On February 24, 2022, a sessions court in Islamabad awarded the death sentence to Noor Mukadam’s murderer Zahir Jaffer. Noor got justice. The first part of an excruciatingly painful trial was concluded. Jaffer’s parents were found not guilty of any wrongdoing. Two members of Jaffer’s domestic staff, a gardener and a watchman, were given ten-year sentences. Class played a blatant role in deciding who other than the murderer was complicit, abetted, in one way or the other, or did nothing, while a 27-year-old woman was being beaten, kept locked up, tortured, raped, murdered, and beheaded.
Noor Mukadam got justice. Did she?
What happened in the two days, July 18-20, 2021, at Jaffer’s house in an affluent residential area of Islamabad—from the moment Noor stood on his front door to the time she was killed in a way that reads like a story from a horror movie you switch off midway—is a dark, indescribably dark, reality of a society that prides itself on keeping its ugliness well-hidden and barely discussed. I didn’t know Noor or her family but like millions of people in Pakistan, her murder devastated me. What happened to her kept me awake many nights.
A month after Noor’s death, I got in touch with one of her best friends and wrote an obituary on Noor. Her friend told me many things about Jaffer, but my article was about Noor and the goodness that she radiated everywhere she was, with everyone she met. Later, I wrote a two-part article in which Noor’s father, sister and brother talked, with superhuman restraint, about Noor. It was very important to me to keep the life of Noor, a beautiful woman with stars in her eyes and dreams of tomorrow, separated from the two days that abruptly, starkly, brutally seemed to have become her sole story. Staying in touch with Noor’s sister and tweeting about justice for Noor, there was hardly ever a day when Noor or her family suffering the horror of a legal and a social media trial were not on my mind. Noor’s murder still haunts me. As a mother, as a woman, as a Pakistani, as a human being.
Violence against women is so rampant it is taken as just another annoyance to be flicked away if it hovers anywhere near you. Violence against women is the starting point and the culmination of centuries of sexism, misogyny, and the unquestioned belief that women are inferior beings who need to be kept in their place. Violence against women is rarely punished. Violence against women is only noticed when a woman is killed.
The murdered woman and her family face another kind of trauma when the case goes to trial. In a court and on social media. A coldblooded murder and barbaric beheading of a woman is cleaved into neat rows of victim blaming, character assassination, gaslighting, nice girls don’t interact with men, what was she doing at his house, why was she meeting a man, what did she do to provoke so much rage in the murderer. Unimaginable is the hell that was unleashed on Noor and her family, especially her father, and even her brother, who Jaffer’s attorney suggested could have killed his sister for what I think should be renamed in Pakistan’s legal terminology: “honour killing”. Honour doesn’t kill, evil does.
The tortured murdered beheaded Noor Mukadam faced all that and more.
The shattered system of personal values, the held-with-duct-tape code of morality, what-will-people-say trumping the instinct to do the right thing, the façade of respectability being more important than the life of a woman, Noor Mukadam’s murder shreds to pieces the idea of a perfect family and its priorities made in sand. Since the details of the case kept emerging in media, there were several things that enraged me on a very personal level.
As someone who absolutely believes in not being a mute witness to any act of injustice or cruelty, and who attaches utmost importance to taking immediate physical action to help, or if that is not possible, to alert someone, on seeing someone in trouble, there are so many things that have profoundly troubled my mind about the actions of the four people who directly and indirectly witnessed and abetted in the torture and murder of Noor Mukadam: Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, watchman Mohammad Iftikhar, and gardener Mohammad Jan.
Despite the mercurial alterations in Jaffer’s post-murder statements—confessing everything, accusing his parents of being privy to all that happened, pretending to be medically insane, retracting his confession, accusing an unknown person of killing Noor at a “drug party she arranged at his house”, and even hurling the idea of “honour” killing—one thing remains undisputed: Zahir Jaffer, in bloodstained clothes, was found alone in his room with the beheaded body of Noor Mukadam and the murder weapon. What is also undeniable is that four people knew that Jaffer was torturing Noor at his house. How they behaved, what they did or did not do is the stinging, stripped-to-bones, soul wrenching exposition of the death of humanity. Humanity that is our guiding spirit in every step of our life.
Depravity of class and privilege, working for which conditions the poor to assume the role of a slave in the twenty-first century, is so rotten its stench snakes in and finds sanctuary in the high walls of the fancy houses they are paid paltry sums to keep clean and safe. The day before Noor was killed, the watchman stopped her from leaving when, barefoot, and clearly terrified, she rushed to the gate. He was a silent spectator to Jaffer’s locking her in the watchman’s wooden vestibule. On the day of the murder, Noor jumped from the first floor to the ground, and pleaded with the watchman and the gardener to help her. Both of them ignored her pleas. All or most of it was captured on the CCTV cameras installed at Jaffer’s house.
What is that oath of loyalty that prevents a poor man from doing the right thing? How is the conditioning to obey so forebodingly entrenched in the minds of domestic workers and other lowly paid people that they learn to ignore the voices of their conscience, their good sense? Even if they thought it was a mere fight that would blow over, what made the watchman and the gardener so oblivious to the enormity of a woman jumping from a terrace and running barefoot to escape? Even if they were terrified of the people they worked for, why did they not think of asking someone to make an anonymous phone call to the Islamabad police helpline? Even if their allegiance to the Jaffer family was greater than their integrity and morality, what made them assume that the horror of torturing and keeping captive the daughter of Jaffar’s family friend, that too a former ambassador, well-connected and well-respected, would not return to them?
Reportedly, it was a neighbour who made the call to the Islamabad police on July 20, 2021.
For months, as a mother, I have wanted to ask Zahir Jaffer’s parents Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee many things: Burdened with parental love, even if you continuously choose to ignore the tell-tale signs of your son’s sociopathic or psychopathic behaviour, and light reprimands of boys-will-be-boys, and cosmetic, ineffective therapy do not seem to be working, isn’t it your parental and human duty to keep a very, very close check on your son’s activities? Does your love for your son make you impervious to his flaws that over the years have become almost too dark to ignore?
I ask Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee: When you know your son is threatening to do lethal harm to a woman who is locked up in his room without her will, what is that one moment when you decide that something more than persuading him in numerous phone calls to let her go is not just your best but sole option? Why would you send people of a therapy centre to stop your son from carrying out his threat of killing a woman? Why did you not call the police? If calling the police would have endangered the “safety of your beloved son”, why did you not contact a trusted friend, a relative you could rely on to keep your secrets safe?
I ask Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee: Why did you not order your domestic staff, people who you call your servants, to break your son’s door and save Noor? Why did you think you had no option but to keep the horror of keeping a woman captive and torturing her as a “family matter”? Even if you acted on the assumption that your son, despite his hours long murderous rants, would not kill the woman he was torturing, why did you think you and your son would get away with what happened in your son’s room on that day? How did your misplaced love for your son and class privilege make you so blind that saving your son was your ONLY thought in the hours he tortured and murdered and beheaded Noor Mukadam?
The court has acquitted Zahir Jaffer’s parents Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee of any wrongdoing.
On February 24, 2022 Noor Mukadam got justice. Did she?