Karachi’s serial ‘knifeman’ unleashes collective fear
KARACHI: “I was walking with my children to a relative’s house when I felt a hand on the back of my thigh. I was shocked and froze — with anger and embarrassment — as the motorcyclist sped away. Cursing the eve-teaser, I hurriedly entered the house and it was when I felt pain in my thigh area. My clothes were wet with blood,” recollects Mrs Arif. A housewife and mother of three kids, she is one of the victims of the Karachi knife attacker who has so far injured more than 10 women in two weeks and has managed to elude the police. “It was a thin man wearing a red and black helmet and off-white shalwar kameez on a motorbike,” she recalls. “I was wearing a big, thick shawl that night and it saved me from severe injuries,” she adds. Despite the passage of several days since the attack, she admits she is still shaken. “I feel unsafe stepping out alone. The worst part of this attack has been the media frenzy. TV reporters showed up, asking how I felt. My nine-year old daughter is so traumatised,” she says.Mrs Arif ’s account is corroborated by another victim. A student of class VII, 14-year-old ‘ T’ was walking to a shop with her mother and brother when the attack happened. “I felt someone’s hand slapped my hip. I cringed and hurried but then I was overcome with pain in my upper leg, as blood gushed out,” says T. et another victim’s brother narrated a similar ordeal. “My sister was touched on her lower body and the next thing she realised she was bleeding,” he says.
Pakistan has had its fair share of violent serial attacks. The infamous Hathora group and Chhalawa gang terrorised Karachiites in the ’80s and ’90s, known for smashing the skulls of their victims. In the late ’90s, there were reports of men with ustra/blade slashing the arms of women wearing short-sleeved shirts outside a major Karachi shopping mall. Back in 2007, it was the killing of Punjab minister Zille Huma that shocked the country. Her killer was not happy with her clothing. In 2012, a rickshaw driver in Karachi used to pick up women passengers, disembody them and throw away their body parts. While in 2016, news reports surfaced that a man was stabbing women in Rawalpindi. Similar to the Karachi attacks, a series of similar knife attacks were reported between 2013 and 2016 in Punjab’s Sahiwal district. “Almost 40 women were attacked in Chichawatni by a man on a motorbike using a sharp paper cutter,” says DIG East Sultan Khowaja. Waseem, the alleged attacker from Punjab, was released on bail last year. He has been declared an absconder and is wanted for the attacks.“His goal is to create fear and unrest,” the DIG adds. “The injuries and areas of attacks are all similar. He attacks them on the lower part of the body — near the waist, hip and thighs. He controls the speed of his bike with the right hand and uses the left hand for attacks,” he elaborates. Information obtained from police and hospitals shows almost all women suffered injuries on their right side and were attacked from behind. “He is attacking women — young and old alike. He hasn’t shown any preference for women dressed in particular attire.”
Fear and trauma
The general feeling of unease and anger amongst the citizens is increasing. Working women acknowledged feeling overwhelmed and scared, many opting for rickshaws and cab services and not walking to bus stops. Female students of Karachi University and Habib University are avoiding walking alone. MPA Sharmila Farooqui says that these attacks have traumatised women. “So far the attacks are limited to one district and this is a good sign. Get the Rangers onboard. Search every motorcyclist in the area, have 24/7 patrolling and most importantly form mohalla committees to keep an eye on anyone suspicious,” she stresses. Dr Sameeha Aleem, a consultant psychiatrist, says “Collective fear is being instilled. “Many families have restricted the movements of women and girls to avoid any attacks but this is not a solution,” she explains. She elaborates that some of her female patients have expressed anxiety since the attacks have been reported and are showing worsening symptoms, including panic attacks. Dr Aleem speculates the knifeman might be receiving commanding hallucinations to attack women if he has a psychotic disorder. “He could also be an individual who has witnessed violence and abuse at the hands of women and is now revengeful,” she conjectures.
Challenge for police
While the attacker plays hide-and-seek with the authorities, citizens hope for his quick arrest. “The real issue here is that these are all surprise attacks,” says security adviser Norbert Almeida. “He catches his victims by surprise — coming from behind, slashing them and then speeding away.” However, he too says that it’s safe to believe it is one person at the moment. “But in a city of 20 million, you can’t stop every single person on a bike and check for a weapon. That is the challenge the police faces,” he says.