Three abducted women were recovered from a dug out in the kacha area near the Punjab-Sindh border on Wednesday.
According to police officials, the women had recently been kidnapped by a gang of proclaimed offenders and had been gang raped. “By the looks of it and going by what they have told us so far, it looks to be part of some kind of human trafficking operation,” said district police officer (DPO) Sohail Zafar Chattha.
The DPO recovered three women in the Kacha area of Sadiqabad circle around 200km away from Bahawalpur after police received an anonymous tip-off about their location. Zafar said that the women had been kidnapped from different areas of the province and all of them had been gang raped and severely tortured during their incarceration. “We have sent the women to the hospital where they are receiving treatment and medical tests have been issued,” he said.
Police officials had been searching for the gang of proclaimed offenders for several months and there was head money on the accused. Police have arrested three of the accused and are now searching for the remaining three gang members involved in the case.
Zafar constituted a special team under Sadiqabad circle Assistant Superintendent Police (ASP) Tanveer Hussain and Station House Officer (SHO) Inspectors Abbas Akhtar, Chaudhry Ghulam Dastgir, Usman Haider Gujjar and Sub-Inspector Muslam Zia who took part in the operation. “When the kidnappers saw the police approach they started firing with automatic weapons and after 5 to 6 hours of exchanging fire, we recovered the victims and have apprehended three accused, while three have fled,” Dastgir told reporters.
“They called themselves the ‘Lathani Gang’ and we were moved from place to place. This is the seventeenth hide out I have been inside during the last three years,” said one of the victims, Fauzia. “There were several other women were brought in and then taken to different places. They would tie us up and assault us. I don’t even remember how many of them were there,” said another victim Majeeda Bibi.
The DPO said that the gang leader ‘Meera Lathani’ was a wanted criminal with head money of Rs500,000. “From our preliminary questioning we have discovered that the gang also has several women in their employ. They initially con the women to join them for a shopping trip after befriending them and then they are abducted,” he added.
Police have arrested Meera Lathani but his son, gang member, Afzal Lathani fled from the scene to interior Sindh. Inspector Akhtar told reporters that any trafficking operation was probably taking place across the border. “It appears that people were being taken across the Sindh border after being kidnapped from here. It could be the other way around,” he said.
He further said we arrested two members of this criminal gang, Shaukat and Baksho recovered during the operation. He told that Shireen, who was kidnapped from Jehlum around four years ago, Majeeda from Lahore near Kala Shah Kako was kidnapped around two years ago and Fauzia was kidnapped around ten years ago from the Khanpur city had been recovered from the dug out. “The women don’t know much. They have experienced severe trauma and were blindfolded most of the time. They say that there were dozens of others who went through the same thing,” Dastagir said.
Doctors at the DHQ hospital said that all three women had been gang raped and severely tortured. “There are countless signs of torture on their bodies, bruises and cuts and two of the women also gave birth to children,” said Dr Laiba. “We recovered the children as well. One is Zulfiqar, 5 months, and Farzana, 2,” police said.
The women are now in the custody of Bohang Police Station and their children are with them. The DPO said that the families of the victims were being contacted in this regard. “Many of the family members had given up hope of ever hearing from them again because so much time had passed,” he added.
*Names of the victims have been altered to protect their identity
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2012.