KARACHI: January 26, 2016 — It was a moderately cold night in Karachi’s Orangi Town. Pakeeza Rehman was anxiously waiting for her father to go to a wedding.
Dressed in a shimmery orange dress – a silver matha patti decorating her tiny forehead, the five-year-old stood staring at the gate. There was a knock at the door. She rushed to open it. Her father, Faizur Rehman, was a little late.
Out of excitement, she asked her father to dress up quickly so they could leave for what turned out to be her last wedding. Before going to weddings, she would pose for her parents and Rehman would take her pictures. At the ceremony, she liked walking up to the stage to catch a glimpse of the bride and groom.
She had two younger sisters and was taller than other kids her age. Rehman loved her the most. Her eyes were ringed with black lashes. The child had a cherubic smile that would brighten up the room.
The ill-fated night
“I went to the washroom. Changed my clothes, washed my face and we left for the wedding,” recalls Rehman, who lives in Ghaziabad, Sector 11 ½, Orangi Town. “I wish we had missed the wedding that night.”
The family went to attend the marriage ceremony of their neighbors at Shehnai wedding lawn in Orangi Town. Pakeeza sat with her younger sister at a table, playing games. The two roamed around the venue, making friends with the other children attending the ceremony. Once dinner started, Rehman recalled he saw her eating kheer [dessert].
As time passed, Rehman grew tired and around 1am, he asked his wife, Reena, to gather their three daughters as they had school the next day. The couple looked around but could not find Pakeeza. The whole lawn echoed with shouts of her name – other guests too joined the search. There was chaos.
They searched every nook and cranny of the wedding hall. Rehman approached the management to look inside the hall’s water tank if Pakeeza had accidentally fallen into it.
An hour later, he went to the police station to register an FIR but the duty officer only made a note in his daily records. The family went to all public hospitals and peeked at the bodies at morgues to check for their daughter. They kept making rounds to the wedding lawn. Text messages were circulated, messages were posted on Facebook and pamphlets were pinned on walls around the area.
On January 28, 2016, after pleading to the then DSP of Orangi Town No 5 police station, an FIR was finally registered under Section 363 and 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
“It was sharp 4:30 in the evening,” Rehman vividly remembers the exact time. A hand fan, a room cooler and three sofas were placed in a room where the conversation was taking place. The white ceiling fan only moved when the wind blew. “It was Sunday, January 31 when I got a call from the police. They had news I never wanted to hear.” Pakeeza’s body had been found from the same water tank in which her father had looked the night she gone missing.
The child’s body was moved to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in a Chippa ambulance. Medico Legal Officer (MLO) Yasmin Qamar conducted a postmortem examination in which it was confirmed that Pakeeza was subjected to the act of ‘vaginal sexual intercourse’ and died due to drowning and cardio-respiratory failure.
Later, samples were sent to the Sindh Services Hospital near Aram Bagh for chemical examination. On February 9, 2016 the chemical report surfaced, according to which sperm was detected in her orange-coloured churidar pajama and human blood was also detected in the vaginal slide and the pajama. There is a note at the end of the chemical examination report which says the articles, if their return is not asked for within a fortnight after the receipt of the report, are liable to be destroyed.
In the meantime, the investigation officer, Muhammad Mukeem, had arrested the hall owner, Mehmood Alam along with 18 of his workers. On February 18, 2016 an initial challan was submitted before the sessions court under sections 363, 302, 201, 376, 511 and 34.
The murky DNA
Almost a month later, Rehman came to know that after the chemical examination, samples were sent for DNA analysis to a laboratory in Islamabad. “I was told the Islamabad lab was under construction so the samples came back and were then sent to Lahore,” he said.
Dejected by the performance of the police, Rehman and his wife went to then additional IG Mushtaq Mahar. “We waited outside his office the whole day,” Rehman said, adding that waiting outside offices of senior officials has become routine for him and his wife.
Rehman recalled that Mahar turned out to be cooperative beyond expectations. “I brought to his knowledge the DNA report. Since the media was also covering our issue, it became a high profile case,” Rehman said, adding that even high profile cases were not treated properly in this country.
