Veiled women leave Jamia Hafsa, dazed and confused

ISLAMABAD, July 5(Dawn): Mingled emotions of relief and fear were expressed by scores of veiled Jamia Hafsa students on Wednesday afternoon as they walked out of the fortified seminary unscathed 24 hours after the bloody gun battle began at the Lal Masjid.

Young girls and women clad in black burqas marched away slowly and solemnly in small groups as the sun and clouds played hide and seek, and Rangers looked on.

The students seemed to be in a daze after what they had gone through and were reticent when approached at first. Their anxious parents, siblings and relatives who had come to pick them were more communicative.

They said they were extremely thankful to God to have been able to retrieve their dear ones alive.

Notably no anger, resentment or remorse was conveyed but only a great sense of relief.

However, just a little distance away stood two elderly women in a ground wailing away because their nieces were not allowed to leave the seminary.

One of them said they had come from Rawalpindi to fetch their nieces but did not succeed.

"We met them and they came almost till the gate but then they were stopped," she complained.

"Their grandfather is almost lying unconscious in the house since yesterday because he has been so worried about the girls," cried out the panic-stricken woman.

Other people present in the vicinity also reported cases of some girls not being allowed to leave Jamia Hafsa. The general fear was that they were being used as human shields by the militant elements inside the seminary.

The students who agreed to talk said that they had not received the amount of Rs5,000 announced by President Gen Pervez Musharraf for each person who would leave the seminary."We were given no money. They just took our names and addresses," was the standard response.

However, by 5pm eyewitnesses confirmed that a female assistant commissioner was distributing Rs5,000 to some of the departing women students.

Most of these young women belonged to Peshawar, Attock, Mardan, Murree and Rawalpindi and had been at Jamia Hafsa from six months to over two years.

They maintained there was no resistance from inside on their leaving.

A couple of young girls in their mid and late teens were petrified to say anything other than that they were up the whole night praying because they could not sleep due to the random firing.

Gulnaz and her sister Azra from a village near Murree said they were happy to be out. Their mother was equally glad and relieved.

According to Gulnaz there are still several thousands girls left at Jamia Hafsa. "I am telling you that there are 7,000 to 8,000 women and girls present inside Jamia Hasfa," she said in a worried tone.

She estimated the number of girls under the age of 10 years to be at least a hundred. Nobody had come to get them so far.

Another 19-year-old student from Peshawar, Naila, tended to agree with this figure. Both of them said these children were frightened and "Madam", wife of the Lal Masjid Maulana, was taking care of them.

Apparently quite a few of these children are orphans and had been deposited at the seminary by their relatives.

Some students and their family members, perhaps too shaken by the violent face-off, were keen to get out of Islamabad as fast as they could but had no clue about the directions.

There was no public transport in sight due to the curfew in the area. The only vehicles one could see were Rangers' trucks. So they walked all the way in the sweltering heat, taking short breaks in between.

Some students denied the fact that the Lal Masjid students were armed with sophisticated weapons and had been firing at the security forces from the rooftops. "I did not see anyone doing that," said 18-year-old Naila a resident of Murree.

She complained that the government had failed to check "immoral activities" and observed: "The government must take action against this."

As the Jamia Hafsa students steadily moved towards their next destination with all their belongings wrapped up in little bundles, they were unsure of what the future holds for them.However, some of them were quite clear on one thing: if given another opportunity they would not return to Jamia Hafsa. The sentiment was shared by their parents and relatives.

"Nahi, tauba tauba (Never)," was the categorical response of the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was enrolled at the seminary just six months back. The young girl was bewildered but managed to smile.

However, the women leaving the premises in the evening were far more militant. They came in droves complaining against their parents who had brought them out. Some were even screaming, shouting and crying. But as it transpired that was the time when Maulana Abdul Aziz came out to be arrested in a burqa.



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