The capital is in the throes of grim crime news. Just weeks after the horrific news of the rape and sexual assault of a couple by a local gangster, news about the gruesome murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, has shaken the city and the rest of the country. Noor suffered unimaginable brutality, and her killer is a man she knew for more than a decade. Zahir Jaffer, the son of an affluent, influential family, is now charged with murder. Both had a complicated relationship and their meeting last week was supposed to be a farewell call before Zahir, a US citizen, went off to America. But little did Noor know that she was walking into a death trap.
Zahir detained Noor against her will for almost two days at his house in an upscale Islamabad neighbourhood. He forced her to make a phone call to her parents and lie about being in Lahore when family and friends started searching for her. Her efforts to escape remained unsuccessful. A guard at the house alerted Zahir’s mother, herself a trained psychotherapist, when he saw Noor trying to escape. The parents, instead of calling the police, reached out to Therapy Works, a counselling and psychotherapy centre. Zahir brutally killed Noor and chopped off her head from the body while the Therapy Works team and a group of mutual friends tried to enter his room.
Initial police investigations reveal that Zahir was completely in his senses and not under the influence of drugs. He is known to have a drug addiction problem and went in and out of therapy in the past, a patient of depression and anxiety. In recent weeks, according to close family sources, he had stopped taking his medication and had started taking Ice and Meth again, both easily available in the capital. But the fact that he was in his senses and not under the influence of any drug precludes the possibility of drug-induced psychosis. The incident cannot be written off as a violent, psychotic episode. It was simply a coldhearted murder—and appears premeditated.
Subsequent investigations and legal proceedings will reveal further details of this horrific case. The sheer brutality has sparked off countrywide condemnation and revulsion. Social media, especially Twitter, echoed with anger and outrage and has added to the public pressure to bring the killer to justice.
And once again, the vulnerability of women is under the spotlight. Women remain insecure and vulnerable to grave crimes in the country. Noor’s brutal murder has reopened the wounds of numerous females who have come forward with shocking and alarming tales of abuse and assault. This is a moment of reckoning and national soul-searching. Why is it that women, no matter from which strata of society, continue to be tortured, abused, and killed by men with so much impunity? The rising number of such cases is not only reflective of deep misogyny in society but also points to a shocking failure to protect and respect the lives and dignity of women. No amount of lip service can suffice. There is indeed a need to tighten laws to ensure perpetrators of violence against women are brought to justice. But awareness and education are also crucial. The tendency to victim-blaming and shifting responsibility is also unfortunate. Each incident of violence against women is justified by many in society. The debate often turns into a criticism of what women should wear, or how they must behave while in public or private.
Noor, the daughter of a former diplomat, is remembered by her friends as a sweet and gentle person, who cared for pets. Zahir Jaffer comes from an affluent, educated background, and had a troubled past. His family bears culpability. They failed to properly institutionalise him, even though his mental health issues were identified long ago. Instead, he was enabled to live a life that not only endangered himself, but those around him. Even on the day of the murder, the family did not contact the police first. They contacted Therapy Works, an organisation that has come under strong criticism over its questionable practices. One ironic and shocking detail is that Zahir himself gave counselling and therapy sessions to youngsters and claimed to have a certification from Therapy Works. The organisation cannot dust off its hands so easily from Noor’s tragedy.
The murder is yet another test case of the country’s legal system. Many are rightly questioning whether justice would be served. Almost always, the powerful have gotten away with heinous crimes, thumbing their noses at those grieving and wrecked for life. How different would it be this time? If the past is an example, there is little room for solace and optimism. Killers walk free when the media spotlight fades away, legal gymnastics are played by lawyers as the case drags on and public interest fades or gets distracted by yet another tragedy.
There is already a foreboding sense, a premonition that the next tragedy is just around the corner.