‘Ramzan Saved My Life’: Pak Journo Gul Bukhari On Her Kidnapping
Pakistani journo Gul Bukhari recounts how the timing of her kidnapping – during Ramzan – actually saved her life.
Ever since my brief abduction on 5 June 2018, I have been dogged by questions like, ‘why were you abducted’, ‘why were you released’ and ‘why were you let go so quickly’.
To be honest, only my abductors would have the definitive answers to these questions. But while everyone seems to know who my abductors were, they don’t shoot these questions at them. But they keep asking me, as if I ought to know all the answers. I find it all quite funny, and also quite sad – that no one dares question the criminals.
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Why I Was Released Early By My Kidnappers
While the first two questions appear to be rhetorical, because everyone seems to either know or have guessed the answers to them, the third is actually interesting, because it is actually very rare, if not unique, for someone to be returned within four hours of being kidnapped. The usual suspects are never in a hurry to let anyone go, once they have done the deed.
So, when I started to think about it, a most interesting and unusual factor in my early release struck my mind. It was the time and month of my abduction: 10:45 PM of the 21st of Ramzan, 1439.
Because of the culture of staying awake till the early hours of the morning during the month of Ramzan, having the Sehri (the meal before daybreak to start the fast), saying Fajr prayers, and then going off to sleep, the whole of Pakistan was awake at the time I was picked up.
Time Is Of the Essence
News broke within 10-15 minutes on Twitter, from where it spread like wildfire into people’s homes via WhatsApp groups, Facebook, and other social media platforms, followed quickly by local and international electronic and digital media. By 2 AM, every major international publication had published the news, and condemnations and calls for my immediate release were pouring in.
The timing also meant everyone like rights groups, activists, friends, families, politicians and government officials in Europe and North America were also awake, being hours behind Pakistan.
The pressure the entire world brought down immediately, within minutes and hours of the crime, was perhaps a unique factor in my early release.
Compare this with other, typical cases of abductions. It normally takes the victims’ families several hours, if not a day, to figure out they have actually been abducted. Then slowly, social media becomes active, and rights groups decide to hold protests the following weekend. By which time the victim has been either badly tortured or killed. Once torture has taken place, the perpetrators are unwilling to let the victim go quickly. Instead they give the victims medical attention to erase or reduce outward signs of torture, and it takes weeks or months for people to be set free, if they haven’t been killed already.
Ramzan Prayers Set Me Free
Had it not been for Ramzan, most people – including my own family – would not have found out till the next day – and the urgency would have been lost on the world. One of the most important lessons to be learnt from my case was the essence of time. Early protest and pressure appear to be one key to the safety of victims.
A personal and overwhelming discovery that goes on to this day is how many people from different walks of life, organisations, politicians, media houses etc were involved in their efforts to recover me in those hours.
I was most touched by messages from Twitter followers: ‘my father stayed on the prayer mat and kept praying for you’; ‘my mother wouldn’t stop crying and praying’; ‘my whole family didn’t sleep after Sahr till you got home’.
This includes followers I didn’t even know personally, leave alone their siblings or parents. I was shocked to find out I had a vast family of well-wishers, who, in their helplessness, were doing what they believed would help: continuous prayers for a woman on a blessed Ramzan night, when God is more likely to answer their prayers.
Families I had never met, came to see me in person in the following weeks, to see me with their own eyes, to hold me, to hug me, to cry on my shoulder – including deeply religious non-Muslim families. Then, after a few days came Eid al Azha, and I received one of the most beautiful Eid messages from a non-Muslim Indian follower: ‘Aap aa gayeen tau hamari Eid ho gayee’.
Love & Prayers From Unexpected Quarters
One extremely funny – and most likely very helpful – thing that many people did as a coordinated campaign, was to begin flooding my DM and WhatsApp with dire messages to my abductors to release me or else – as they knew the kidnappers would have my phone and be reading my messages, apart from of course, messaging them directly. I am as grateful to the international community as to my Pakistani friends, but the range of really endearing, creative, and audacious tactics the Pakistani community resorted to, makes it lovable for me.
One friend told me later, he got anonymous calls to delete his tweets. He responded with, “OK, Sir” and proceeded to switch off his phone and double his tweets from a different device.
That night, the Pakistani media houses did not guard their breaking story but encouraged all other domestic and international houses to to do the story, and all kept updating their stories with every little bit of information.
The journalist community was on a mission of humanity that night, not just doing a story. Politicians weren’t doing politics – they were saving a life.
There was of course, a web of innovate and creative efforts that contributed to my very early return, which I cannot disclose here – but the month of Ramzan was an interesting one.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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