Children of lesser families

Updated September 27, 2019

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

BAD reputations are difficult to fight. Even more disappointing can be the absence of a will to try and avoid dubious names — the kind that have of late sadly been imposed on Kasur, the hunting ground for those preying on young children. Impossible to fathom sometimes are the diametrically opposite reactions that stories on the recurrence of a crime can result in among the local population. There are always those who are up in protest against these criminal happenings in their midst but these individuals are invariably confronted by the local inhabitants who prefer to pretend as if nothing unusual had happened around them.

Cities can react proudly to attempts at shaming them by assigning them a particular bad identity. That would be the natural response. Kasur district as a whole seems to have failed this test of the civilised. It has so far failed to react with any visible sustained anger to a series of crimes that is threatening to demonise the area as a bastion of paedophiles, which in turn brings the ability to fight this crime collectively into severe doubt.

Read: Is something wrong with Kasur?

The stories Kasur has provided to the world should have by now created a local awareness movement and a will among the people to fight it with all their strength. Recent visits to Kasur district and conversations with people there confirm that by and large, the tendency is to try and stay aloof, feign ignorance if you like — lest the feeling inside one makes it impossible to face the crime in all its gory manifestations?

In the year 2015, Husain Khanwala in the Kasur district emerged on the big screen with stories about a pornographic racket that exploited children. There was outrage, but one especially pronounced local reaction to the initial series of stories from the village was to try and dismiss it as some kind of a routine story. Maybe, it was an affair blown out of proportion, but it was shocking to find people describing child abuse as one of the more ‘inevitable’ evils that one is supposed to live with — without having to be too alarmed.

It was shocking to find people describing child abuse as one of the more ‘inevitable’ evils that one is supposed to live with.

Then came the Zainab case last year which shook the land much beyond Kasur city where the crime had taken place. For many days, the focus was on a young child. After much effort, it was down to the DNA test to lead the murderer to the gallows — 1,250 samples were taken and even long after its conclusion, the debate continued about the factors that had catapulted a ‘routine’ rape and murder case to a level where the whole nation got involved.

There was a picture of young Zainab which was given credit for inspiring a national outcry. Those in the thick of things would have us believe however that there were a host of other influences that played a part in highlighting the case.

Not the least important among the facets discussed was the mode of protest undertaken by the young girl’s father. The fact that he was socially and politically influential as a local associate of Allama Tahirul Qadri’s party helped immensely in making available to him a forum that he could use to highlight the crime. These qualities of the man who ran the ‘Justice for Zainab’ campaign are recalled as the district of Kasur once again struggles to combat crimes against young, helpless children.

It has taken no less than the bodies of three young boys found at a single site to get the probe going. The police chief in the area thinks that all three boys were attacked by the same man, and by the evening of Wednesday, Sept 25, some 1,300 DNA tests had been conducted. The latest information is that a suspect has been caught from Rahim Yar Khan and the reports of a DNA test on him are keenly awaited. On the side, a debate goes on quietly about the numbers of missing children that have surfaced in the latest investigation. Given the numbers, these cases appear to be a usual occurrence on the crime map. The investigations aren’t as routine.

There are said to be more than a handful of such cases, mostly of boys, that have been rediscovered after the bodies of three youngsters were found in Chunian, an hour’s drive from Kasur city, earlier this month. The missing boys may never be recovered, and suffer crucially on one count: unlike the Zainab case, there are generally no parents prodding the authorities using a threatening tone.

In one of the responses to the latest cases, Zainab’s father has been appointed as the focal person for child protection in Kasur, but this move may not generate the required effect. The faces of the victims’ family have to be out there, demanding, threatening and appealing at the same time. The family must be seen to be in a bad state just as they appeared to be after Zainab — and as in the case of the infamous Sahiwal police shootout, or in Pirmahal where the parents of two young cousins who had gone missing held a press conference earlier this week. Hailing from a jewellers’ family, these unfortunate parents pleaded with the abductors to contact them.

Indeed, the missing children a search for whom was abandoned midway, seemed to belong to families with few resources and poor connections. Their families seemingly had no social or religion-based or political connection to lend strength to their emotions and build a public protest.

Zainab’s father was well connected and understood the value of raising an outcry. The families of these missing boys are voiceless, faceless and without resources, and totally dependent on a local support system that is nonexistent. It is nonexistent primarily because not enough people are ready to accept that what was unavoidable has happened to the folks living next door. The local organisations that cannot pretend that these crimes never happened need to wake up these slumbering masses.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2019