Shabnam Khan's death: Making a murder sound like a routine act

I failed to understand how the officer remained completely numb to the brutal murder of Shabnam.

Umaima Peracha January 07, 2013
Shabnam Gul Khan passed away on December 4, 2012, having been murdered by her husband Gul Mohammad Khan in Murghi Khana, Karachi. The couple had a love marriage in 1998, in India and returned to Pakistan together in 2000.

She was an Indian citizen of Christian faith and was formerly known as Shirley Ann Hodges.

In the two years that the couple spent in India after marriage, they lived happily and had a daughter. When she returned to Pakistan, her husband assured her that they would visit India frequently but this never happened.

On arrival, she discovered that her husband already had a wife and six children. She was locked away in the top floor of her husband’s house in Karachi.

Shabnam was tortured and beaten mercilessly. This torturing was done not only by her husband but also his first wife and children. She was kept under strict purdah and her husband took away her passport.

During the course of an internship at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Karachi, I came across her case. Having learnt of her unfortunate death, I visited Shah Latif Police Station to obtain a copy of the relevant FIR registered against the perpetrator.

Members from the HRCP team had visited Gul Muhammad Khan in the past, but he did not allow them access to his second wife, the late Shabnam Gul Khan.

On arrival at the police station, my colleagues and I asked for copies of the FIR registered against the perpetrator, the husband. We were given a number for the investigating officer and rushed back to our NGO as there was nothing more that could be done to help us.

Any question asked regarding the case was not answered which was fair enough. Then on further insistence, we obtained the FIR numbers and were told there was a charge against the husband under section 302 and 13-D of the Pakistan Penal Code as he had allegedly murdered his wife and was caught when in possession of a weapon.

The visit so far was standard and things were handled quite professionally I thought.

When a brief discussion started about this and how she should have been rescued earlier with the duty officer, he said some words which made me think that Pakistan has not changed with the changing times. In Pakistan people seem to use religion as an excuse for most things. They pick and choose bits of Islam to their convenience and unfortunately, I myself am also guilty of this act. However, the words uttered by this man left me stone cold.

He said that just like the Holy Prophet (pbuh) died when it was time for him to do so, so did this woman. It was Allah (SWT’s) will.

It was as if he was using religion to justify murder!

What he forgot, though, was that Allah (SWT) tells us to tie our camels. Our religion preaches goodness and helping others is an obvious facet of this. In this case, this translated to doing all that was possible in practice to get Shabnam Khan away from her perpetrator. Instead of mourning her death, the casual attitude of the duty officer was shocking.

How could someone look away from something so horrendous so dismissively? I wondered if  it was really necessary to take the ‘human’ out of yourself to do your job. I agree the officer may have seen too many people dying, but there was not an iota of regret on his face. I don’t understand how a woman who was brutally murdered and tortured deserved not the smallest bit of emotion from him. He spoke as though torturing and murdering a woman was an inevitable happening. This is what was so distressing to me.

I realise that many people die in Karachi every day but we must not let their deaths go unnoticed. We must make every death count and use the effect it has on us as fuel to try and take whatever steps are in our abilities to improve the situation.

I hope and pray that others in our country do not look upon murder with such a blaze attitude and exhibit the horror and sadness this story deserves.

Let's not lose the human being in all of us.
Umaima Peracha An LLB graduate from Warwick University who likes to write about crime and human rights issues in the country.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.