Motorway gang-rape case still shrouded in darkness

Updated 12 Sep 2020

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LAHORE: Women supporters of Jamaat-i-Islami hold a protest rally outside the press club on Friday against the gang-rape of a woman on Motorway. Similar demonstrations were organised in other cities.—Arif Ali / White Star
LAHORE: Women supporters of Jamaat-i-Islami hold a protest rally outside the press club on Friday against the gang-rape of a woman on Motorway. Similar demonstrations were organised in other cities.—Arif Ali / White Star

LAHORE: Frustration among public was touching a new high as investigators failed to report any breakthrough almost 72 hours after the gang-rape of a woman on the motorway near here.

There were red herrings galore on Friday and no solid leads were found. The biggest disappointment came when news run by some television channels that two men had been picked up after the ATM card of the 32-year-old victim of the gang-rape had been used at a bank, turned out to be false.

The card had been taken away along with other valuables and cash after the woman, a French national, had been attacked on the outskirts of Lahore in the early hours of Wednesday, Sept 9, after her car ran out of fuel. A couple of armed men allegedly beat up her and her two children travelling with her. The attackers then took them into the adjacent fields where they raped the woman.

Following the outrage of Thursday, the government on Friday did appear to be making an effort. However, unless the details of any leads found by several investigation agencies involved were kept concealed from the curious, on-the-edge Pakistanis, the official display betrayed little more than nervous energy.

A host of investigators pooled in their expertise in pursuit of two violent suspects who might have left their finger prints and DNA behind as they went about smashing windows of the car while forcibly taking the rape victim and her children away. Information emerging from the investigation teams and transmitted quickly to eager news consumers said many of the nearby villages had been combed – without any success to talk about.

There was also a mention of the nomads who happened to have set up their tents not too far from the crime spot. It was not ruled out that the perpetrators may be men not settled on a particular location, the kind that do not necessarily feel the need to have the ID cards.

There was much hairsplitting generally unimpeded by intervention by good sense. For example, threads were run on social media describing the trauma the victim and her family were going through. Those coming up with this public show of sympathy refusing to realise how much more misery they were piling with their act on those whose plight they were seeking to highlight — there were rare bits of positives in the discussions as well, apart from the general solidarity for the victims of the tragic incident. It was pointed out that the investigators had much else to look for other than focusing on whether the suspects were likely to have identity cards or not.

The government on its part was caught in fighting many battles apart from dealing strictly with the horrifying gang-rape case in what is considered to be one of the better governed and safer parts of the country away from the ‘remote’ areas. The protesters in Lahore maintained that they had a better sense of security until a few days earlier, when the new Capital Chief Police Officer Umar Sheikh was about to take charge.

Mr Sheikh had been involved in a departmental controversy immediately after taking over his new job a couple of weeks ago, which culminated in the departure of the Inspector General of Punjab. On Thursday he took his candidness too far and ended up with remarks which were condemned by many as blaming the victim, while he should have been promising action against the culprits and reassuring the public about security.

On Friday, there was a steady queue of the government spokespersons who defended the Lahore CCPO against the relentless calls for his removal from the post over his statement about the gang-rape which he had later tried to justify with what commentators insisted would rank as a blanket indictment of society.

The costs of the CCPO’s gaffe were ultimately passed on to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar’s government which has been under pressure right from its inception for one reason or another. Some damage control exercise was necessary after the Buzdar detractors even in the government camp intensified their attacks on the embattled chief minister and this was the context in which the visit by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shahzad Akbar to Lahore on Friday was seen.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2020