Horror story of Pakistani woman forced to parade naked
- 21 June 2011
- From the section South Asia
Earlier this month police in Pakistan arrested several men for stripping a middle-aged woman naked and parading her in a village after one of the offenders accused her son of having illicit relations with his wife. The BBC's Aleem Maqbool travelled to the north of the country - where the incident happened - to find out more about a case which has shocked most Pakistanis.
"That day, I had no idea anything was wrong," says Shahnaz Bibi.
She had been at home in the village of Neelor Bala in northern Pakistan. Her husband was away in the city of Lahore where he worked as a driver.
She is clear and determined as she recounts details of her assault.
"I suddenly heard people smash the front door, they were shouting," she says. "They asked my 11-year-old son where I was and of course he told them."
Shahnaz Bibi says four men, armed with pistols and rifles, burst into her room. She says she knew them all as members of the same family, and as neighbours.
"Before I knew what was happening they tied my wrists and pushed me hard out into the lane, abusing me and sometimes throwing me to the ground," she says.
"They dragged me to an open plot of land. There, they tore off all of my clothes.
"For a full hour they pushed me around and paraded me naked. I cried and pleaded with them but they wouldn't listen and they kept beating me."
Shahnaz Bibi says that very soon the entire village was watching.
"Men, women and children were all there, but nobody came forward to help. Nobody even tried to cover me up," she says.
"One of the men was holding up a rifle and saying that if anyone came forward, he would kill them, so one came near me the whole time, but everyone was just standing around watching the drama.
"In between abusing me and pushing me and exposing me, the men were telling me my elder son had had an affair with a girl from their family. I knew nothing about it."
All Shahnaz Bibi says she knew before the assault was that a woman in the village was getting divorced. What she says she did not realise was that her son was accused of being the reason behind it.
Police say there had been a meeting of some of the men of the village to sanction the divorce, and that it was immediately after that meeting that several of the men rushed to Shahnaz Bibi's home.
"I said they should have discussed it with us, or should have gone to the police about my son if they felt he had done something wrong, but they just wanted to humiliate me."
"The whole time I was asking myself why this curse had befallen me from nowhere. What had I done? I was begging them to stop.
"After a long time, they finally left me, pushing me and abusing me more. I ran to my house to put some clothes on."
At this point in telling us what had happened to her, Shahnaz Bibi's voice cracks and she bites her lower lip. Then, after evidently having tried hard to keep her composure, she breaks down in tears as she continues.
"Me and my younger son were both crying and we ran into the forests outside the village. I was too embarrassed to go home so I slept the night in the forest," she says
"We had no money, so we persuaded a driver to take us far away."
Shahnaz Bibi now says that she can never return to her village. Three days after the attack though, she did come back to the district to see the police.
"You know, not a single person had reported the incident," she says.
"The police registered our case, and thanks to them some of the men are in jail, but others are still on the run. I'm so frightened; any of them or their relatives could kill me for reporting them."
In Pakistan, targeting a woman for the alleged crimes of her family members is not uncommon. There are regular reports of feuds being settled through women being burned with acid, mutilated, raped or even killed.
Pakistan's penal code even has a specific law relating to stripping a woman and exposing her in public. It is punishable by life imprisonment or death.
"I want them punished, though it won't help me much," says Shahnaz Bibi.
"Before all this, I was poor but I had a respectable life, I was happy. But after something like this, my life is finished," she weeps.
"How can I go back to a village where every single person has seen me naked? I feel ashamed even to show my face to my own brothers and sisters."