Parents of seminary students face humiliation

ISLAMABAD, July 6(Dawn): Nawaz, 65, may not have imagined he would ever be stripped off completely naked for being father of a student of a controversial Madressah. But he had this experience of his life after having retrieved his 16-year-old Asad from the mosque and Madressah complex amid heavy shelling and exchange of fire between the law-enforcement agencies and Lal Masjid brigade.

He was not the only one to face such a humiliation for no crime of his own. Almost everybody who reached here from far-flung areas and went inside the militant-infected complex to secure protection of their dear ones had to suffer in the same manner. Mrs Shaukat Elahi and Qazi Zahid, who had come from Shinkiari to get back their son and cousin, were equally disturbed over 'this shameful attitude' of the authorities. From authorities' point of view this is quite understandable, but if the idea is to win them back this may not be the right way to go about.

Nawaz, a poor farmer from Ichrian village of Mansehra district, had arrived here after learning about the ongoing standoff in the capital. He was encouraged by the Rangers deployed near the Covered Market after making necessary registration to personally approach the Lal Masjid and try to secure the release of his son.

He said that the Rangers kept his national identity card before allowing him to go inside the mosque and when he returned at about 10:30am he was asked to strip off to ensure he was not carrying any explosive material on his return. While Nawaz was allowed to leave the security post, his son was taken into custody immediately and handed over to an intelligence agency for interrogation. Even after the curfew relaxation was over in the afternoon, he was still waiting in the scorching heat for the release of his son.

Qazi Zahid, another resident of Shinkiari, said his 15-year- old cousin Umar Ali, son of Mrs Elahi and Asad were very terrified when they met him inside the boundary wall of Lal Masjid complex. He said the clerics initially refused to release the students and then started convincing them not to take them when pressed. The clerics said all male students who had gone out of the complex were not allowed by the authorities to go home and were handed over to different intelligence agencies or sent to jail.

"As the clerics resisted the release of students, we rather forcefully climbed the walls and entered the complex. They held us on gunpoint and then said they would not stop the students from going but they are staying back voluntarily. We kept on insisting and finally persuaded the clerics to let the students go."

He said he did not personally come across Ghazi Abdul Rashid and he did not know how many students, women or children were inside because when they approached the front gate of Jamia Hafsa, their boys were kept between the boundary wall and the main building.

Zahid said he along with Mrs Elahi and Nawaz returned with the boys only to find out a hostile attitude from the security agencies

"We were bodily searched and then ordered to strip off. We protested but to no avail and had to doff our clothes. It was the most shameful attitude on part of the Rangers."

He said the authorities may have security concerns but we could have been dealt with in a civilised manner. He said none of the parents had any anti-social and criminal record but still they were treated like criminals.

He said they were told by the authorities that the students would be released only after complete screening by the intelligence authorities but it was not clear when they would be able to return homes.

He said the parents had sent their children to the Madressah to get religious education because of limited resources for education but this turned out to be a source of misery and mental tension for the entire families.

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