In a horrific crime that bears a chilling resemblance to the sexual assault and murder of two cousins in India last month, a 20-year-old woman was gang raped and lynched in the Punjab province of Pakistan. According to senior police official Ghazi Salahudin, the incident occurred on Thursday in Cha Lucmanwala Nawan Kot in the impoverished Layyah district, some 250 miles from Lahore, a major city of Pakistan. Local police have reported that one alleged assailant has been arrested while two others are absconding.
The police identified the victim as Muzammil Bibi, daughter of blind parents and the eldest of eight siblings, who made a living by farming a small piece of land. Bibi was reported missing by her mother Allah Ditta, who told police that her daughter had gone to the local fruit market on Thursday afternoon but did not return. The police registered a missing persons report and launched a search for her but could not find her till a passersby reported seeing a body hanging from a tree in the fields.
Talking about the heinous crime, Sadaqat Ali Chohan, a police officer said, “This is the first time in my 22 years of service in the police that I have seen such a case, where a girl was raped in this way and found hanging from a tree.”
The police have arrested Muhammad Saqib, an assistant at a vegetable wholesale shop and the young woman’s boyfriend of six months. According to the police, on the day of the murder Bibi had met Saqib for a date, in the shop where he worked. He took her to the roof of the store, where two of his friends were waiting and demanded that she have sex with all three of them. When she refused, the couple got into a heated argument. Angered by her resistance, Saqib allegedly raped and strangled Bibi, a woman he was supposed to have married.
The police said that the men hanged her body from a tree and tried to make her death look like a suicide. When the police reached the body, they deduced that it was a murder because “..the branch was so low and the dead body was touching the ground in sitting position.”
The gory crime of rape and lynching of the young woman has sent shockwaves through the densely populated region of Pakistan. Residents took the young woman’s body to the office of the district police officer to stage a protest against the rising crimes against women in the area.
Human rights activist Mahmal Sarfraz points to the “culture of demeaning women through rape,” a rising phenomenon in Pakistan, as being a reason for such crimes. Additionally, Sarfraz says that the lethargy among the police with respect to pursuing such crimes and a patriarchal mindset that sees crimes against women through a prism of honor and blame are causes for the rising sexual crimes against women in Pakistan.
While the incidents of sexual and physical assault against women in Pakistan have not grabbed world headlines unlike those in neighboring India, they are, nonetheless, widespread and tragically underreported in this deeply conservative nation, according to women’s rights activists.
Though Bibi’s gang rape and lynching have made headlines beyond Pakistan, most others do not undergo global scrutiny. For instance, a recent case of gang rape in March only made headlines after the 17-year-old Pakistani victim set herself on fire, protesting a police decision to turn a key suspect free. The case remains under investigation.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay