By Aroosa Masroor
KARACHI: Had 25-year-old Kulsoom Rehman Baloch known the repercussions of betraying her tribal tradition, she would not have made the mistake of marrying a man from the Khokhar family, she says. In a state of shock, she narrates how her one-month-old marriage to the man of her choice landed six of her in-laws in police custody, where they continue to be tortured. Kulsoom has only one appeal to make to the government and the chief justice: ‘Release my in-laws. They are innocent.’
A resident of Islamabad, Kulsoom has currently taken refuge in Karachi along with her two sisters-in-law, Riffat Rani and Nadia Riaz, after Kulsoom’s brother, Mehmudur Rehman, allegedly threatened to kill them. Refusing to accept her marriage with Fazal Abbas, Rehman lodged an FIR (331/2009) on April 22 at the Airport police station in Rawalpindi.
“When my family learnt of my relationship with Fazal Abbas they fixed my marriage with a man from the Baloch community whom I had never seen. So I decided to marry Fazal without informing my family,” revealed Kulsoom who fled from her school in Islamabad (where she was a teacher) to Sargodha where the couple tied the knot on March 22 with the consent of Fazal’s family.
Kulsoom’s brother waited for a month until he, along with their paternal cousin, a PML-N MPA from Jhang and parliamentary secretary in the Punjab Assembly, used their political influence to lodge an FIR against Fazal Abbas under sections 365-B and 379 of the Pakistan Penal Code for abducting Kulsoom and committing robbery, she alleged.
“After the FIR was registered, the police first raided the house in which Fazal and I were living separately. They were accompanied by my brother and cousin and beat me up severely, asking me to reveal my husband’s office address but I refused to do so. Then my neighbours intervened and I managed to escape,” disclosed Kulsoom.
The same day, the police raided the house of Kulsoom’s in-laws where, in the absence of a female constable, her mother and sisters-in-law were beaten up. “It was the night of April 25. The police barged in and demanded to know where my brother Fazal and Kulsoom were. They later found him, yet dragged my mother and all my sisters out of the house and took us into custody,” recalled Nadia Riaz, Fazal’s 19-year-old sister, who spent ten days in the Adiala jail, Rawalpindi, with her youngest sister, aged 12, until they were released.
When contacted, the SHO of Airport police station, Chaudhry Safdar, confirmed registration of the FIR, denying that any pressure was exerted on the family. He added until Kulsoom comes forward and records her statement before the court that she married with her consent and provides documentary evidence of the same, the case cannot be withdrawn.
He further said Kulsoom’s family alleges that she ran away with cash and jewellery from home which is why the said sections have been imposed. However, Kulsoom claims that she ran away not from her home but from her school.
Meanwhile, on April 28, officers from the Barana police station (Jhang district) arrested Fazal’s elder sister Riffat Rani’s husband, Shafiq Dogar, claiming that an FIR (202/2009) had been registered against him under section 406/380 of the PPC.
“They refused to show us a copy of the FIR despite our repeated insistence,” said Riffat while talking to The News. Each time she visited the police station, which falls under the electoral constituency of the MPA in question, heavily armed men guarded the police station and refused to let her in. “They said they had received orders to not share a copy.” However, with the help of her brother-in-law, Riffat managed to obtain a copy that was dated April 30, while her husband was arrested two days earlier.
When contacted, Inspector Cheema at Barana police station confirmed that the FIR had been filed, but said he could not recall the date of the registration. He added Shafiq Dogar was kept in custody for only five days after which he was found innocent and released.
But Riffat claims her husband continues to be tortured to the extent that the police have broken his legs, yet he has been given no medical care. “My brother-in-law told me that on May 12, when my husband was produced in court, he appeared on a wheelchair to record his statement before the civil judge,” wept Riffat, who has heard no news of her husband since she arrived in Karachi a week ago. She is especially concerned because Shafiq is a heart patient.
What is even more unfortunate is the fact that Riffat is a PML-N party worker herself, but has received no support from either the leaders of the women’s wing or other MPAs. She is the city president of the PML-N in Sargodha. “The discriminatory attitude of the PML-N is apparent from this incident. When it comes to party workers, an MPA is always given preference over lower cadres,” said Riffat.
Kulsoom added she was certain about the involvement of her MPA cousin, on whose orders several armed party workers in Sargodha allegedly await their arrival. “They have threatened to kill me once I return and said they will not spare any woman in the Khokhar family either. I have lost all hope now, but more than my life, I fear for the lives of my in-laws who have been suffering because of me.”
The News made several attempts to contact the MPA for his version while a request was faxed to his office in Jhang as well, but this correspondent received no response till the filing of this report on Thursday evening.
Kulsoom and her in-laws have sent several applications to government officials in Punjab but are yet to hear from them, she said. Meanwhile, The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Lahore chapter, has written to the Punjab chief minister to take notice of the issue. “We sent him a statement 36 hours back and hope to receive a positive response soon,” HRCP Chairperson Asma Jehangir said.
Since she has been let down by the government, Kulsoom said she wanted to convey one message before her brothers and cousins reach her: “If I die or my husband and in-laws are murdered, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and the present government should be held responsible.”