Asia and the Pacific

TFT (Pakistan)
27 April-3 May 1995


On 16th April 1995, 25 kilometers from Lahore, in a village called Rakh Baoli, a 12-year-old boy was killed with buckshot fired from close range. This death occurred on the evening of Easter, the Christian "Eid." The victim was Iqbal Masih, a member of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front and the youngest winner of the international Reebok Foundation Award.

In 1994, Iqbal Masih, appeared on American TV networks, a thin, malformed child crushed by child labor. He told his audience that he would like to become a lawyer so that he could devote his life to liberating children from forced labour into which they are sold by their parents. On his return to Pakistan, his award was paid in rupees totaling three lakhs.

Iqbal Masih entered a school in Lahore run by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front and passed his four grades in two years instead of four. The American institutions were so impressed that they awarded him a scholarship to go to school in the US. He was to leave for an educational programme at Brandeis University in a few weeks when he was brutally murdered.

On Easter morning, he asked the chief of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Mr. Ehsanullah Khan, for permission to spend Easter at home in Hadoke, near Muridke. Iqbal then took the wagon and was home in 25 minutes. His mother asked him to stay overnight, but he was worried about missing his treatment from a doctor for his growth problems inherited from years of bonded labour in the carpet-making industry.

At five in the afternoon, Iqbal took a wagon for Rakh Baoli with his maternal relatives. They were to get off at Baoli while he was to catch a bus for Lahore. The relatives insisted that he go with them to Rakh Baoli and spend the night there, but he wanted to get back to Lahore. But once he was in the bus, he felt like being with his kin, and got off at Ravi Rayon bus stop, crossed the railway crossing and reached his mother's family house in Rakh Baoli.

At seven in the evening, his cousins Liaquat Masih and Faryad Masih, aged 10 and 17 respectively, got ready to take their uncle Amanat Masih's supper to the fields where he was working late. Iqbal decided to go with them, and the three set off on a bicycle. They had hardly gone half a mile when they say two shadows by the wayside. When they approached. they discovered that the servant of a local landowner, Zaki Hussain, was mounting a she-ass in an unnatural sexual act. Mohammad Ashraf alias Hero was involved with a donkey belonging to the boy's family.

Faryad Masih stopped the bicycle, his brother got off from the pillion, as Iqbal remained perched on the front bar. Faryad reprimanded Ashraf Hero for what he was doing, but Ashraf was ready for the emergency. He had with him a twelve-bore shotgun which he took out without delay and fired at the boys. Both Faryad and Iqbal fell to the ground under the impact of the shot. After that, Ashraf Hero absconded, leaving the she-ass tied to the rope.

Iqbal died on the spot; Faryad sustained buckshot injuries. According to the post mortem report, Iqbal Masih received 72 pellets from his legs to the left side of the chest, which was enough to kill him. Faryad Masih received 6 pellets on his left arm and two on his left hand. A cartridge called number "four" had been fired from the shotgun.

The killer threw his weapon in the courtyard of Mohammed Hussain Meher in the nearby settlement. Police station Ghulam Bari, headed by sub-inspector Feroze Wallah, registered the FIR and took down the statement of Faryad Masih as eyewitness. He booked Ashraf Hero under Section 303\324 for murder as well as under Section 12\7\79 for bestiality.

In 1986, Iqbal Masih's father sold him to the carpet-makers for a sum of Rs 13,000. For six years Iqbal worked in the carpet factory of a local employer who took 16 hours of hard work from him daily. (Muridke has a large number of carpet looms running on child labour.) During this labour, Iqbal's body stopped growing and he was threatened with dwarfism.

In 1992, after the Supreme Court held child labour in the carpet-making industry as illegal, Iqbal Masih took out a 3000 strong procession of children against the carpet makers. The Bonded Labour Liberation Front of Ehsanullah Khan freed the children from their backbreaking routine, and Iqbal was taken to Lahore by the Front so that he could be educated and his dwarfism treated. He was admitted in the Front's own school where his progress was so rapid that the International Bonded Labour Foundation gave him the Reebok prize for outstanding performance.

Now the situation is very different. The killer is at large. Cases of murder and bestiality are being "investigated" against him by SI Feroze Wallah. The SI has gone to Ashraf Hero's home in Nain Sukh village and arrested his blind mother and father and brother Arshad. He has let off the parents after preliminary "karwai" but has retained Arshad in jail. When the writer of this story went to the police station with Feroze Wallah on Friday, he saw that the overcrowded jail also contained, beside Arshad, Zaki Hussain and Ali Hussain of Rakh Baoli.

"Samindar" Zaki Hussain had kept Ashraf Hero as his servant at his "dera." He told TFT: "I admit that Ashraf was my servant and that he had stolen my licensed gun and used it on Iqbal under provocation, but how am I to blame for it? The police have subjected me and my brother Ali Hussain to torture. We have no contact with the killer and don't know where he is."

Ashraf Hero's brother Mohammad Arshad, who is a "rehri" vendor, said: "my brother Ashraf was a heroin addict which Zaki Hussain supplied him so that he would work at this farm. My parents and I have been arrested, and I have been beaten mercilessly at the police station. My brother has been an addict for the past two years, and has worked for various masters to satisfy his urge for heroin. He is no longer a part of our home and we don't know where he can be found."

SI Ghulam Bari told TFT that he was pursuing the case with utmost honesty. The Police were conducting raids at various places to unearth the killer. As to why he was subjecting all these other people to cruel thrashings, he had no convincing answer.

Back in Muridke in the house of Iqbal Masih, no one knows what the boy was doing. All they know is that Iqbal was with "Khan Sahib" the leader of Bonded Labour Liberation Front, and was studying there. They know that he had gone to the United States to get himself treated and to get his prize, and that he was to leave for the US again for higher education. And as for the three lakh rupees awarded to Iqbal, their answer is that they have no knowledge of it.

When TFT went to the offices of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front at Regal Chowk, Lahore, the reporter was informed that Mr. Ehsanullah Khan was in Geneva at a conference. The Front office-bearers thought that Iqbal had been murdered by the carpet makers because the boy had been receiving threats from them.

The Carpet Manufacturer's Association Lahore has denied in the Lahore press that they had any hand in the death of Iqbal Masih.

The legal chemical examiner has been sent the medical report of the she-ass involved, but so far no result has been handed down. The instrument of murder, the shotgun, is with the police, but the police want to nab the killer first, so that they can "produce" the weapon from his custody. This will be done in the presence of the magistrate, so that the police can avoid the "hard" part of the investigation.


Return to PANGAEA HomePage