Mahar formed a committee there and then comprising senior profile officers to look into the case on February 2, 2016. The committee would work under the supervision of the CIA’s deputy inspector-general for investigation. Further, West Zone investigation-I SSP and Anti-Car Lifting Cell, Karachi SSP were part of the committee.
The parents were called to the meetings of the committee where it emerged that the cap of the tank from where Pakeeza’s body was recovered was never sent for forensic examination.
To add to the problems, it was to everyone’s shock – even the senior officials of the committee – that the DNA report which came back from Lahore said that the samples sent to them had no sperm. “I remember the DIG saying during the meeting, how on the earth is this possible?” Rehman recalled.
The committee then decided to form a medical board. The chairperson of the board was Dow Medical College Principal Professor Abu Talib and comprised four doctors from different hospitals.
Although the inconsolable couple was not allowed to attend the meetings of the medical board, they regularly sat and waited outside. The initial report of the medical board called for a fresh DNA test.
However, the final report which surfaced in April, 2017 says that the investigation officer, Muqeem, was asked to give his investigation findings to the medical board in writing as he appeared to be confused by the questions of the medical board members.
The medical board’s final report mentioned that in Qamar’s medico-legal report it is mentioned that Pakeeza was raped. It further mentioned that specimens were first sent for the DNA test from the decomposed body to the National Forensic Sciences Agency Project, Islamabad via TCS Courier by District West SITE Area investigation SSP on February 3, 2016. On February 23, 2016, the Islamabad laboratory replied that due to the shifting of the DNA lab, it was advised to send the subject case to some other laboratory.
“Then on March 15, 2016, specimen were submitted by Gulzar Ahmed, a sub-inspector, to the PFSA [Punjab Forensic Science Agency], Lahore, from where a negative report was issued on March 18, 2016,” the medical board’s report reads.
The report stated, “A point to consider is that the statement given by the chemical examiner to government of Sindh, Karachi, Dr Jalil Qadir before the special board pointed out that the police took away case property, without taking articles assessed at the chemical examiner’s laboratory which were still in his custody which were positive for human sperms and expressed his reservations on the report of PFSA. Moreover, they have not mentioned the report of the chemical examiner which raises questions on the credibility of the report issued from PFSA.”
The medical board gave a unanimous opinion that the final supplementary report of MLO Dr Qamar is correct.
Out of frustration, Rehman said they could not do what the police are supposed to do. “What can we do if a proper sample was never sent for the DNA test. This was beyond my control,” he sighed.
Meanwhile, the owner of the hall, Rehman said, hired a renowned lawyer of the city, Khawaja Naveed. The case hearing kicked off and the suspects applied for bail in the sessions court as well as the Sindh High Court (SHC), which was not granted to them.
“I stressed at every forum to conduct the DNA test again – to no avail,” he said, adding that he mostly used to fight his cases himself. In the SHC, he presented before the judge the medical board’s initial report to which the judge ordered a fresh DNA exam.
At the next hearing, the police submitted the old DNA report of PFCA. The couple yelled in the court room, out of desperation, that the DNA report was the older one, to which the investigation officer had to apologise to the judges and a fresh DNA test was ordered again.
“We don’t have a proper lawyer so we keep an eye on what is being submitted before the court and by whom,” Rehman said, adding that his wife had completed BSc and had developed a basic understanding of the case based on her knowledge. The court staff, he said, also used to help them with the documentation.
Last legal option?
The then West SSP Akhtar Farooq called Rehman to his office one day. “He made me sit in front of him with respect,” Rehman recalled. Farooq fetched out a law book from his drawer and turned a few pages.
The SSP then took off his glasses and said politely, “DNA nahi hosakta [DNA test cannot be conducted].”
The SSP offered Rehman that a challan of 322 could be presented in the court, which would mean that Pakeeza slipped inside the tank accidentally. Quoting the SSP, Rehman said in a low voice, “With this you would get around Rs19 lac.”
Another option which was presented to Rehman was to make the case B category, which meant it would go in cold storage. “I immediately rejected the 322 challan option because all evidence was present,” Rehman said gravely.
After that, the supplementary challan was all of a sudden presented on the basis of the DNA report before the sessions court in January, 2017. The government lawyer rejected the challan. The judge, through an order, also rejected the challan on grounds that the DNA and the chemical examiner’s reports were contradictory.
