In June 2013, Express TV’s news programme Takrar held a discussion on sexual harassment in the Multan Cricket Club (MCC). The programme invited four young female cricketers – Kiran Khan, Seema Javed, Hina Ghafoor and Haleema Rafiq – who all claimed to be victims of sexual harassment by MCC officials. Haleema Rafiq, the youngest of the four, was a prolific bowler with a huge passion for cricket. The anchor of Takrar shared that the staff of Express TV, who played a cricket match against these female cricketers, were impressed by the pure talent and zeal Haleema had for the game.

During the programme, the cricketers stated that septuagenarian MCC Chairman Molvi Sultan Alam had asked two of them that there was room for only one girl in the team to be announced the next day. He wanted to give this space to the girl who was willing to give him a French kiss. Alam, a lawyer, former judge and PML-N MPA from Multan, was contacted by the producer of the programme on phone and he hung up mid-conversation after failing to respond to the allegations.

The girls also accused MCC Coach and Selector Javed Ahmed of making inappropriate remarks, trying to hang out with them outside the working area, turning up at work in a drunken stupor and displaying loose morals. Ahmed, in turn, made counter allegations against the girls and submitted what turned out to be fake documents in which the girls were shown as asking for forgiveness over misconduct. To get some more idea of the disgusting atmosphere of the MCC, the girls narrated that according to senior players these officials would promise to take you into the national team, but in reality they would only take you to their bedroom.

Accompanying these young women was a local news personality Shahadat Hussain, who confirmed that the stories of these girls had been thoroughly investigated and verified before they were brought to the TV show. Hussain, who currently works as Multan bureau chief of Geo News, also mentioned seeing text messages of suggestive nature that were sent by Ahmed and other MCC officials to some of the girls. The purpose of the programme was to bring these sensitive matters to the notice of local cricket authorities and the Pakistan Cricket Board.

An inquiry, conducted by a two-member committee of the PCB, strangely absolved the two officials of all charges and instead blamed the girls for making false accusations. Subsequently, all the four girls were banned for six months and were further put under probation of another six months. One can safely assume that none of the girls got a chance to play cricket after this incident. Not only that, Alam sued Haleema for a sum of Rs. 20 million, alleging defamation. The girls repeatedly said they were being harassed, intimidated and threatened by MCC officials, but their pleas for justice fell on deaf ears.

Haleema committed suicide by consuming a household cleaning agent on 13 July 2014, 11 months after she had dared to take a stand on national TV, for the harassment meted out to her and her colleagues. She was 17 years old at the time. Her family, that was not against her playing cricket, accused that she took this extreme step as a result of the constant harassment by MCC officials. Because she dared to raise her voice against the injustice meted out to her, she had to pay for it by giving up her life.

The story of Haleema, though sad and deplorable, is not surprising in the least. Incidents of sexual harassment and worse are now being brought up repeatedly in the land of the pure. In this case, the investigation carried out by a noted journalist should alone have cast doubts on the decision reached by the PCB committee. However, instead of sympathizing with the young women and the family of Haleema, some media people are shamelessly twisting her story, making it sound as if she rebelled against her family to pursue cricket, and then ended up dead.

On 27 June, renowned hate monger and hypocrite par excellence, Orya Maqbool Jan, stated in his daily venom show that the real cause of the girl’s death was not the corruption, exploitation and sexual greed of the male MCC officials. In his opinion, the girl died because of the liberal attitude that celebrates women’s pursuit of life dreams. According to him, a culture where mixing of genders is promoted is ripe for sexual exploitation and persecution of women. In his opinion, a girl deciding to join a field of sports or anything else that lead her to be around males is the root cause of the problem. Therefore, his simple and easy solution was that girls should stay at home.

This is a classic case of head buried so deep in the sand that the rest of the body becomes a thorny and prickly cactus. Haleema was failed many times by a country for which she wanted to bring great accolades. While she was alive, the exploitative, corrupt men of authority at the MCC trampled over her dreams. But perhaps even worse, right-wing pseudo religious media hawks and the moral brigade that idolizes them are trying to crush her memory, that of a passionate young woman who wanted to be a renowned cricketer. Shame on us if we let them!