THIS sleepy village off the GT Road near Kharian may be your average Punjab village, but the circumstances of our visit make it an eerie experience. At the end of the bumpy road, which eventually gives way to narrower and narrower alleys, lies the scene of the crime.

A teenager from the neighbourhood leads me to the unfortunate house where, last Friday, sisters Arooj and Aneesa were killed in cold blood for refusing to go through with an arranged marriage to their cousins.

The girls were killed just a day after they arrived here, a long way from the comfortable environs of Spain, where they grew up.

The now-abandoned house is much like any other, three shoddily built rooms overlook a mud-lined courtyard. Some cattle are tethered under a tree in the clearing – the only source of shade apart from going indoors.

The room where the heinous crime was perpetrated is quite innocuous itself; a couple of charpoys on the floor and utensils on the shelves.

There is no other furniture, not even any personal effects or decoration pieces – anything that may betray an aspiration of bettering one’s station in life.

The overwhelming sense I get is that of poverty and desperation. The owner of this property was Hanif, the paternal uncle of the murdered girls, one of whom was betrothed to his own son.

Although the details are still sketchy, it seems that “jealousy, the green-eyed monster” that Shakespeare described hundreds of years ago: most likely it was the shattered dreams of earning in euros that led to the violence perpetrated here last week.

“Many people from the village live in Europe, but nothing like this has ever happened here before,” says the youth who is showing us around.

When we probe locals about the circumstances of the killing, it is the same old story.

The din of fighting and shouting could be heard all over the neighbourhood, but even when parties concerned tried to intervene, they were stopped by the family elders on the pretext that this was a ‘family matter’.

Consequently, despite hearing gunshots, nobody from the village dared to enter the house. A few hours later, it was the local lumberdar who called the police and found the bodies.

By that time, the five to six homes that housed members of this family were locked, their occupants long gone.

Police have managed to arrest six suspects in the case from Azad Kashmir; the girls’ paternal uncle, his son and their cousin, as well as two of the girls’ own brothers.

Muhammad Nadeem, an assistant sub-inspector at Gulliana Police Station, told Dawn the girls’ father had settled in Europe “through donkey entry” — the euphemistic term used for illegal immigrants. Later, he arranged for his family to join him.

Twenty one-year-old Arooj and 24-year-old Aneesa were among the six children of Ghulam Abbas. The eldest brother died around seven years ago when he drowned in a canal while on a visit to Pakistan. Two of their brothers are now in custody, while the third is a minor.

Ghulam Abbas himself did not accompany the family when they came to Pakistan, while their mother, Azra, has gone to live with her relatives since the tragedy.

Nadeem says the girls’ fiancés had no formal education or jobs, they were humble shepherds and cattle farmers. Even their uncle, the one whose house I visited, was a small landholder with little or no regular sources of income.

Numan Hasan, spokesperson to the Gujrat police chief, says that the girls entered into nikah a couple of years ago, but their rukhsati had yet to be performed.

While this story fills the heart with grief, there is also the frustration that comes with knowing that there is very little chance these girls will get justice.

It is an all-too familiar story; in 2018, 28-year-old Italian national Sana Cheema was killed in Mangowal village of Gujrat, not too far from Nothia.

Her family had brought her to Pakistan where the family claimed she died of natural causes. However, exhumation of the corpse proved that foul play was involved. Even though her father, brother and uncle were arrested for her alleged ‘honour killing’, they were acquitted less than a year later for want of evidence.

In 2016, British national Samia Shahid was killed in Jhelum, days after she was called back by her family on the pretext that father was critically ill. She had divorced her first husband, her cousin, which had displeased the family.

While the accused confessed to the murders in both cases, they later retracted their statements.

Numan Hasan says that the complainants in most ‘honour killing’ cases are relatives of the accused, who usually forgive the killers and reconcile with them.

However, in the case of Arooj and Aneesa, the state is the complainant. “There is no chance of reconciliation in this case and police will try their best to get capital punishment for the suspects,” he claims.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2022

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