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An end is a beginning too


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Photo courtesy of Monte Fresco/World Press.

Photo courtesy of Monte Fresco/World Press.

A year ends, another begins. But memories remain. This happened so many years ago but I still remember this event vividly.

It was my turn to tell a story at the tavern tonight and I chose this one. Why? Because I fear that we may forget what we went through and forced to relive the past.

Soon after he took over, the general [Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in a military coup in 1977] arranged a big public flogging-show and I, as a reporter, was sent to watch. The victims were lined up in white pajamas, loose white shirts and white caps. They looked like circus animals waiting for the crack of the trainer's whip. All were men, most of them middle-aged. They looked pale, and they shook with fear. Some even wet their trousers when the flogging began, but it had little effect on their captors or the doctor whose job it was to examine each victim and declare him fit to be flogged.

The stage was built in a big open space between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Normally, children played football, cricket and hockey there. It was an open platform, about 15 feet high, and could be viewed from every corner of the huge ground. A wooden frame was fixed in the middle of the platform where every victim was to be tied, his hands and feet separately, as on a cross. His face would be turned towards the stage where the policemen, the magistrate, and other important people were sitting; the press had special seats so that they could watch the flogging closely and report every detail. His hips, which would receive the whip, were to face the audience. A microphone was fixed on the frame, near where the victim's mouth was to be, so that everybody could hear him scream.

Centre stage stood a tall, well-built man wearing only a loincloth. He was rubbing oil all over his body. Then he did some push-ups to show his muscles. When he finished, he picked up a big stick, soaked in oil, from a corner where about half a dozen such sticks were kept for him to choose from. He picked one and tried it in the air. The whip made a horrible hissing noise every time he cut the air with it.

The whipper, who was a convict himself, had been brought specially from the prison to perform the job, which earned him privileges inside. He received superior food and spent most of his time exercising. He was in great demand and toured Pakistan from city to city to flog whenever the government thought it needed to scare people. He looked very intimidating. He was now ready to flog. All his muscles tightened and bulged like the feathers of a rooster ready to fight.

As those on the stage prepared for the flogging, thousands of people had already gathered to watch it. The ground was full to capacity. So were the neighbouring roads and side streets. There were people on the rooftops of nearby buildings. Some even clung to the trees and electricity poles around the ground. The poor watched with a cautious nonchalance; they have learned not to appear too interested in such things because they tend to supply the victims whenever their rulers need to demonstrate their strength.

The rich behaved differently. They had come by car and on their motorbikes and were cruising around, waiting for the spectacle to begin. The young among them were dressed in tight jeans and bright shirts and some of them had brought their girlfriends with them. Some might have committed the same sin for which the 15 victims were to be flogged: drinking alcohol and having sex with women other than their wives. But they did not seem bothered. They were safe in doing whatever they did because they belonged to the so-called 'VIP' class where no law, religious or secular, applies.

They also had better, safer places in which to drink or have sex and did not have to frequent cheap hotels which the police would raid whenever their bosses felt the need to impress the public with activity. All the victims were arrested from a hotel in a lower-middle-class neighbourhood of the old city. The raiding party, so it was said, had found more than 50 people drinking alcohol and having sex. All of them were convicted in a trial completed in three days. Most of them were over 50 and so found unfit for flogging. The women involved in this crime were also convicted but were spared the whip. Those men found fit were brought for flogging.

Now the flogging was to start. The man with the stick indicated that he was ready. An official came on to the stage, detached the microphone from the wooden frame and announced the name of the first man who was to be whipped. He then read out the allegations against him and signalled the guards to bring him on to the platform. Two constables brought the convict on to the stage.

He looked utterly helpless. He was not trembling. He did not even look afraid. He looked more like an animal about to be slaughtered and unable to understand what was happening to him. He could not follow verbal commands. So to make him move, one of the constables had to give him a little push. He moved, and then kept walking so that he would have fallen off the opposite end of the stage if the other constable had not stopped him. It was as if his mind had stopped functioning. There seemed to be no coordination between his thoughts and his actions. Each of his hands and feet appeared to be moving separately.

