Pakistan Didn’t Care About My Cousin Salahuddin Until He Became A Statistic



Chloe Cushman for BuzzFeed News

The date within the grainy video footage says “July 17, 2019, 9:19 p.m.” A man in a muddy brown shalwar kameez enters an ATM sales space. He pauses briefly to look at the machine earlier than twiddling with it. As he sticks his finger into the money slot, he notices the blinking purple mild of a digicam observing him. Defiant, he stands proud his tongue and makes a face, puffing out his cheeks. The man proceeds to pry off the entrance panel of the ATM and notices a second digicam embedded within the machine. He pulls extra faces, chuckling. Finally, he grabs the money and makes his getaway.

As far as heists go, this was nothing spectacular. The man within the video — my cousin, Salahuddin Ayubi — made off with lower than $400. But because of his taunting, the safety footage began going viral by way of social media and Pakistani information protection in late August. The picture of a robber overtly protruding his tongue at safety cameras took on a Robin Hood–like high quality in Pakistan, a rustic beset by extreme and rising revenue inequality. And whereas many discovered the video entertaining and ballsy — stick it to the Man! — it additionally put Salahuddin on the Man’s radar.

The Pakistani financial system is capsizing below the strain of stolen billions, and we’re one of the vital corrupt international locations on the planet — however apparently one man taking $400 turned out to be one step too far. Salahuddin had embarrassed the state, in a manner its personal excesses by no means appear to. What’s worse, he had proven a blatant disregard for its authority. My household knew that the police have been on the lookout for him; for every week after the video went viral, my cousin Usama frantically tried to achieve him and warn him to lie low. But mixing into the gang was by no means one thing Salahuddin was prepared to do.

When we have been little, neighbors within the small village of Gorali referred to Salahuddin as “off,” which I later understood to be code for his severe psychological well being situations — presumably schizophrenia and bipolar dysfunction, in keeping with the medical doctors who finally identified him and who couldn’t take care of him. My earliest reminiscences of Salahuddin are of him yelling “boo!” at me from behind the cattle sheds and on the playgrounds of Gorali. He was six years older than me; as a toddler I used to be fearful of him however discovered his antics entertaining. I didn’t know then that my mischievous cousin would someday grow to be a lightning rod for a complete nation’s consideration — and its prejudices.

The second of Salahuddin’s apprehension by a pair of younger males who acknowledged him in public, seven days after the ATM video went viral, was additionally uploaded to social media. Virality had made Salahuddin a hero and a goal. Now, the mob mentality of social media rapidly translated into mob violence. A crowd fashioned round Salahuddin and he was slapped, pushed, and his garments ripped open. He pretended to play mute, seeming to attract inward, and tried to shake off his assailants, however they didn’t loosen their grasp till he was turned over to the police.

After a day of interrogation in custody, Salahuddin was proudly produced in a press convention held on the Rahim Yar Khan police station, the place he delivered a full confession. He swayed dangerously on digicam, eyes disoriented alongside different obvious indicators of concussive trauma — the look of somebody who’d been crushed. Yet even then, Salahuddin continued to show small acts of defiance; he spit brusquely on the microphone thrust in his face. The police quickly whisked him away and the press went dwelling, the viral case having been put to mattress. By the subsequent day, my cousin was lifeless.

In an announcement launched the subsequent evening, the police claimed that Salahuddin had developed well being points and been transferred to Shaikh Zayed Hospital, the place he later died. This declare was hotly debated, notably as a result of footage from the hospital’s closed-circuit tv confirmed police bringing in a handcuffed Salahuddin on a stretcher at 9:48 p.m., the place instantly upon arrival the inspecting physicians pronounced him deceased.

The dying of a suspect in custody is a violation of the Geneva Convention, and was all of the extra reprehensible due to Salahuddin’s psychological sickness. The case turned a political soccer, as incumbent Punjabi authorities officers scrambled to reply to the general public’s outrage, pointing fingers at one another. Salahuddin’s face, contorted in mischief in that ATM vestibule, turned a picture of resistance, with a whole bunch making it their profile image. Social media customers demanded #JusticeforSalahuddin and caught their tongues out in solidarity to decree #IAmSalahuddin. Nearly a thousand folks rushed to my cousin’s funeral on a bleak September day in Gorali: buddies, followers, strangers, well-wishers, reporters, superficially repentant police chiefs, and authorities brokers expressing their condolences and their heartfelt recommendation to close up about all of it.

