When did rape threats become a necessary technique for extracting confessions?

Published: October 31, 2015

Early morning, Wednesday, October 28, 2015, will be forever etched on my mind and conscience as the day when my reserves of patience and equanimity were exhausted and emptied. My friend, the human rights activist, Rashid Orakzai uploaded and shared on Facebook a singularly brutal abuse of  force by a functionary of the so-called law-enforcing authorities of Pakistan.

One could see a man in a Pakistani police uniform hitting a hapless burqa-clad woman, 30 to 35-years-old, on her head and face a number of times, hurling abuses and taunts of unprecedented obscenity. A young lad, perhaps eight or 10-years-old, can be seen sitting beside her. All this happens not inside a police station or the Lahore Fort or any other facility where state terror is routinely let loose on suspected criminals and allegedly subversive political elements, but in full and complete public gaze.

The people sitting next to the brute in uniform, we learnt, were the shop owners. The woman is accused of stealing a mobile phone. We hear from the man in uniform that other women too have been shoplifting, but after being caught they confessed their crime when they were sexually abused by him. It is too sickening for me to present the graphic details of this sad incident.

Men, young and old, some sporting beards and looking pious, others casually dressed up, make up together a rather large gathering of spectators. One can imagine that while some derived perverse pleasure and thrill from the humiliation and degradation of that hapless woman, others felt disgust and revulsion, but were too scared and intimidated to protest and stop that ugly abuse of state authority.

However, at least one individual had the integrity and courage to capture that obscene manifestation of state brutality on his mobile. The video clip is now in the public domain and thus a part of incontrovertible evidence of flagrant abuse of state power and authority.

It is time for us to raise our voice and say: enough is enough, no more of this charade of a government under law and constitution.

This is much worse than the Hobbesian state of nature. The modern totalitarian state, whether of the left or right, infamously breaks down its victims behind closed doors, fetching them to the torture cells in a late-night knock on the door. In Pakistan and India, this can happen in broad daylight.

While the shame and disgrace that woman faced can well be imagined, I was particularly concerned about that little boy who sat next to her. Probably, he is her son, or maybe her brother. We see in the video clip the brute saying with absolute candour and callousness that raping women is his typical technique of extracting confessions and she will be subjected to it as well. Somebody tell me, how one feels when one’s mother or sister is so brazenly abused and violated?

Whatever crime the woman has committed is beside the point. The fact is that her son or brother too has been inflicted irreparable psychological trauma.

It was in this background of this horrible incident that some of us started a campaign on Facebook to trace the origins of this incident and to mobilise good and conscientious people to protest this despicable outrage.

It turned out that it referred to a case of alleged shoplifting in one of Karachi’s posh areas: Clifton.

Understandably, a storm of protests has followed in the wake of the video clip being uploaded. We are creatures who are ultimately moral beings.

We learnt that Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, ordered immediate action against the man whose name is apparently Akbar. He has been arrested. He is not even a regular police officer. He is an appendage of the rotten and out-dated police system. He is a qaumi razakar (national volunteer) and belongs to a category of people who take up police-like functions to assist the authorities in the maintenance of law and order.

If such are our national volunteers then I am afraid we are all headed to hell.

In our discussion on Facebook, we concluded that the shop-owners and traders involved in this incident should also be charged as accomplices of the man in uniform. A perceptive friend on Facebook remarked,

“A meagre cell phone that she allegedly tried to steal in a city like Karachi where ‘bhata chits’ (money extortionist chits of paper issued by political mafias and thugs) are rampant, businessmen lose lives, while politicians loot and launder abroad enormous public money, this woman has been humiliated enough. Therefore all charges against her should be dropped and she be sent home with a warning. Our system is such that even if this case continues no harm will come to the policeman.”

I can’t agree with him more.

It often happens that the authorities respond initially and take action because of the public outcry, but then culprits like this police appendage are quietly let off. This should not happen. I therefore propose that we form a special monitoring committee which follows the trial, and public opinion should be mobilised so that the traders are also hauled in and made to explain their conduct.

Having said this, I cannot but sympathise with those friends who say that this case is only the tip of an iceberg and we are too insignificant to make a difference. I think it is high time we, in both Pakistan and India, start discussing if a police force recruited by the British colonial state and regulated by the Police Act of 1861 can ever serve the interests of a free and independent nation.

Karl Marx was quite right in the ultimate indictment of the state: it is not a neutral institution and it upholds the interests of the ruling class. However, there have been positive developments and in European democracies the police are held accountable for their actions. In the United States, shocking cases of police brutality are common but even there public outcry results in punitive action against high-handedness.

We can’t change the social, economic and political system of Pakistan by mobilising public opinion in favour of an effective and proper trial for this man and his accomplices, but if we succeed in this case, it may serve as some restraint on the abuse of state power. He should be handed down the severest sentence that the law permits at present.

Here is the original video:

Warning: The content in this video contains explicit language that may not be appropriate for our younger audience. 

