KARACHI: The sight of a white Toyota Corolla in her rear-view mirror sent a chill down Shama’s* spine as she reversed her car as fast as she could, nearly hitting another in the process. The tyres screeched and the engine roared as she sped off.
This incident took place in 2008 when for many female drivers in Karachi, like Shama, this was a common experience. The notorious ‘white Corolla rapist’ was a feared entity in the neighbourhoods of Defence and Clifton. The man inside the feared car was known to stop unaccompanied travellers, especially women, and rob them of their belongings – word spread later that the man also raped the women.
“I was shivering with fear but I tried my best to keep my nerves. I knew I had to take quick decisions. I could see the headlights closing in on me as the white Corolla tried to overtake my car,” recalled Shama, nearly seven years after what she claims was her interaction with the infamous white Corolla.
Many women stopped driving alone at night in those days, others quit driving all together. The suspect did not only roam the streets at night, some of his alleged felonies were recorded in daylight as well. His notoriety became the talk of the town. Some were afraid to come into close quarters with this feared man, others actively hunted him.
“Whenever I was out driving, I looked for that white Corolla,” remembered Farheen Munim, a female resident of DHA. “I swear I would have hit his car from behind if I had encountered him,” she claimed, adding “However, some of my friends were so frightened that they didn’t go out for weeks.”
Before these incidents could be dismissed as urban legends, the police nabbed the ‘white Corolla rapist’, identified as Ali Hajiano, and his accomplice Umair Khan in January 2009.
Hajiano is the son of a former bureaucrat while his accomplice was a motor mechanic by profession. According to investigators, Hajiano befriended the mechanic during visits to his shop and later included him in his criminal activities. Khan would come in handy to switch the licence plates of the white Corolla to avoid being caught.
The two were charged with murder, robbery, disgracing women and carrying illicit weapons. But not rape. “This is [merely] because no rape case was lodged against them,” said Imtiaz Khan, a staffer at the court where Hajiano and Khan were being tried. “People complained of robberies and harassment but nobody mentioned rape.” The trial is being conducted inside the Karachi Central Jail for security concerns.
Since their arrest in 2009, Hajiano and Khan were nominated in around 33 cases. The duo has been convicted in around seven but exonerated in double that number while the remaining cases are still under trial.
In some offences, they have been sentenced to 15 years in jail and after being incarcerated for six years, they are set to spend at least eight more years behind bars unless they receive further punishments in the 10 ongoing cases.
The one case that can seal the fate of the duo is related to the murder of a transgender. According to the Boat Basin police, the suspects mistook the transgender for a woman during one of their excursions. The transgender shouted and shoved the two to escape but they opened fire, killing her on the spot. The murder is punishable with death or life imprisonment.
The victims of their muggings also remember the duo with a lot of anger. Imtiaz recalled how a female complainant stepped forward and slapped Hajiano repeatedly when he was brought before a judicial magistrate for the identification parade. She was so infuriated that the women police had to pin her down, he said.
Even though police completed their investigations and submitted the charge-sheets against the two in nearly all the cases by February 2009, the trial continues. It took the court nearly six years to find the duo guilty of robberies in seven cases.
Talking about the reluctance of witnesses to appear before the court, Imtiaz, the court staffer, said a total of 250 witnesses, including victims, were named in the charge-sheets but most of them failed to appear in court. “[People] believe that testifying against the suspects will land them in trouble,” he claimed.
On average, the court heard one witness a month with around 70 still left. If the court maintained the same pace, it will still take five years for all the cases to be decided. “All the remaining 10 cases are at the evidence stage,” he explained.
Mohsin Hussain Raja, a prosecutor previously tasked with the case, described that the biggest hurdle in proceedings was absence of witnesses. “The two have been involved in heinous crimes; felonies that cannot be described,” said Raja, adding that “People have a lot of anger for the accused but they still don’t’ appear in court against them.”
* Name changed to protect identity
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2016.