However, with this supplementary challan, he said that the suspects managed to get bail from the SHC – the case was running in both the courts.
Sold their living
In November 2017, the couple took their daughter’s case to the Supreme Court (SC). “We sold our plots and house,” Rehman said, adding that all they wanted was justice for their child. The SC also summoned SSP Farooq and asked for a fresh DNA test. Then for three months, the bench did not visit Karachi.
After three months, the judges again asked the SSP for the DNA and he responded that he couldn’t get it done. The judges ordered to put the SSP behind bars. The prosecutor-general then asked for a chance for the SSP.
It was a hot day in March, 2018. The case was up in the SC. “We were in court at 9am sharp,” Rehman said. The government’s lawyer was visibly upset with our presence. “He [the government’s lawyer] asked us why we attend the SC’s hearing. He said we should only be going to the sessions court,” Rehman said.
The SC dismissed the case that day and ordered the sessions court to resolve the matter in six months.
Wedding hall de-sealed
After the hall owner got bail, he reopened the wedding hall and continued his business as usual. This annoyed Pakeeza’s family. “I submitted an application in the sessions court,” Rehman shared, adding that the application did not include any section or law so the judge asked him to at least address under what law he wanted the hall to be sealed.
Later, Rehman said that the judge called him to his chamber and asked him to see the deputy commissioner of his district if he wanted the hall sealed. The then West DC Asif Jameel listened to the couple’s ordeal and ordered to seal the hall.
At the end of 2017, the hall was again de-sealed. “I got to know that the hall owner went to the SHC and obtained an order to de-seal the hall. In the meantime, Jameel was also transferred,” Rehman said, adding that he challenged the court’s order and informed the judge about the background of the case.
“The judge told me that the hall owner has committed contempt by hiding the background,” Rehman said, adding that at the next hearing, the hall may be sealed again.
There are vultures in our society who feed on others’ sufferings. The media and non-governmental orgnisations, according to Rehman, at times are no less than those vultures. After the incident, the couple first went to the Ansar Burney Trust, which gave them a lawyer. “We were never satisfied with that lawyer,” he said, adding that even in the lawyer’s presence, they had to fight the case themselves.
Rehman narrated that they were then invited to the Nadia Khan Show where everyone treated the couple well. In the show, Advocate Liaqat Ali Khan was also present, who promised to fight their case. Khan later took the couple to various TV shows. “When we went to SHC, Khan advised us to compromise,” he said, adding that when they didn’t agree to the settlement, Khan stopped receiving their calls.
Another NGO, War Against Rape (WAR), then approached the couple. They provided them with a female advocate, Asia. “She came for a few days but then stopped coming,” Rehman said. Later, the WAR management informed the couple that due to their financial conditions they had decided to fight cases of only those rape victims who were alive.
Muhammad Sheeraz, a socio-legal officer at WAR told The Express Tribune that the NGO had been the first to approach the parents after the incident. “Pakeeza’s father had trust issues,” said Sheeraz. The family, he said, was unaware of the lethargy of the legal system and used to get annoyed with the slow pace of the proceedings.
Meanwhile, Shagufta Burney, an advocate at the Ansar Burney Trust International, said that the family had initially approached them when their child was missing and they had prepared a constitutional petition. Later, when the child’s body was found from the water tank and an FIR was registerd, she said they had even provided them with an advocate, but the family started ignoring them after a while. Later, the parents emerged on morning shows and protests at press clubs, said Shagufta. That was the point, she said, when their case got exploited.
Sheeraz denied fighting cases of only living rape survivors and said that even if they were facing financial difficulties, they took on rape cases depending on their severity. In Pakeeza’s case, he said, it was the police that must be blamed for not preserving the evidence properly.
“There was an advocate, Mansoor Meer, who never fought our case, but always guided us, which gave us the courage to fight alone,” Rehman said.
The couple has found their aim in life now. “Before the incident, our lives were normal and aimless,” Rehman said. “Now I have an aim. I need to fight and get justice so that I can make eye contact with my baby on doomsday.”
He urged Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar to listen to their ordeal once and take up the case as he took action in Zainab’s case in Kasur.