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Ishtiaq Ahmed

The author is a professor emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University. He has been a Visiting Professor at LUMS, Pakistan and is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is an award-winning author of "The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed" and "Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011)".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rashid Orakzai

    Thank You Sir for bringing this media and suggesting a strategy. Count me in. Every voice counts.Recommend

  • Malik Rashid

    How common is rape in Pakistan? By a state functionary or a Jagirdar; it is well rooted. It has always been a tool of torture and a source of pleasure for oppressors. That particular video is an indictment for a crime perpetuated routinely. Why else would it be so acceptable for a man in police uniform to slap and threaten a woman with rape? The society is ‘sadistic’ – sick. How do we heal?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Pakistan is an Islamic State and for theft punishment should be chopping of Hands.
    Woman should produce 4 pious male to prove that sexual abuse happened. The said woman was also bearing Hijab, which support sexual abuse by Muslim Men on non-Muslim women.
    Only in a secular society those things can be eliminated (India is not a secular country).Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    It is indeed appalling. Su moto must be taken by the CJ.We pursue it till the end. Let’s form an action committee.

  • rauf k

    Sir, public starts their own courts WHEN state fails to provide them with justice. I would love to hear from you, in detail. about the lapse of social justice system and judicial system, and some quick remedy.Recommend

  • Samia

    Who said that 4 witnesses are needed to report abuse? And why are you so islamophobic? Why does her wearing hijab or not wearing hijab affect this? She was abused and this man deserves death. Simple as that.Recommend

  • Nero

    Sorry Sir! Rape happens only in India.Recommend

  • Parvez

    This is a case caught on camera where the players are small and most probably the guilty party may get punished. But what will happen to the fashion model caught with half a million dollars in her bag trying to board a airplane to leave the country or the son of a politician who killed a person and all the witnesses reneged on their first claim of identifying the criminal……and there are so many such cases involving the rich and powerful.
    It is up to your senior judiciary to take a stand and ensure that justice is done, even if the heavens fall……..and the well intentioned people will back them automatically.Recommend

  • Gullu

    The author mentioned massive, massive corruption in Pak. Including
    Sindh, which is a bottom feeder. Consider this Qaim Shah, in whose
    province, there are 3,487 [identified, non existent] GHOST SCHOOLS.
    Fully staffed,with teachers, books, principals, chaprassis and in some
    cases, vehicles included. Except they exist on paper only ! All salaries
    upkeep and paid bills go directly to overseas accounts of various
    political BIG FISHES of the Sindh Govt. The Water Mafia, alone, in
    connection with the Sindh big shots makes $8 million A DAY ! [US$]
    This is just in Karachi alone which has a population of 24 million and
    counting…So, these guys can buy a Swiss Green Card, a British Green
    Card, a Singaporean Green Card, a US Green Card, a Ganadian Green
    Card and of course, a brotherly Dubai/Emirates Green Card.
    These guys are filthy rich, millionaires many many times over,…Recommend

  • Max

    Thank you Istiaq for bringing this horrific episode to the attention of most pious of the pious. Unfortunately this happens everyday with less-fortunate and less-connected people of Pakistan. The state functionaries take advantage of their position and the high-ups keep looking to the other side. Yes! Marx was correct in exposing the weaknesses of the state as an institution. The state has historically functioned as an instrument in the hands of mighty and powerful. Regretfully, the Pakistani state does not fit in any framework of normalcy what to say of dispensing justice or respect for human dignity. My heart goes to the young lady, her child, and to all the oppressed in the sar zamine Pakistan. Thanks again.Recommend


    Ishtiaq Sahib this is normal in Karachi particularly as Karachi Police as well as rangers are manned by people from rural areas and do not miss any opportunity to lord over the citizens of Karachi. Slapping them, making them murgha, taunting and teasing them in a sadistic manner wherein they take great pleasure. May Allah guide us all.Recommend


    Parvez Sahib nothing will happen to the elite in Pakistan they are like the Pharoahs……We can only pray and I am confident that Allah will find a way to destroy the elite (both politicians establishment and religious leaders) that has sucked the life of the hapless citizens of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sane

    You Indians are never ready to do any thing positive, but to hate mongering only. Such incidents do not only happen in Pakistan, but India too. Both are sufferers and must realize and act not to happen rampantly at least.Recommend

  • Gullu

    Does your heart goes out to the family of the man hanged by a mob
    who thought he had beef in his refrigerator? Does your heart goes out
    to the kin of the Kashmiri truck driver who was burned to death for
    transporting cattle from one farm to another farm? They thought he was
    taking beef to be slaughtered. Look at YOURSELF, before showing phony
    sympathy for others.Recommend

  • MrRollsRoyce

    If I were present at the scene, on seeing a defenseless woman being beaten like this and abused in such an obscene manner, I swear I would have grabbed that police volunteer’s neck and ground his face into the dust until the skin came off his filthy lips.

    It is not just the police volunteer’s actions that churn my stomach, but how the bystanders literally do nothing and just gawk. That tells me everything I need to know about the groupthink that permeates our sick society.Recommend

  • Muneeb Hanif

    laughing on all you commentators who think that a NON-VIP person such as the lady in the video can or will be able to get any form of justice.Recommend