The torture of tiny servants

The case of a 10-year-old Tayyaba reveals the weaknesses of a system and society

The torture of tiny servants
ISLAMABAD: The power of social media proved itself in the first week of January with the case of 10-year-old Tayyaba whose bruised and battered face reminded Pakistani society of just how much cruelty lurks in our everyday life. The case’s Supreme Court proceedings are being keenly followed with many people hoping that justice will be served.

The case

News of the case broke on social media on Dec 28 after a woman in the neighborhood took photographs of Tayyaba on her mobile phone. Tayyaba had been working at the I-8/1 home of Additional District & Sessions Judge Raja Khurram Ali Khan and his wife Maheen Zafar for a couple of years. Photographs of her bruised face went viral.

On Dec 29, Human Rights officials went to the SHO of the Industrial Area police station, Khalid Awan, who took Tayyaba into protective custody. The police had also become aware of the case from social media. She was immediately taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Science (PIMS) where medico-legal officer Dr Nasreen Butt examined her and prepared an initial medical report.

A frightened Tayyaba initially gave the authorities several statements: she was injured when she fell down the stairs, her hand was burnt by tea, her hand was burnt when she tried to turn on the television. When she was taken before the assistant commissioner for Potohar, Nisha Ishtiaq, so that her statement could be recorded, an effort was made to calm her down. Tayyaba then said that she had been tortured and abused by the judge’s wife. The First Information Report thus states that she was often beaten in the house. Most recently, she alleged ‘Mano Baji’ shoved her hands onto a burning stove and then beat her after a broom went missing. She said the owners of the house would usually lock her up in a storeroom at night besides starving and beating her. The police registered a case against the couple but as it was under certain sections, they were free to pursue bail. The judge’s wife was granted bail at Rs30,000.

In the meantime, Tayyaba’s parents reached a compromise and forgave the judge and his wife.

However, by January 4, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took notice of the case and another slew of investigating began. Another second, thorough medical examination was conducted. This time, PIMS Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram said there was no doubt she had been tortured. She was examined by burns surgeon Dr Tariq Iqbal, plastic surgeon Dr Hameeduddin, general surgeon Dr S. H. Waqar and psychologist Dr Asma. They found that she had scars indicating that she had been beaten over different time periods. The doctors noted that Tayyaba was unaware of her rights and tried to protect her ‘masters’. She did not feel that what had happened to her was unusual, they remarked. The medical board recorded 22 injuries, including 14 burns and three marks of trauma.

Her parents

The man claiming to be Tayyaba’s father, Mohammad Azam, lives in Jaranwala. He told the authorities that he had given Tayyaba to a neighbour called Nadira on August 14, 2016, for an advance payment of Rs18,000 and the promise of Rs3,000 per month. Subsequently, Nadira sent Tayyaba to Faisalabad to work as a babysitter. Later, Azam said, Nadira told him that Tayyaba had been sent to Islamabad where she had been placed as a babysitter at a judge’s house. He admitted that he and his wife had never met her after that and had only talked to her on the phone twice during this period.

The case took a twist when Tayyaba’s parents reached a compromise with the judge and his wife and Tayyaba was returned to them. After the judge’s wife was granted pre-arrest bail, Tayyaba was hastily extracted from the Benazir Bhutto Women Crisis Centre and handed over to her ‘parents’ Azam and Nusrat. After that Tayyaba went missing for about a week, from Dec 31 to Jan 8.

On January 6, she was scheduled to be produced at PIMS for a medical examination but she had disappeared. On January 8, the police found her from a suburb of Islamabad.

In the affidavit, Azam said he ‘forgave’ the judge and his wife, and in a strange contradiction also said that he found the case to be a false one. When the matter reached the Supreme Court, however, Azam said that he was illiterate and did not know what was written in the affidavit papers. “Whom did you forgive in the name of God,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar asked Azam in court on January 11.

“I do not know what was written in the papers. I don’t know if I have pardoned anyone,” Azam replied. “The lawyer said affix a thumb impression on the papers and you will get custody of your daughter.I did what he said to get my daughter.” In light of these statements, perhaps it is worth asking why the judge who approved the compromise did not raise objections to the contents of the affidavits submitted by Tayyaba’s ‘family’? It is also worth asking why another judge handed Tayyaba into the custody of Azam and his wife without verifying if she was indeed their child as her name is not present in the family tree of Muhammad Azam and Nusrat Bibi in NADRA’s records.