The constables led him to the frame. Then the doctor came, examined him, listened to his heart with a stethoscope, and declared him fit for flogging. The man listened to the pronouncement with indifference, as if it did not concern him. He even nodded his head twice, as if endorsing the doctor's decision.

By now the crowd was completely silent. Even the hawkers, selling ice cream and fresh fruits to the crowd, were quiet. The constables lifted the man up on to the frame, and tied his hands and feet to the scaffolding: his face was turned towards the stage and his buttocks exposed to the crowd. They tied another piece of cloth above his hips to mark the target. Then they moved aside.

Now all eyes were fixed on the whip-man who was fiercely slashing the air with his whip. The crowd was so quiet that the microphone picked up the slashing of the whip and carried it everywhere. The man on the scaffolding also heard the sound. So far he had been very quiet but the slashing sound changed him. He started trembling and then cried, very loudly. The loudspeakers carried his voice to the crowd and beyond, but nobody spoke a word.

A magistrate, also sitting on the stage, asked the whip-man to begin. He tested the whip for the last time, slowly hitting his left palm, and then came running, stopped a foot or two from the scaffolding and hit the victim with full force. The whip touched his skin, went into his flesh and came out again. The man shrieked in agony. Those sitting on the stage could see blood oozing from the wound. One, said the official counting the whips. The man was sobbing now which could be heard on the loudspeakers.

The whipper went back to his mark and came running again when the magistrate signalled him to resume. The whip hit the flesh, the man shouted for help; the flogger withdrew, came back again, hit him and withdrew. This sequence was broken once when the doctor came to examine the victim. After his examination, he invited the whip-man to continue. The constable untied the man after the fifteenth lash and he fell on to the stage. They removed him on a stretcher and brought the next man.

This was my first public flogging. Several months later I went to a maidan in Rawalpindi where a blind woman was to be flogged for sexual misbehaviour. An audience of hundreds of men surrounded the stage where she was to he whipped. They displayed neither sorrow nor passion. They chatted about politics and sport as they waited for the flogging to begin.

Then a police officer came and asked them to go home because a higher court had suspended the flogging. Soon the maidan rang with voices of disapproval. The men wanted to watch the tamasha, the hullabaloo. They were there to watch the woman's helplessness and to enjoy it. But the policemen were ready with their batons, so they had to disperse. And the truth was that I shared their disappointment. Although I had been writing against public flogging ever since it began, I wanted to watch it. I might go back to my typewriter and condemn it, but I did not want to miss the spectacle.

This was an unpleasant discovery to make about myself. A sorrowful, angry disgust – with myself and the environment I was forced to live in – thus became a feature of my life.


