“They started beating Aapi. Then they burnt her, right in front of my eyes”

Published: June 8, 2016
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Maria Sadaqat Abbasi.

A few days ago, I overheard my cousin talking to someone and saying,

“Have you seen the news? Even CNN and BBC reported on the instances of violence that our women endure. Clearly it’s more serious than I thought.”

I felt disgusted, not just at her remark, but at our mentality and reflection. It’s not news for us unless it reaches an international forum. It’s impossible to feel even a fraction of the pain Maria had suffered at the hands of her tormentors, but turning a blind eye to the incident is not just an insult to the victim but to humanity as well.

This is still a topic of discussion as the media and people continue to express their sympathies. Therefore, I, too, would like to avail this opportunity to vent my frustrations and share my dismay over this gory incident. I could barely function or concentrate on anything after having heard of it.

Maria Sadaqat – a girl from my vicinity – was burnt for a ‘sin’ she had never committed.

Yes, she belonged to the same village as I did; therefore this matter is close to home and bears more significance. We have become so desensitised that we are least bothered about the violence and chaos that exists in our society, unless it’s suffered by someone dear to us.

That being said, Maria Sadaqat was a 19-year-old girl from a ‘lower middle class’ family, who worked hard to earn a living. She was a grade nine teacher at a private school owned by Master Shaukat – the perpetrator of the crime.

She respected him, not only because he was the school’s principal, but because he had lent her father some money. Never could she have imagined that someone she respected so much could stoop so low so as to eventually become the cause of her death. Such a gruesome death, indeed.

Dewal and Ausia are two villages alongside one another. There has always been conflict between the two; be it on political, social or moral premises. Although, for some reason, when this news went viral, I was hoping that people would put a pause on (if not denounce) such rivalry considering a life had been taken. But I was wrong.

This incident magnified the rivalry as Maria was from Dewal and Master Shaukat was from Ausia – sickly enough, people started supporting their ‘candidates’ based on the village they were from.

Maria’s body had suffered 85 per cent burn injuries. Nobody, especially the culprits, thought she would survive. But, to their surprise, she did. Her statement, in the manifestation of her dying declaration – before the news broke out on the media – created a serious rift between the villages tied up in common affinities.

A segment of people from Murree started blaming her, and the media and masses started showcasing the matter, bringing a bad name to the region.

This scenario reminded me of how there was a time when even I had joined the bandwagon brewing hate speeches against people like Manto for writing about such extremities and people like Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy for showcasing terrorism in our society. I labelled her as a ‘wannabe’ and an evil spirit, bringing a bad name to our country.

The beliefs I used to have are evidence of my sheer ignorance; the issues that people like Manto and Chinoy highlighted were prevalent in parts of interior Punjab, Sindh, FATA, Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, Afghanistan or a far flung region that I had never heard of. In other words, I felt it wasn’t important enough to be reported or highlighted. Being a student of Mass Communication, I used to hate newspapers for filling their daily pages with at least two or three ‘such’ news stories. I would throw away the paper in a fit of anger saying,

“They just do this for traffic; don’t they have better things to report?”

Now, my stance has changed.

My home became the target.

But this is when I first came to realise that this was not the first time a crime of this nature had occurred in our area. In retrospect, their voices were snubbed by people like me; those who love to inquire about global entertainment but couldn’t speak up for basic rights. Even the elders of our village remained quiet because they thought the integrity of the region is more important than the sanctity of human life.

The chairman of the area, Aijaz Ahmed Abbasi said,

“I don’t know if a dying person can lie or not, but I have met the girl personally just an hour before she passed away, with the intensity of pain and extremity of burns, but was conscious. She told me,

‘Uncle I did not even know the reason for the brutality and callousness, they just knocked on my door and the moment I opened the door, Master Shaukat along with four other men started accusing me of casting a spell on his son, who – according to Master, wanted to marry me. (In response) I told him point blank that there was nothing going on and I was unaware of such a thing’.”

Maria was alone at home with her five-year-old infirm sister. Her house was isolated from all the other houses in the street, and the family was attending a funeral, not knowing they’d be attending one at their own house soon. The younger sister said that,

“They came and they started beating Aapi and when I intervened they beat me up too. We were crying and screaming, but no one could hear us. Then they burnt her, right in front my eyes, and I couldn’t do anything.”

Maria was a beautiful, independent, obedient and educated girl who had never been involved in any immoral activity, let alone having a secret love affair with the divorcee son of the Master. The administration of the school where Maria taught, along with the villagers, can vouch for that.

It’s disgusting how people, especially the women from Ausia, are coming up with false assertions such as,

“Oh! We have heard that the medical reports state she was pregnant.”

I’ve realised that people can go to any extent to help their village win this war of false pride. It’s unfortunate that these very women suffer at the hands of such men, because they never stand up for their own rights. The women have indeed taken this matter personally and are accusing the dead, despite knowing of the cruelty she suffered. In her last few breaths she sought justice and felt compelled to inform people of just how sick this segment of society is.

The last thing that Maria said in her conversation with the chairman of area was,

“When I heard the villagers coming, I realised my body would be exposed because of the burnt clothes so with the help of my sister, I went inside to hide myself in a cloak” and burst into tears.

Later, Master Shaukat informed the police (he gave a statement under Quranic oath), that he has nothing to do with this murder and was not even there when this gruesome incident took place. The people in no time developed a soft corner for him and started assuming that he is innocent and Maria may have, after all, committed suicide.

Whereas the recent post-mortem reports state that before burning, she was physically tortured and brutally beaten – and that is not something one does to themselves before committing suicide.

It is not wise to trust one who has been accused and indicted for a heinous and serious crime, even if he swears by the Holy Quran. For those who are capable of committing such a horrific murder, taking an oath is no big deal for them. Such people have no respect for religion or understanding of what the holy book contains.

I always stood by the Islamic principal of,

Zulm karnay walay se bara zalim zulm ke khilaaf awaz na uthanay wala hai”

(The one who stays silent over a crime is worse than the criminal himself)

Followed by Dante’s,

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain their neutrality in the times of moral crises.”

Hence, the least we can do is raise our voices against such acts. It might move someone enough to make a difference, maybe even save another Maria. It may teach our women to stop falsely accusing other women in order to save their men.

Regardless of how I write or how badly I narrate, I am writing because I can’t find another way to make a difference. Can you think of something better? If yes, then please do it. No matter how little or weak it is – it will matter.

Zubaria Raja

Zubaria Raja

The author has studied BS Mass Communication. She is a social activist and a photographer based in Islamabad. She is a constant traveller and an avid reader. She tweets as @ZubariaJan (twitter.com/ZubariaJan)

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