For more details on the two sisters please click here
By Mehwish Bhatti:
We left home early in the morning (Sunday 22nd February 2015) my frail elderly mother and I, determined to complete our task of bringing Sherish and Farzana to safety. The two now famous girls have been strong-willed and determined to rebuild their lives, despite being subjects of the cruel perversions of three local Muslim boys, who beat, cut and tortured them while gang-raping them for over twelve hours, mocking the girls vindictively as they challenged them to call on their God to save them.
The brave father of the girls Ilyas Masih met us along with his friend Khalid, who was one of the men that found the girls dumped unconscious in the same field they were abducted from. During the journey Khaild relived the moment he found the girls, he said “Their bodies were naked, bruised and bleeding at first I thought they were dead, but after recognising signs of life I called the father and we replaced their lost clothes with some of our own, while others rushed to collect blankets.” It was a somber morbid journey that was to culminate in the departure of the girls from their father and brothers, so excitement was tempered with significant melancholy.
We travelled on a local people carrier and later by rickshaw to reach our destination Chako 651/2 were the girls resided. The long travel on the coach from Islamabad and this final stretch to their home drew out great introspection, I realised how fortunate I am to live in a city, where it is not a perfect life for Christians, but where discrimination is less volatile then the oppression, vilification and persecution of Christians living in more rural communities. My mother has been able to afford an education for me and I now am completing my degree in literature, but for families like Sherish and Farzana’s, the priority is food on the table. I am in no way over privileged but compared to the fate these girls would have faced, my life has been a piece of cake. I cried several times on the journey as did my mother and the father of the girls Ilyas Masih. It did not yet feel like a time of joy…
We arrived at our destination and I breathed a sigh of relief, as it had been a very long journey. The family had moved back into their home after it was found no relative and the local church could not support them financially. I inspected the washroom building and water pump that we provided which are both functioning well. The family explained to us that they are pleased to have a toilet and washroom at their home, which prevents potentially dangerous excursions to the forest and local stream. Moreover, they have started a much more healthy and hygienic lifestyle which has envigorated them.
The girls were excited to see me as they had prepared for this relocation for a long time, they had explained to their father that they loved him, but desired an escape away from the hatred directed towards them. They felt ashamed about what had happened to them despite no culpability, and simply could not cope with any more attacks and taunts.
Despite initial reservations mainly focused on the lack of knowledge of our group, the father agreed it was the best chance for rehabilitation for his daughters. He explained to my mother and I that he had prayed about deciding to allow his girls to live with us incessantly – since we first broached the subject a month ago. Ilyas Masih, spoke to us with a heavy heart, but with great expectation. He said;
“I have asked God for direction, and every time I prayed I noticed it was your group that was calling me and responding to the matters I was praying about, without me telling you. To me it seemed like an answer to my prayers. Although deeply frustrated and angered at my situation, I believe God has a much bigger plan for my beautiful daughters.”
The friends and a few christian neighbours came to meet the girls and I, to say their farewells. It was a touching moment full of many tears and great sorrow, the women in the community wailed loud and long. The grieving of the loss of these girls from their community extended beyond an hour. It was heart wrenching when I finally demanded that we leave, but assertiveness was needed as night time travel is extremely dangerous in Pakistan.
The girls held their brothers for five minutes in an embrace that shattered what little decorum I had left and I joined all the other watchers in wailing over a family that were separated by distance, but whose bonds of love would never fade.
We started out on our journey back at around 7pm, taking the father Ilyas Masih with us – he justifiably wanted assurance that his girls were safe. Enroute Mr Masih shared some disturbing and disappointing news. Mr Masih alleged that Pastor Pervaiz who was providing them with help and support succumbed to pressure from family members of one of the boys accused of rape (named Asif), and accepted a financial bung. The payment meant that Pastor Pervaiz had to approve bail for the boy, which he has done and now Asif has been granted bail, to the acrimony of the beleaguered family who feel grossly betrayed.
In a frank discussion with me Ilyas Masih, described how Pastor Pervaiz tried to explain to the family that he felt the boy was innocent. He justified this by saying that the boys family had explained that he had not been involved in the rape of the two girls but had simply watched the ordeal while his friends enacted the torturous attack. The girls vehemently deny Asif is innocent and continue to allege that Asif was involved in the attack.