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Author Image

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (74) Closed

Feroz Dec 29, 2012 09:55am
When you relate such sad stories to your children they will scarce believe you. Very sad you had to go through this ordeal. Barbarism has no limits and it is little wonder that citizens have become so immune to the violence and death all around them. Some societies remain stuck in the seventh century and are unable to extricate themselves and keep up with the times, they could well perish in a volcano of medieval violence.
Ali Dec 29, 2012 03:04pm
WOW....That was quiet shocking & brutal...general zia must be paying the price for his actions now as you can get away with it in this world but not when you see your Creator.
Bakhtawer Bilal Dec 29, 2012 04:50pm
All in the name of religion. All for the personnel gains. All to the helpless.
Yawar Dec 29, 2012 04:50pm
Rather than corporal punishment, if only the names, photographs, and any group affiliations of convicts are made public with appropriate jail time, then that should provide ample deterrence. But this has to be done equally regardless of gender or which family, political party, terrorist group, etc., the convict belongs to.
Ajaya K Dutt Dec 29, 2012 04:23pm
Islamic justice.
ali rizvi Dec 30, 2012 09:03am
Zia's reign was indeed a reign of terror and hypocrisy- something which our elders are ashamed of to talk even! So well has the writer explained the people's misery and powerlessness of the masses at the hands of the dictator, that had we not been brought up in this wretched and forsaken country, we might have laughed at the exaggeration of the writer's imagination of tyranny...
Ahmed j Dec 29, 2012 12:48pm
Those who passed through that era have stories to tell. I was a school going child. I had gone to Peshawar's Qayyum Stadium to play hockey with my school team. While practising our skills in a sporting environment. The atmosphere started changing with arrival of police vehicles and a contingent of police. We were made to leave the grassy ground. There was a gradual increase of attendance from the public who had gathered for an event, which had nothing to do with sports. That day three men who were charged to be smugglers were flogged. The last offender raised his arms towards the public for support. Every spectator cheered and clapped. The convict after receiving his punishment raised his arms again but this time the police official physically forced him not to do so and was put on a stretcher. the crowd cheered and booed at the same time once again. That day a young hockey player had a question that what did the officials achieve? The public had made a convict into a hero.
aabdul Dec 29, 2012 05:09pm
Unfortunately, it applied only to the poor and helpless, as is the case in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi prince was caught red-handed with a minor in Europe, but he was not punished at all. I am sure many Pakistani middle class and rich drank and partied those days, but they were never whipped. If you strictly apply this rule to all, even you will be whipped mercilessly. It is a pity that in this day and age , en educated section of the society, such as yourself, would love to see such things come back again.
anwar Dec 29, 2012 04:27pm
SOMEBODY HAS TO READ THE QURAN PROPERLY, BEFORE EMBARKING ON THIS KIND OF PUNISHMENT. The word used in Quran is 'Faj-diloo Hoo", meaning beat them on the skin. No one who understands the Arabic Linguistics can come to any other conclusion. The purpose is not to draw blood or make Gashes in the body, yes beat them on the skin to cause pain and discomfort, but do not injure them. I agree with rich and poor being treated differently.
Silajit Dec 29, 2012 04:33pm
Amazed with the comments that want this form of punishment for drinking alcohol and adultery. And these are the educated folk who read and write English and read newspapers. Unbelievable!!!
Arshad sherazi Dec 29, 2012 07:36pm
Revival of JUSTICE is more important than the type of punishment one should be getting.
anwar Dec 29, 2012 04:37pm
sorry for mis type The word is FAJ LI DOO HOO
Aslam Dec 29, 2012 07:29pm
Mr. Iqbal, It is very brave of you to admit the unpleasant discovery, and in essence that was not you but the whole nation. Although I do not have much recollection of that time since I was growing up in late 70s and early 80s but I am sure very grateful to not be a part of that mentality and nation anymore. But it still hurts and shames me that how the people are treated in that society which is over obsessed with religious display.
Aqil Siddiqi Dec 30, 2012 09:41pm
Sheikh, why are you scared to face the truth. The day Bhutto took over, Pakistan was on a path of destruction. And what, Bhutto could't accomplished, that dictator Zia did the rest.
