal District Police Officer Dr Atif Ikram told Dawn that initial investigations suggested that the girl was neither raped nor murdered.

Rejecting the reports that the girl was found in a deserted house, he said the fireworks the girl bought from the area shop went off and the girl’s clothes caught fire. Some women in the area tried to put out the fire and took the girl to their house. They later handed her to her family.

He said that on the complaint of the victim’s family, the police registered a case against unknown persons under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

DPO Ikram also claimed that the girl was not mentally stable.

City SHO Qazi Basit said the police were investigating whether the girl was burnt by someone or the fireworks she was carrying caught fire.

Sources said that the police detained 10 people for questioning.

A senior police official told Dawn that the girl regained consciousness, but she did not tell her parent or anyone about any sexual assault. Also, he said, her parents did not report the possibility of the rape in the FIR lodged with the City police station.

Meanwhile, a high-level committee has been constituted for investigating the Chichawatni incident. Sheikhpura RPO Zulfiqar Hameed will be head of the committee with Gujranwala Investigations SSP Khalid Bashir Cheema, the additional secretary (judicial) of the Punjab home department and a representative of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency as its members.

The committee will submit its report after investigating the matter to dig out facts.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2018