A Pakistani woman’s frustrated quest for justice

01 February 2015

IT WAS MID MORNING on an ordinary day in October 2010. No one in the family kept time by hours and minutes, but she remembers because she was making bread for the second meal of the day, patting balls of dough between her palms, waiting for the stove to get hotter. As always, she hummed songs in her head, wedding songs she had heard at her cousin’s recent nuptials, when the women had been allowed a stereo.

The men came in suddenly. And they were everywhere. Uzma’s first instinct was to cover herself. The sixteen-year-old felt instantly exposed; no men, other than her brother and father and uncles, were permitted into the sleeping and eating spaces of the house. Where was her mother? Where were her brothers? What did the men want?

By the time she realised they were policemen, dressed in khaki and black, they were already swarming through the four rooms in which her family lived. As they kicked the tin trunks and scattered clothes, they shouted that they were looking for a cell phone. One of them snatched the half-rolled ball of dough she was still clutching in her hand. She remembers yelling that there was no cell phone. Instead, the men unwrapped a laptop that was kept swaddled inside a trunk. It was the family’s most treasured possession, bought used by her eldest brother so they could all huddle together and watch the Bollywood movies she loved. “That is ours!” she screamed to the man who had grabbed it. “Give it back to us!” The man laughed at her, and yanked her by the hair to drag her away from the stove. He did not put the laptop back.