Ali Dec 29, 2012 03:03pm
And they shall start with you indeed....
KA Dec 31, 2012 06:38am
It is not flogging which is the issue; it is the inequitable justice system which is the real problem. The crimes for which flogging is done create corruption in society at large and hence critical to address publically. The writer is based in Washington and since likes revisiting history so much, may I encourage penciling an account of the electric chair where brain melts and eyes pop out. Bet he would never write that.
Akai Dec 30, 2012 03:09am
Well written, and timely. I hope it jolts the consciousness of pro-Taliban elements.
observer Dec 30, 2012 11:07am
3rd rate journalism. No relevance to today. Just to fill up space in Sunday paper.
AHA Dec 29, 2012 01:47pm
You are wrong. Zia’s Islamic laws have brutalized our society beyond repair. And if you even remotely believe that application of law under Zia was uniform and fair, then god help us.
Ali Dec 30, 2012 02:33am
Sheer brutality. this is not a nation. its a group of rascals behaving like a nation.
AHA Dec 30, 2012 12:43pm
I have rarely come across a more illogical reasoning. What we are today is because of the choices we made, and because of the choices that were made for (some of) us, in the past. These public floggings are an important ingredient of our current make-up.
observer Dec 30, 2012 12:56pm
No, he was not. Please research your stuff before you publish it.
Yawar Dec 30, 2012 01:06pm
I remember Zia saying "Aik do ko public mey koray parain gey to sab theek ho jaen gey." Clearly that did not happen.
A Sheikh Dec 30, 2012 01:08pm
People like you just enjoy making sarcastic comments. Look at the year - 1977...
Nasir Dec 29, 2012 01:49pm
One of the fear tactics by the regime of the time, worst part of it that author did not mention was it was done in the name of Islam.
riz Dec 30, 2012 09:01pm
hapless women every where we(women) are in permanent servitude and for no time of a period but PERMANENT,only death can grant us freedom. every one of us(women,especially) share this agony: why are men so indifferent. why dont we all share the same odium for violence against woman, then will it stop, then will we have a better life, worth living.
Ranganath Dec 31, 2012 05:52am
Too ashamed to accept the truth?
Zulfi Rash Dec 29, 2012 01:44pm
Thanks to this reporter for sharing truth. A country built on such animal behavior. Still time to change it and live like humans. A society with freedom of speech, religion, expression and love for humanity. Is there any God who will fogive such cruel act?
arcane Dec 30, 2012 10:31am
Yousuf Raza Gilani was minister in Zia ul haq's cabinet.
AHA Dec 29, 2012 11:40pm
Our own 'Hunger Games.' We have become brutal as a people. Thank you Zia.
Hakim Dec 30, 2012 01:58pm
This is not the true Islam. It is politicization of the religion.
Hakim Dec 30, 2012 02:00pm
This was the beginning of Talibanization of our society. Do you think the topic is over? I am thankful to the author for reminding of where this "Jin" started.
AHA Dec 29, 2012 11:26pm
While I agree with the spirit of your post (therefore, a thumbs up), I think the type of punishment matters a lot. Some types of punishment were appropriate for the absolutely brutal era that existed many centuries ago. We need a humane behavior all across to build a more humane society.
PK Dec 30, 2012 06:03am
Well done for admitting how you felt. Its no way easy to admit such desires publicly. Also, such law and flogging should be revived again. It will kill all the problems in society but only when justice is served for everyone. Not just any class but for all. Those who think, the mess we are currently in is because of Zia'a policies. Guys, we weren't in any mess at the time, were we? We faced this mess after 9/11 in reality. Otherwise it was all going fine. Its sad to see, that people (muslims) don't want to see Islamic law implementation. Flogging is in Islam!
HopeForPaskitan Dec 29, 2012 10:45pm
Someone once told me that there are more muslims in Pakistan but there is more Islam in America. I thought about it a lot and it took me a while to accept the fact. It's unfortunate but this story reminds me of the double standards we have in Pakistan, and the 'Tamashas' we still like to watch. I will always pray for people of Pakistan to become better human beings and take time to learn their religion. Islam does not endorse double standards and one set of rules for poor and another set for rich. Decades later, we still have double standards and lack of compassion for our fellow citizens. But, I will never give up hope!
Naseer Dec 29, 2012 10:31pm
Taliban are doing the same today in the name of religion for their political benefit. This kind of mentality is actually a threat to Islam.
