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The same old January

Updated January 04, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

IT’S been exactly one year since little Zainab went missing in Kasur.

Her body was later found and, much outrage and hundreds of DNA tests later, a man was convicted and executed for raping and killing her. But missing still are signs that Pakistanis are any wiser for having gone through this, one of the most painful ordeals to have gripped the nation last year. What had come under vigilance and censure in a street in Kasur has been found rampant in Badami Bagh, Lahore, and in many other places we have accidentally discovered or are yet to stumble upon.

As if to mark the one year anniversary of the Zainab case, on Tuesday, the FIA revealed the details of yet another predator allowed to hunt unimpeded in our midst in Lahore. The man, mid-40s, illiterate, was said to have been preying on minor girls for quite some time. He would capture his crimes on camera, and it was a clip from one such footage that set the FIA on the suspect’s trail. His arrest led to the disclosure that there were at least 27 young girls whom he had sexually assaulted and filmed.

In what is but a small relief, the man is described as a first-rate pervert who worked solely for his “own consumption” and not as a trader of child pornography. But since the investigators have already talked about how one of the clips showing him committing an assault on a minor girl did escape his possession, there are questions as to whether, and for how long, the rest of the footage from his collection can remain confidential.

As if to mark the one year anniversary of Zainab’s murder, the FIA recently revealed details of yet another predator in our midst.

The latest discovery has raised familiar questions. Badami Bagh, being an area that still hosts a large number of intercity bus terminals, and located close to many historical sites and Data Darbar, the first thought is that the victims of this abuse-pornography series may have been minor girls accompanying their families to Lahore from other parts of the country.

The easy stereotype is eventually broken, with the security guaranteed by the knowledge and awareness that must prevail in a ‘big town’ having been breached. It is learnt that the abused girls — or a majority of them — happened to belong to the same neighbourhood as the suspect.

There were apparently plenty of innocent souls around in the locality to be entrapped since, along with other definite factors, the vicinity, as usual, was too embarrassed to discuss these taboo topics — often, as it happens, for fear of discovering the ugly chapters in lives everyone always knew existed. The man would lure his victim to an empty house near his own home. Remarkably, no one saw him going in and out of the place — or if anyone did notice something, they were too busy or too shy or simply too disinterested.

Just how difficult probing the issue is can be gauged by the fact that an FIA officer says there will be no witnesses to stand in a court when the accused goes to trial. Indeed, the FIA had to act as the complainant in the case.

This clearly indicates the problems the prosecution is going to be faced with as it tries to prove that the accused was guilty of the crime — despite the availability of material evidence in the form of video footage. Even when a conviction is secured, it is said that the seven-year sentence reserved for making child pornography doesn’t quite measure up to the severity of the crime.

It took the FIA three months to crack Badami Bagh, and we will soon learn how it goes about the toughest task of trying to prove that a crime has been committed. It is clearly desperate to set an example given all these cases cropping up despite the greater urgency shown by law enforcement.

Only in recent days, newspapers have covered the cases of a little girl found dead in Nowshera and a little boy killed in Okara. A picture of the boy has been doing the rounds, in the small hope of reigniting a wave of awareness — which, in the case of Zainab, could not save her, but gave society the ‘satisfaction’ of watching her killer being sent to the gallows.

In the most-privileged Lahore again, investigators are awaiting the results of DNA tests to move further with its inquiry into the death and possible rape of a child inside the walled city that once prided itself on its closely-knit and secure community. The victim in this case was initially dubbed by some television channels as the ‘new’ Zainab — complete with a picture that was supposed to inspire people to her cause posthumously.

Nothing of the sort happened. There was no frenzy, no mobs and no agitation. Unlike January 2018, there were no demands of change of system. Life goes on. A new big party has replaced an old big party. But the question is where, what new frontiers and conclusions does this new ongoing party lead to? What is on display is a race among the ministers and their would-be pursuers to exploit the camera.

There’s this senior minister of Punjab — a winner, at last — in a Lahore provincial constituency, who threatens officers with another kind of exposé. He tells the officials to behave or see their photographs attached to stories highlighting piles of sewage in the city. There is this other minister, looking after the media, who has been given a committee of 20-odd members — yes more than a score of people, including MPAs, etc — to advise him on affairs related to his brief.

In this changed Pakistan, it is still a mystery why this whole tribe, this crowd of people being placed at the disposal of the minister, cannot be dispersed and asked to work on the pressing issues our neighbourhoods are being held hostage by. Why can’t they, the harbingers of change and systems new, just leave the centralised stage and go and build local networks that are aware of the happenings around them? They cannot, because there is no party closer to home where real people live. The party is where the power is.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2019