Human rights activists Noor Ejaz Chaudhry, Syeda Namra Gillani, Zohra Yusuf, Tahira Abdullah, Zoya Rehman and Bushra Gohar through their counsel Asma Jahangir filed a petition saying the matter had been hushed up. They had reason to believe this because her parents and the judge and his wife reached a settlement or compromise.

On Jan 6, the Supreme Court overruled the pardon granted to the sessions judge in Islamabad by her alleged parents. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar called it a “sordid incident” and ruled that no compromise could be made in matters relating to fundamental human rights. “We are the parents of a child and the fundamental rights of a child cannot be compounded,” he remarked, directing the police to come up with real truth and nothing less on January 11 as the “[SC] parents have taken cognizance”.

“Even parents cannot deny children their fundamental rights,” the judge observed. “How did they reach a settlement on torture against the child?” Much more information was revealed on Wednesday Jan 11’s hearing as we went to press.

Litmus test

For many people outraged by the nature of Tayyaba’s injuries, the case reveals the way the law-enforcement, medico-legal and legal system works when it comes to the most vulnerable members of society.

For starters, the first FIR only carried sections 342 for punishment for wrongful confinement, 506 for punishment for criminal intimidation and 34 for common intention of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). It was only later that the FIR was brought in line with her actual injuries as specified in a medical report. The doctor had noted blunt and burn injuries and expressed the opinion that the nature of wounds constituted a case under Sections 337-A (i) and 337-F (i). In the SC, the Advocate General of Islamabad Abdur Rauf informed the court that the Capital’s police were considering the addition of two more sections dealing with child employment and assault.

Tayyaba’s case also provided a litmus test for social services and the legal protection available for children. There are gaps here. When someone from the neighbourhood called up the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau office in Rawalpindi, they could not immediately take action as they did not have jurisdiction in Islamabad. So the bureau called up the director for child protection at the Human Rights ministry. The Ministry of Human Rights has a National Child Protection Centre to deal with such cases but it has no facility for girls, which is why Tayyaba was kept at a women’s crisis centre. Lawmakers are sitting on legislation to create a commission for the protection of children. (There is a Destitute and Neglected Child Act 2004 in Punjab to counter violence against children. Under the law, assaulting or hurting physically or mentally is a cognizable offence which may result in three years’ imprisonment and Rs50,000 fine.)

“The state has failed to fulfilling its responsibilities under Article 25-A of the Constitution,” remarked Barrister Masroor Shah. He was of the view that Islam and the law permits

a compromise but it always takes place when both parties are socially and economically at par. “It was necessary for the State to become a party in the case and make the parties equal,” he said. “A minor’s parents have a right to pardon the suspects but the right to pardon should not be misused.”

The protection of a child would also extend to their exposure to the public, media and judicial system. But in Tayyaba’s case, she was present when the judges in the district judiciary approved a “compromise” between the judge, his wife and her ‘alleged’ family. She was handed over to a couple who claimed to be her parents, without any verification by a district judge. This judge allowed the “family” to use his chambers to avoid the media standing outside the courtroom to question them.

The case brought out the ugly side in a number of people who engaged with it. For example, a legion of lawyers openly came out to support the judge, who has not been suspended despite facing such grave charges. “Whatever happened was within legal boundaries,” was the word in the F-8 Markaz district courts.

Similarly, Zafar Khokhar, the outgoing secretary of the District Bar Association Islamabad, asked lawyers to boycott the courts against the arrest of the lawyer representing Tayyaba’s parents, Raja Zahoor Advocate. He played a key role in making a compromise between her parents and the judge and it emerged in court on Wednesday Jan 11, that he had prior links to the judge. At one point, Zahoor had mocked reporters standing outside the courtroom by saying, “They should recite Surah Fatiha over the case as the girl has gone with the family half an hour ago and reached where she had to reach.” He was being congratulated for playing his role in settling the matter in a day’s time.

In the middle of all this action, a fantastic claim was made by a group of lawyers who roped in the name of a property tycoon, alleging that he had planted the girl and tortured her and propagated the matter through social media just to exact revenge for an FIR lodged against him on the orders of the judge.

This case also raised a debate on how the media covers such instances. For the most part, reporters did their job professionally and impartially. There was perhaps one exception who assumed the role of an investigator, prosecutor and judge at the same time when he went to elicit remarks from Maheen Zafar, the burqa-clad wife of the judge as she left the SC building following the hearing on January 6. Some reporters thought it was brave of him to question ‘the powerful’ but others said it was not his job to take such a line of questioning when she was not responding. He said: “Your silence is suggesting that you are an accused.”