LAHORE, Pakistan – A Christian mother of five was allegedly raped by two Muslim men in mid-September, and area Islamists are threatening to harm her family if charges against the suspects are not dropped, the woman and her husband told Compass.
On Sept. 15, the 32-year-old woman said, she was returning home to Mustafabad, in Punjab Province’s Kasur district, from a garment factory where she works. Two Muslims, identified only as 23-year-old Bhallu and 27-year-old Shera, along with an unidentified accomplice, allegedly abducted her at gunpoint, took her to an abandoned house in the area and raped her, she said.
Working late, she had reached the Mustafabad bus stop at 11:45 p.m. and had begun walking to her home five minutes away; the street was deserted, said the alleged victim, whose name is withheld.
“As soon as I entered our street, Bhallu appeared from the shadows and put his hand on my mouth,” she told Compass by phone. “A second person, who I later recognized as Bhallu’s friend Shera, came from behind and put a pistol on my temple. A third person also appeared on the scene, and together they first gagged me and then forcibly took me to an abandoned house. I tried my best to get free from their hold and save myself, but they were too powerful for me.”
Once inside, she said, they took off her gag, and she pleaded with them to leave her alone.
“I tried screaming, but they hit me,” she said, sobbing. “Not for a minute did they acknowledge that I was a mother to five children. Then they raped me, one after the other. Their third accomplice stood guard as they tore in on me like animals.”
She said that her tormentors let her go after more than an hour.
“They had torn my clothes, and I could barely step outside the house,” she said. “I don’t know how I managed to reach my home … Words fail me even now.”
Muslim criminals in Pakistan, where the population is more than 95 percent Muslim according to Operation World, tend to assume they will not be prosecuted if their victims are Christians. The accuser said Muslim men in the area have been harassing Christian women for some time.
“There are around 500 Christian houses in this area, which is predominantly inhabited by Muslims,” she said. “There have been several instances when they have publicly harassed us but have gotten away with it, because we keep silent to avoid a clash.”
A month ago, as she was returning home from work, she was near her house when she suddenly felt someone pulling her head scarf, she said. She turned and found one of Bhallu’s friends holding the head scarf.
“I started screaming, and my husband and a neighbor rushed out, but the boy walked away as if nothing had happened,” she said. “We did not say a word about this to anyone out of shame and fear of the Muslims.”
She said that after that incident, her husband, who works as a sweeper, began accompanying her to and from the bus stop.
“But there were days when he could not accompany me to the bus stop, and I used to walk alone,” she said.
Her husband, Mushtaq Masih, said that he was speechless after she told him about the ordeal.
“We have five children – three boys and two girls – with the oldest daughter studying in sixth grade – I cannot express the thoughts that filled my mind at that time,” Masih said. “The Muslims had ruined us completely, and I did not know what would happen to us if we reported the crime, but seeing my wife devastated, I decided to face the rapists.”
He called police, who visited the crime scene and took the woman to the hospital for a medical examination that proved she had been gang-raped, he said. Police filed a First Information Report (FIR No. 491/11) against Bhallu and his accomplices.
The woman said that she knew Bhallu only because he lived in her neighborhood, and that although she recognized Shera, she did not know his name until the FIR was filed.
Masih said that Shera’s name came up during the initial police investigation, and he was in custody when the investigating officer asked Masih to bring his wife to the police station to identify the suspects. Bhallu had fled the area.
His wife said that as they reached the police station, Muslims warned the family against pointing out Shera.
“They told us that they will kill my children and husband if I identify Shera,” she said. “They said that we should not forget that we are chooras [sweepers, a derogatory word for Christians] and can bring no harm to them. They also warned that our daughters would face a similar fate if we did not listen to them.”
She refused to identify Shera and returned home, she said.
“What happened to me should not happen to any of them,” she said. “My children are my world, how could I put their lives in danger? … Please pray that no woman suffers what I have been through.”
Pressure to Drop Charges
Area Christians were shocked. The family continues to receive threats to withdraw the case against the primary suspect, Bhallu, who has been seen in the area several times though police have yet to arrest him, Masih said.
“Our Muslim neighbors are pressuring us to withdraw the case,” he said. “They want us to reach an agreement with Bhallu and his friends. They want us to ‘pardon’ the criminals who have dishonored us.”
Police are using delay tactics in the pursuit of Bhallu, Masih said.
“We told the Mustafabad police in-charge that the Muslims are forcing us to withdraw the case, but he is not bothered,” Masih said. He added that some policemen had also asked him to withdraw the case, saying there was little chance his wife would get justice.
“They asked me to take money in return for withdrawing the case,” Masih said. “They want that I should sell my wife’s honor for money.”
Investigating Officer Muhammad Sharif dismissed the Christians’ accusations that police had sought money in exchange for dropping the case, and he refused to acknowledge that Muslims were threatening the woman’s family and needed police protection.
Sharif told Compass that police were trying to arrest Bhallu.
“We took his father into custody but released him after interrogation,” he said. “I will soon catch hold of Bhallu.”
Sharif said the investigation would accelerate after the primary suspect is arrested.
As Masih and the few Christians daring to support him ponder their next step, the woman maintains a faint hope of getting justice in a country where Christians have little legal or societal standing. Mukhtar Masih, an elder of the area Presbyterian church, said the Christians were helpless as the Muslims held sway over local police.
“Several Christian women have complained that the Muslims have harassed them, but this is something that we have to live with every day,” he said, adding that even though the community was shocked, no one was coming forward to help the family because “they are afraid of the Muslims.”
Area resident Arif Masih told Compass that the Christians’ fears were understandable.
“We don’t have anyone who can face the police and the Muslims,” he said. “What happened to Masih’s wife is very tragic and can happen to any one of us, but is there really anything we can do about it?”