LAHORE: For Khadija Siddique, refusing to talk to a class fellow left her scarred for life. Nine months ago, the 23-year-old university student was stabbed 23 times and is still seeking justice against her influential attacker.
On May 3, 2016 the woman survived the murder attempt in broad daylight while waiting for her younger sister outside her school on a busy road in Lahore.
Khadija was sitting inside her car parked outside a hotel and studying her notes for an upcoming paper three days later when a man wearing a helmet attacked her with a sharp-edged weapon. The assailant stabbed the student 23 times and also attacked her minor sister when she tried to intervene.
The family driver tried to overpower the attacker and in the ensuing brawl, the attacker’s helmet came off and he ran away from the scene, threatening the crowd with the knife.
A passerby had also made a video of the entire episode. Through closed-circuit television cameras footage and eyewitnesses accounts, the suspect was identified as Shah Hussain – a first-year classmate of Khadija. A case (300/16) under attempt to murder charges was registered at the Civil Lines police station.
“It was extremely painful and traumatic. I fell unconscious and regained senses after five days and two surgeries,” Khadija tells The Express Tribune. “I only remember my sister shouting out my name while I put up my arms to fend off the unrelenting attacks.”
As far as the woman can understand, the only reason she was attacked was that she had stopped talking to Hussain because of his intimidating and offensive behaviour.
Nine months have passed since the attack took place. The victim, her sister and their driver have all identified the attacker. Forensic evidence collected from the crime scene all confirmed the suspect’s involvement. Despite clear-cut proof, the survivor awaits justice.
“It is really frustrating to know my attacker is roaming free,” Khadija says.
Hussain reportedly belongs to an influential family with a political background. His father is a senior lawyer allegedly having considerable influence not only over the police but the judiciary as well.
Khadija’s ordeal does not end here. She claims the attacker’s family has been intimidating her and her family to drop the case against Hussain. “I feel drained now. Fighting for my life after the brutal attack and then fighting for justice all this time have produced no results,” she complains.
After the attack on May 3 last year, Khadija identified the suspect in her supplementary statement on May 8. But on May 16, the suspect obtained a pre-arrest bail.
The victim’s family challenged his bail, the decision on which came after three months. On July 23, Hussain’s pre-arrest bail was suspended by court. The suspect managed to evade arrest as a group of lawyers escorted him out of the court premises in the presence of police. The suspect went into hiding and the order to cancel his bail was challenged in the Lahore High Court by his family. The high court upheld the decision on September 26 and Hussain was arrested three days later. He remained in jail till November 30 until a sessions court granted him post-arrest bail.
The influential family’s role was once again highlighted when Khadija’s lawyer refused to follow the case, claiming he was facing intense ‘pressure’. The family spent the next two weeks searching for a lawyer to fight their case and finally filed a petition for cancellation of Hussain’s post-arrest bail in Lahore High Court in December. The hearing is scheduled today (January 24). Khadija accuses the police of playing in the hands of the suspect’s family. She says the suspect was arrested on September 29 and remained in police custody but the law enforcers submitted the charge-sheet two weeks after Hussain was granted post-arrest bail.
The case investigation officer, Javed Cheema, denied the allegations, saying police investigated the case on merit and according to law while sharing all evidence with the prosecution side.
Senior Advocate Azhar Sidddique said the country’s criminal justice was outdated and flaws in the system provided space for exploitation. “We urgently need reforms. Such cases must be heard daily,” he added.
Talking about the misuse of power by lawyers to influence court, he said the bar associations also needed to introduce a system of accountability.
Punjab Commission on Status of Women Chairperson Fauzia Viqar said the challenges faced by Pakistani women were unique. “They need additional support and space to pursue their cases as they also have to fight the perception that the woman is always at fault,” she said. Fauzia added police were biased against women and force them to give up on cases instead of fighting on.
She proposed setting up special benches at courts for cases on violence against women. “We also need to increase the number of female judges and sensitise the current judges on such cases,” she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2017.