Sagar Dec 31, 2012 06:34am
If these things still happens in Pakistan, then God help poor country.
Sam Dec 31, 2012 03:17am
Now the public flogging is replaced by public shootings and beheading. We have become worse than animals and our government and army are just watching the show from the sidelines.
David Salmon Dec 29, 2012 06:05pm
Is it any wonder that after such official barbarism the whole country began to accept barbarism as justifiable? You reap what you sow.
sattar rind Dec 29, 2012 09:25pm
its not bravery to accept its one discovery but its modern art to be honest.
Mashood Ahsan Dec 29, 2012 06:23pm
Thanks for being honest. We as a nation have long ago became indifferent to real issues we try to find quick fixes some times in the name of religion and some time under the Garb of culture. Zia was the horrible thing to happen to civilized world. A move should be made to try him Posthumously for blasphemy as he used Islam to further his nefarious and ugly political agenda
Tahir Alam Dec 29, 2012 09:13pm
Very well written. Some thoughts: 1. The laws and their implementation should be "fair" and should be "uniformly applied" to every person whether rich or poor, weak or strong. 2. "Punishment" is really very important in order to make the criminal realize that they have done wrong and they should not repeat the crime. 3. If a crime has been committed, usually it should not be discussed "publicly" unless it is required to apprehend the culprits. 4. The trial should be done in a "court room" and not in a public ground. 5. The punishment should be given "publicly" so that anyone with the intention of committing similar crime would never think of doing it.
ali khan Dec 30, 2012 10:25am
The difference of punishment due to the social class or status, as mentioned above, is surely wrong. But what does Islam say about public flogging or for that matter other punishments like theft, murder, etc. How come we can comment or even criticise what has been ordained by HIM - the Almighty ? If there is a reference, quote or incident from Islam, Quran, Sunnah, please do mention it,
hitesh Dec 30, 2012 10:50am
I couldn't believe it already happened in Pakistan ! Why do they need Taliban if they themselves are capable of enforcing the true Islam ?
Kayenn Dec 30, 2012 10:47am
To be honest and accepting the faults is like being forgiven..... But dont let this environment give you pleasure again... dont let this happen again!!!! This is babaric and medeivel period punishments....
Waqas Dec 30, 2012 10:37am
They are still doing this but it has shrink inside Thana, on wadera's form houses and in their private jails. Just become innovative with time.
Khawar Mehdi Dec 29, 2012 04:02pm
Overwhelmingly raw ... I was among the watchers, it happened in Central Hospital Ground cross the road of my home... I must say, writer could choose a subtle way narration.
Andrew Sampson Dec 29, 2012 11:04am
Astounding writing and shocking truth telling at the same time. Thanks for sharing this Anwar
Rob Dec 29, 2012 02:57pm
This nation deserves this. If you put this punishment back in practice I bet there will be very few cell phone snatchers. This nation only understand whipping.
shirin Dec 30, 2012 04:47pm
wow! I never thought I'd be proud to say that I would never have even wanted to watch it. What is so entertaining about screaming men and women...unless it is a football game. I am glad you wrote it, I am glad you are ashamed of yourself, and I for one still feel there is a big flaw in your character.
Nadeem Iqbal Dec 29, 2012 03:38pm
Are you serious??!! Did Zia's rule and flogging solved our problems? Look around the mess Pakistan finds itself right now is due to all Zia-ul-Haq's policies, including the flogging.
Bilal Dec 29, 2012 02:28pm
it would solve problems but only if it applied to everyone and not just the under privileged as mentioned in this article!
khanm Dec 29, 2012 12:39pm
So what is the point, what is new, it has been going on for centuries. Gladiators have changed and so is the time and stage...... The arena is set to scare the weakest ones. No one dares challenged the higher authority….. Humans have never civilized.....Cruelty comes in different shapes and form. It is up to the masses either to bear the agony or to revolt against it…….
HopeForPaskitan Dec 30, 2012 06:10pm
No relevance??? This shows how far we have fallen as human race! And, BTW, we are going down further. The moral decay and acceptance for such behavior (bombing, killing the innocent...) is utterly disappointing. And you think this despicable act of our past is not relevant to our current problems. Wake up my young 'observer' and start accepting responsibility. That would be the first sign of maturity for our nation!
riajd Dec 29, 2012 12:29pm
no comments over flogging .......but very well written,comprehensive ....