Ilyas Masih expressed his great fear for his family, as supporters of the rapists are blackmailing them, threatening violence unless charges against the rapists are dropped. However Ilyas is adamant that he will seek justice for his dishonoured girls. he said;
” I want the boys to be punished, for what they have done to my innocent girls, it will be a lesson to them and other local Muslim boys that Christian girls are not their playthings. This case will bring honour back to my family and will safeguard the daughters of all Christians in our area. Such treatment of our girls is intolerable.”
It has also been alleged that Pastor Pervaiz also informed Ilyas Masih that the lawyer (who had been assigned by the Pastor) on the case, did not prepare the case very well. He placed some blame for the failed bail on the poor administration. The Lawyer named Rana is reportedly being blackmailed and is said to be closely connected to several landlords in the area opposed to the sentencing of the rapists.
Mr Masih also candidly described the awful gun attack on their home that had left their family traumatised but had not dented their passion for justice. He said;
“There were two people who fired guns at our home, whilst hollering abuse at us and demanding we drop all charges from the rapists. At the time the boys were firing a witness Maqbool was there and called local police. One of my son’s Sunil was playing outside and the gunmen targeted him, they fired at him but he ran inside our house. They then fired on the door of our house shouting obscenities and reiterating their demands.”
“Both gunmen have been arrested and are in jail for now. Our thanks to the brave witness who identified the boys despite the potential threat to him and his family.”
We arrived home late in the evening past 11pm. Tired and broken by the long journey and emotional drain we all got to sleep immediately. I have a great vision for these girls that will involve them being educated up to degree level if possible, if not they will learn a trade. These girls are virtually illiterate yet early signs indicate they are good students and capable, strong individuals. I will keep reporting back to you on progress. Sherish has adapted reasonably well to the change in home, Farzana has always been subdued, even when I visited her home, she exhibited signs of great inner turmoil and I ask that you pray for her. Pray for them both. Pray for their grieving father and their brothers who have lost doting sisters.
Ilyas Masih stayed at our home last night and left this morning satisfied that his girls are safe and being cared for appropriately. He has our contact details, is now familiar with our address and understands that he can visit whenever he chooses. We will send the girls back to visit their family during term holidays, but not during term time, as these girls need to be equipped to live in the very cruel and harsh environment of Pakistan. The number of visits home will depend on how much the BPCA can afford to pay for travel, but we completely understand the need for familial bonds to be preserved throughout our care for the two girls. We will also have a strong focus on strengthening the biblical knowledge and spiritual growth of the girls, for whom we believe God has a a specific purpose.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said;
“God has entrusted us to care for these two girls who have suffered much for their adherence to Christianity. The targeting of Christian girls is a blight on Pakistan with a growing frequency of attacks, that has currently reached three girls per week. Many of them are forced into Islamic marriage after the ordeal, meaning these two sisters have been fortunate to some extent. However the debauchery and violence these girls faced will live in their memories forever, leaving both physical and emotional scars.”
“To my chagrin and the frustration of the victim family one of the rapists has been set free. We open an appeal for an alternative legal counsel for the family, one that has no obvious connection with local landlords and strong enough to deter attempts at blackmail.”
This family have shown phenomenal fortitude through an extremely vicious and brutal attack, and have now had to face the forced separation of their family, through no fault of their own.
The BPCA have agreed to raise funds for the upkeep of the two girls and have committed themselves to at least one year. The ongoing costs to feed, clothe, shelter, teach and spiritually uplift these girls is only £100 per month. Our membership has reached 32,000 yet income through donations is exasperatingly insignificant. We pray that more of you will choose to help us with this families needs as we have a real chance of changing the quality of life for these two young women dramatically, whilst also setting a legal precedent that will make oppressors think twice before attacking innocent Christian girls who they consider easy prey. If you would like to be part of the process for change in Pakistan, or simply want to help these Christian girls flourish despite their current predicament, then please contribute towards our appeal.
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Stationary and books their learning levels are very rudimentary and I will be building a foundation, before they go to school from March.