With the acquittal of the four men accused of raping Kainat Soomro it is hard to say what ordeal awaits her next.
Her lawyers have decided to file an appeal in the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court, if needed, but the family doubts that justice will be served. Kainat, however, believes her persistence and patience will pay off. “How can I back out after coming this far?” asks 16-year old Kainat, who was only 13 when she was gang raped on January 10, 2007 in her native village Mehar in Dadu district. The four men held her captive for three days until she managed to flee. During this period, they also obtained her thumb impression on some blank papers while she was unconscious, which was later used to prepare a fake nikahnama (marriage certificate) with Ahsan Ali Thebo, the main accused in her case.
In his verdict on May 6, 2010, the district and sessions judge (South) Fahim Siddiqui stated that the prosecution’s case was shrouded in mystery because it was unclear as to what had been administered to Kainat to render her unconscious and also unbelievable that she was kidnapped in a crowded market because there were no witnesses to the abduction. “I couldn’t do anything but laugh at the judgment,” says Kainat. “Doesn’t the judge realise that if there was a witness to my abduction or rape, the person may have done something to rescue me or at least informed my parents?” The judge did not question the legality of Kainat’s marriage with Ahsan Ali either, saying that Shariah allows the marriage of a woman once she attains puberty.
According to law, however, marriages below the age of 18 years are considered illegal. Her lawyers further argue that the Nikahkhwan was not produced before the court or a negative of the photograph in which Kainat is seen standing beside Ahsan Ali Thebo. “Who doesn’tt know of trick photography these days? Why didn’t the defendant produce a negative of the photograph?” questions one of her counsels, Advocate Farida Moten, who is Kainat’s representative on behalf of the NGO War Against Rape (WAR).
That is not all. Since the time Kainat’s case was transferred from the sessions court in Dadu to Karachi in February 2007, her family has received no cooperation. “Journalists suspect our intentions every time we go on a hunger strike outside the Karachi Press Club and government officials who make false promises to help us before the media are never available to meet us,” Kainat’s father, Ghulam Nabi Soomro, says. He has had to pay a high price for justice. “I left my transport business and property in Dadu, sold my wife’s gold jewellery and spent all my savings on Kainat’s case because I believe my daughter.
She deserves to get justice after undergoing the trauma of rape for three days.” Kainat is the youngest of Ghulam Nabi’s eight children — four sons and four daughters — all of whom moved to Karachi as they were being harassed by influential residents in the Mehar village, who forced them to withdraw their case against Ahsan Thebo. Today, despite moving to Karachi, life is no different for them. Every few months, the family is forced to shift to another neighbourhood as they continue to receive threats here as well. Currently, all ten members of the family reside in a small two-room apartment in Lee Market, a low-income neighbourhood of the city.
The monthly rent of Rs4,000 comes from Ghulam Nabi’s daughter-in-law’s salary of Rs7,000. “After repeated requests, the only government official who helped my family was the Sindh Chief Secretary Fazalur Rehman who was kind enough to get her a job as a Lady Health Visitor at Civil Hospital,” says Ghulam pointing towards a picture of the chief secretary on a calendar he gifted to the family. Back in Dadu, Ghulam Nabi’s eldest son, Sabir Soomro, who had stayed back to guard their house and belongings, has also been picked up. “He was initially missing for a month until we began receiving threats over the phone that Sabir would not be released until we withdraw our case against all the four men; Ahsan Ali Thebo, his father Roshan Thebo, Shaban Sheikh and Kaleemullah,” Ghulam said, adding that he has never felt this helpless in life. “I would be doing an injustice to Kainat if I withdrew her case to recover Sabir.
I also don’t have enough money to fight further, but am hopeful that some NGOs who have helped us throughout will support us through this.” Apart from this, there are several other FIRs that have been lodged against Ghulam Nabi and his family members in village. One of Kainat’s other counsels Advocate Faisal Siddiqui says such complexities in a case are not unheard of. “These counter cases are filed to discourage families and divert their attention from the main case. As the trial gets more complicated and the dates for hearing are extended, families become exhausted and eventually withdraw their case.” But Siddiqui added that they will not let go of this case. “I am tired of this anti-women attitude in lower courts where judges fail to understand that the testimony of a woman is sufficient in a rape case.
My fight is more against the patriarchal mindset than Kainat’s rapists. And I will fight till the end,” he says The advocate is of the opinion that the problem lies with the country’s lower courts that are quick to give the accused the benefit of the doubt, without caring for the rule of law. Under the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006, witnesses are no longer required to prove rape. Medical evidence, the victim’s testimony and other circumstantial evidence is sufficient, but this is not always taken into consideration. Details of cases won by WAR in 2008-09 further confirms this. Approximately, 35 rape cases were taken to court, of which WAR won only three, including the high profile gang-rape case of Naseema Lubano in Ubavro, Sindh in January 2007.
The case was initially under trial in Ubavro and was later transferred to the Sindh High Court in Karachi. On January 23, 2010, the judge awarded a life sentence to one of the accused in the case and imposed a fine of Rs50,000, while six others were acquitted for want of evidence. The family is still in Karachi, where they plan to start a new life. “I can’t go back to my village now,” says Hamza Lubano, who fears for his life and that of his family. “I have other daughters too. After what happened to Naseema, I can’t risk raising them in the same environment. Plus they like it here in Karachi.” Kainat’s sisters agree with this and say they enjoy their new-found freedom. “What I like about the city is that we don’t need to wear a chadar before we step out; a dupatta is good enough.
People here are quite busy and don’t have the time to stare at women for long,” laughs her elder sister, as Kainat stares blankly. “I think men are the same everywhere,” she adds. When asked if she would like to go back to school, Kainat is quick to respond: “Of course I would. I want to do my Masters. I want to study psychology,” she says, “but before that I want the men who raped me behind bars.” She also insists that the names of all the four accused be included in the Exit Control List because she fears they may escape before her appeal is filed in the high court.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2010.