Yawar Dec 30, 2012 10:30pm
That is right. It is time to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
Jimmy Dec 30, 2012 07:29pm
Hi Ijaz ul Haq, long time no see
tariq Dec 30, 2012 07:52pm
see the topic first it says "an end is a beginning too" so zia's regime ended who had done all these acts. Now if we don't fight Taliban they will start doing all this.
Capt C M Khan Dec 29, 2012 11:42am
Shocking and True how as HUMANS we enjoy others SUFFERINGS....and Islam teaches us to be HUMBLE. Longlive Maulaanas.
Masood Hussain Dec 30, 2012 06:34pm
I was on deputation Saudia In early Sixties and had the chance to witness one of Flogging sessions..Compared to the narration of Mr.Iqbal it looked much more humane and benovelent I thought it was cruel and unhuman to flog living humans for whatever crime had been committed.Infact I started trembling at the sight bu to go through this I might have died of cardiacc failure.
Ben Dec 29, 2012 11:23am
The worst part that it didn't apply to the rich.
Raj Dec 30, 2012 07:01pm
Agha Raza, why don't you become the first candidate ? You are not a pious man and have indulged in adultery several times.
Saurabh Dec 31, 2012 07:36am
Reporting an incident or questioning a practice is not breaking laws. You can live in the US and criticize its policies. You can also be an atheist there and criticize Christianity and Jesus. There will be no mob of 5000 people who want to lynch you for blasphemy.
Beg Dec 30, 2012 11:45pm
Writers hate and grudge for Islamic punishments is dripping from every word. I don't understand if you hate Islam so much why you still a muslim, kindly change your name and religion since it's illogical to be a muslim or let's say American and hate Islamic or American laws. If you want to criticize then first leave that religion or country. Don't take the advantage of both. Can you dare to break American laws while being remaining as American citizen.
Agha Asad Raza Dec 29, 2012 09:20am
This thing needs to revived!! Many a problems in the society would be solved instantly!
Rizwan ul hasan khan Dec 31, 2012 12:18am
The article is just like you are watching a scene of '' FALL OF ROMAN EMPIRE '', It is a such a horrible and real script that no one can deny.......... Every sentence pull the hair of each pore strongly....... Is it true that In some Islamic countries this type of live drama is still found, the only difference that many women presenting there clapping on every whip...?????......
ali Dec 31, 2012 06:44am
well done Anwar sb,
Adnan Dec 29, 2012 09:12am
in mere 24 years after this monseters death - it is truly a zia's pakistan........whole army and establishment including politincians of that era should rejoice at this great achievement......i strongly feel its a point of no return now!
Rizwan ul hasan khan Dec 31, 2012 12:10am
A great great article I have ever read, I wish a Director in Pakistan, could make a live drama over it as we have many Shyam Benegals, but the question is who will protect them afterward.
Abdul j Sheikh Dec 31, 2012 07:41pm
You miss the point. Public flogging was ordered by Military General that time. Who did order public shooting and beheading this time?
faisal khan Dec 31, 2012 08:23am
The way you tell the story I felt I was there,Justice should for all BUT unfortunately in our country mostly rich peoples are untouchable and this is main cause of corruption.By the beginning of this year 2013 We pray for blessing from ALLAH on Pakistan and May ALLAH give us wisdom to go on a straight way,Ameen !!
Sri1 Dec 30, 2012 06:09am
Very well penned. It is indeed interesting to see the last shreds of humanity in our sub-continent stripped off our people closely imitating the Arab model of jurisprudence. When people want to revel in the sight of the hapless pain of a blind woman with nothing to look forward to in life (probably raped by some brave soul) without conscience just on the basis of ancient black and white law that was meant for a tribal society - Karma dictates that such a society richly deserves its decadence and meltdown. Just like what the Hindu society in India that deserved outside intervention (in the form of Mughals and British) due to its egregious treatment of lower caste people.
Josh Mak Jan 03, 2013 05:48am
Well,you just took us down a lane of memories, which we would rather forget.But history should never be forgotten as it tends to repeat itself , lest it is forgotten and lessons are not learnt from it.At a point where politics is being cleverly 'manufactured' to give way yet another coup, I think we should remember such dark moments in our history and support democracy!
afiasalam Jan 07, 2013 02:35pm
WE must NOT forget.... must NOT repeat... must not let this happen to us again.. so thanks for the reminder, bitter though it is!