He was 15 years old. In some reports, the age is given as 16 or 17. He was skinny, had the sunburnt skin of a child who spent much time outdoors. His hair was styled in that swept-upwards hairdo that young boys and teenagers have everywhere in 2019. There were streaks of gold in his hair, salon-treated or sun-kissed, it was hard to tell from the blurry images on television and news websites.
He was dressed in a black tee-shirt specked with white; grey faded jeans, one pocket studded; a thin, tan belt encircling his slim waist…the slim waist of a boy who was not more than a child.
On his tee-shirt, written in big white letters in caps was Apna Time Aayega (my time will come).
His time never came. He was killed.
His name was Rehan.
On August 17, 2019, in the Kokan Colony, Bahadurabad, Karachi, Rehan was captured on the allegation of intended theft. Reportedly, accompanied by another boy who escaped, Rehan had entered a house with an intent to steal, an allegation he denied for as long as he could. Taken to the roof of the house, he was tied to what looked like an out-of-use cage for pigeons or some other birds. Legs tied, hands behind his back, tied to the rusted grill of the cage, his jeans removed to add more humiliation to his ordeal, Rehan was threatened, beaten and tortured until he was unconscious.
That is when the beating must have stopped. It had to. There is no satisfaction in torturing a dead body. Torturing a skinny 15-year-old, hearing him scream for mercy, and cry for help was the justification to satiate that primitive instinct of overpowering the ‘bad.’ The bad in this case was a thin little boy who had not even done anything. He was killed for his thoughts. Imagine what would have happened to him if he had been caught in an act they didn’t approve of. Would they have killed him twice?
In one image, Rehan was seen lying on the ground, barely moving while grown men hovered over him, one of them holding a rope. Was he planning to hang Rehan?
Two men beat him. The number increased. Five or six men beat him. The number increased. Twenty-five to thirty people beat him. The skinny 15-year-old Rehan was tortured by many people of various ages. One of the perpetrators seemed to be in his 50s. One couldn’t have been much older than Rehan. The bloodlust that was camouflaged in vigilantism was unleashed by a horde on a skinny 15-year-old boy.
Humanity cowered, hid its head in shame, crouched in a corner, crying soundlessly.
In the photographs and the video of the torture, Rehan, bruised, was seen with a bit of blood under his lower lip. A couple of his front teeth were missing. Rehan was so young even his milk teeth had not been replaced yet. The perpetrators tortured him to get a confession. The toothless child had to be tortured like a terror suspect at the Abu Ghraib, at the Guantanamo Bay, as if he had a plot of global destruction to reveal. His torture was photographed, videotaped, and uploaded on social media.
No one came to his rescue
Every person who showed up on the rooftop of that house in the Kokan Colony, Bahadurabad, Karachi was there to swear at Rehan, threaten him, hit him, torture him. Even those who may have just watched were there without any inclination to stop the torturers. A group of males of various ages assembled to beat to death a boy no more than a child.
Not one woman came to that rooftop to rescue Rehan. It was midday, and there are not many Pakistani households that do not have at least one female member present at that time. No one heard Rehan scream? No one cared? Why? Because a 15-year-old who had not even stolen anything needed to be given a warning in blood, a cautionary beating–worse than the torture that suspects caught in action face in police stations of Pakistan–was necessary so that he abstained from future ‘sins’?
Rehan, a 15-year-old, was tortured with iron rods and wooden sticks. Rehan died.
Once Rehan was ‘unconscious’, his torturers called the Rangers, who rushed the boy to Jinnah Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The police surgeon, Dr Qarar Abbasi, who examined his dead body said his death was due to a head injury “due to torture by a hard and blunt object.” Rehan’s body had multiple torture marks.
At 1:30 pm, Rehan died. Reportedly. At 3:30 pm, Rehan’s dead body was taken to the hospital. At that time, he was unidentified; no one knew who he was, where he lived, who his parents were. Rehan’s life shrank into those three-and-a-half hours. His time started and ended in those three hours. Rehan’s life ended before it began.
Rehan’s father Mohammad Zaheer, of Khudadad Colony, has demanded a JIT into his son’s death. His family, whose pain is unimaginable, demands justice. Will Rehan get justice? Only time will tell.
An FIR has been filed under Section 316, punishment for Qatl shibh-i-amd of the Pakistan Penal Code. The police also plan to invoke Section seven of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act. Five suspects – Anas, Shahrukh, Masood, Daniyal and Zubair – have been arrested so far.
Humanity sinking low
Due to outrage on social media, amidst a nationwide outpouring of shock and grief, the Sindh police, on instruction of the Sindh government, are doing their best to ensure justice to Rehan’s family. Will it happen? Only time will tell.
Rehan’s lynching is humanity sinking to a low that makes one wonder about the entire point of existence. Of the poor.
The killing of Rehan is neither new nor will it be the last instance of barbarity unleashed in the name of vigilantism on a person belonging to the underprivileged section of society. The killing of Rehan is one of the most chilling manifestations of the social and moral fibre of society being reduced to a threadbare cloak of sanctimony and self-righteousness.
In a Pakistan where there is no fear of accountability of violence or injustice to the poor, where the application of law is subject to the material status of the victim or the perpetrators, where the legal system is full of loopholes, where courts are overcrowded and overwhelmed with the number of unsolved cases, where the wheels of justice move into full gear because of the outrage on social media, where attention is shifted to a bigger, a graver incident in a matter of days, and where justice is as elusive as the prospect of a good life for countless children like Rehan, what will happen to killers of Rehan, I have no way of saying with certainty. I hope for justice. Will it happen? Only time will tell.
Those who unleash vigilante cruelty on helpless people act on the pretext of being morally superior. Their personal code of ‘ethics’ is irrelevant, the wrong they do is inconsequential, the red lines they draw for others are non-existent for them. It is others who must behave. Their vigilantism is reserved for those who they overpower to use as target practice for a declaration of their public piety: look how good I am. I will not bear any evil around me. I will make an example of anyone who commits a wrong.
In their mission of self-validation, they zero in on those who have no way of fighting back. Stripped of all pretences of humanity, they perpetrate acts that are so monstrous only human beings could perpetrate them. Animals kill for food and survival. Animals don’t kill to prove a point, to pay obeisance to the ugliest instinct of unleashing cruelty to satiate unidentified emotions of inadequacy, insecurity vicious masculinity, and accountability-free control.
Rehan’s murder took me back to another August day: the Sialkot lynching of August 15, 2010 of the two teenaged brothers, Mughees and Muneeb. On an allegation of theft, the two young men, for hours, were beaten, tortured and killed. Their faces became unrecognisable, their dead bodies hung in the town square, their dead bodies thrown on an open vehicle displayed in streets. Dozens of people, including women, children and policemen watched as the two brothers were lynched with bricks, sticks and iron rods.
Not a single person tried to stop the violence. No one intervened. I had trouble sleeping for weeks after I watched that video. I cried many times. I wished I could un-see the video. I still think about the two brothers, sons of a mother and father whose pain is unimaginable.
As a human being, as a mother, it is all so traumatic for me I don’t really have the right words to express the enormity of my feelings. I cried for Rehan. I will each time I see his photos. I wish I didn’t have to, I only did because I knew I had to write. There are many questions but one continues to poke me like a painful stab in the gut. How do people just stand and watch cruelty on unarmed, helpless, screaming-for-mercy boys, young men, women, older men, animals, anyone? How?