. . . . . .  


The film ‘A Time to Kill’ (1996), derived from John Grisham’s best-selling novel, was set in the fictional town of Clanton in the southern state of Mississippi (U.S.). In its closing scenes, a white defence lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) defends his black client (Samuel L. Jackson) against a murder charge against two white rapists of his young ten year old daughter.

The lawyer’s summing up begins:  “I want to tell you a story [about] a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. Suddenly, a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip the clothes from her body.’’ After assaulting and brutalising her, they leave her for dead. 

“I want you to picture that little black girl”, he asks the Mississippi jury. ‘’Now imagine she is white.”

Replace Mississippi with Sargodha, and fiction dove-tails with reality. Imagine an illiterate thirteen year old girl, Rizwana, employed by a civil judge and his educated wife in Sargodha. The teenager needs the work. She comes from an overcrowded home of impoverished parents and nine other siblings.

A fortnight ago, Rizwana’s father Manga Khan called at the judge’s residence to meet his daughter, probably to collect her meagre wages of Rs10,000.  According to the report he filed with the police, ‘As I stepped in the house of judge, I heard screams of my daughter coming out from a room. We rushed to the room where we saw she was lying on the floor in an injured condition’, with wounds on Rizwana’s head, face, legs and torso.

Rizwana was admitted for medical care first in Sargodha but because her condition was deemed too critical, she was shifted to Lahore General Hospital, where she has been fighting for a life that offers only pain and undeserved suffering. 

According to the LGH team now caring with commendable zeal for Rizwana, her wounds were horrific. Her skeletal injuries were arms with multiple fractures, consistent with both arms broken in many places, caused by frequent blows from a blunt instrument.

Damage to her soft tissue consisted of unhealed wounds on her scalp where her hair had been pulled away from its roots. These had festered and become a meal for maggots. She has burn marks on her torso and back which had filled with pus.

On discovery, her weight was no more than 30 kg. Had she been fed properly and regularly (as Judge Hafeez’s three children aged 7 to 12 years were), her weight should have been closer to 46 kg.  Because of her precarious condition, an injection called pentaglobin costing Rs.5 lakh is being administered to her, free of cost, to help eliminate the infection in the body.

No one will ever be able to assess the psychological trauma Rizwana has suffered, or how long it will take her to recover from it. Probably never in her damaged lifetime.

Meanwhile, while Rizwana was being rushed to the hospital in Sargodha, her employer - the judge’s wife Ms. Somia - rushed to Islamabad District and Sessions Court (DHC) where a judge Dr. Abida Sajid instantly granted her pre-arrest bail against a surety of Rs.100,000.

In the film, McConaughey asked his all-white jury to picture that young black victim: “Now imagine she is white.”

Now imagine that Rizwana had been a daughter of Judge Chaudhry Asim Hafeez and his wife Somia, and that she had been systematically tortured by a lowly menial. Would that perpetrator have obtained pre-arrest bail as quickly?

Politicians from the PML-N have been quick to capitalize on Rizwana’s predicament. Khawaja Muhammad Asif (Minister of Defence, not Health or Social Welfare) went to ask after her, followed by Maryam Nawaz, Senior Vice President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). She asked Rizwana blithely why she had not reported the abuse when it had been going on for six months. Did she expect the injured teenager to escape from a domestic prison and then with broken arms sign a FIR?

Had Maryam Nawaz stayed long enough at the hospital beyond her brief social call, she would have learned that Rizwana’s mother had endured 12 pregnancies in 15 years of marriage, and that she had no one to look after her nine other children while she was in the LGH caring for Rizwana.

It took the police ten days to constitute a Joint Inspection Team to investigate the case, and finally, on 7 August, Somia Hafeez was arrested.  

Rizwana’s doctors found fingernail marks around her eyes, indicating that someone with sharp nails had tried to gouge an eyeball out of its socket. Had that heartless person succeeded, Rizwana would have been as blind as justice is in Pakistan.



[DAWN, 10 AUG. 2023]

10 August 2023
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