People with psychological diseases who’re killed are sometimes both stereotyped or sympathized with, and they’re not often seen as totally human. Salahuddin isn’t any exception. In all the following media protection since his dying, my cousin has been painted as a felony, a sufferer, a martyr, and a maniac. To the general public, his dying is the one necessary factor about him. But behind the headlines, the federal government hush cash, and the addition to troubling statistics, there was a boy. And I knew him.


The village of Gorali, within the north of Pakistan’s Punjab province, is down an extended winding street, main as much as a group of mud homes surrounded by wheat fields. The air hums with the solar’s cruel beams, and within the summers folks hover behind curtains, sucked dry, and sprinkle water on one another. Gorali was the place my mom was born, and her mom, and her mom’s mom earlier than her, reaching again some 900 years. Despite its age — or maybe due to it — the village has been left largely untouched by the workings of time.

It was right here, in a easy mudbrick home, that Salahuddin was born nearly 32 years in the past. And from the start, it was clear that somebody had entered Gorali who didn’t match. The first indicators manifested early; Salahuddin’s acts of violence started with chicks and ducklings, however rapidly progressed till he was chucking goats off roofs and water tanks. Paradoxically, animals appeared to love his presence. On many events, he managed to journey off with the village donkeys, bareback and lugging one other donkey in tow by the ear.

While Salahuddin unfold mischief generously round city, it was by no means for his personal revenue. He had no idea of the worth of cash or energy, and he didn’t appear to grasp many social mores. My mom remembers giving him 2,000 rupees when he had requested for 500 to purchase a toy. He stood on the sting of one of many brilliantly yellow wheat fields, tearing the additional notes into tiny items and letting them float away within the wind.

Every morning, he would barge into the homes across the village to change pleasantries for not than 5 minutes every. Many within the village thought him unstable and terrible, and he took care to keep away from the homes of people that he knew despised him. But as Salahuddin grew up and the character of his pranks grew an increasing number of pricey, the villagers introduced their complaints to his father.

No matter what anybody stated or considered him, Afzal wasn’t going to desert his son.

My uncle Afzal, a quiet man with an extended beard and sorrow etched irreversibly in his face, was in these days a younger farmer. Many villagers suggested him and his spouse to do away with their burdensome son — throw him out or drop him off at a masjid or on the aspect of the street. Afzal wasn’t educated in psychological well being consciousness and didn’t find out about psychiatric medicine or remedies, however he did know one factor for positive: No matter what anybody stated or considered him, he wasn’t going to desert his son.

At first, he patiently tried to point out Salahuddin the error of his methods, however finally the exterior strain reached a breaking level. In an notorious stunt, Salahuddin threw the dried cow dung that was for use as cooking gas into a giant vat of milk, ruining a household’s total batch of ghee. Appalled at his lack of repentance, the residents of Gorali turned satisfied that he was possessed by jinn. The village iman was referred to as in to supply prayers for the boy, however when there was no miraculous treatment, it was determined that no matter stricken him was past the capability of Gorali.

Afzal bundled up his son in a van, and so they made their method to the provincial capital, Lahore. They went to the Institute of Mental Health on Jail Road, a psychiatric hospital the place, after a checkup, Salahuddin was admitted. With a heavy coronary heart, Afzal traveled again dwelling, promising himself he would go to as typically as he may afford to.

Treatments at institutes like IMH differ, however nonetheless embrace many therapies that aren’t supported by science or are confirmed to be dangerous to sufferers. There have been experiences of sufferers round Pakistan in psych wards being handled like prisoners, denied meals, crushed, and sexually abused. The medical doctors at IMH, used to stereotyping their sufferers as dunces, appeared baffled by Salahuddin’s excessive degree of useful intelligence mixed together with his incapability to grasp social norms. In cellphone calls to Afzal, they expressed doubts about having the ability to take care of him.

Salahuddin, for his half, responded to the remedies by organizing his normally sedated and depressed fellow inmates for a mass breakout. They spilled out onto the primary street with hoots of pleasure, relishing the texture of freedom and the solar on the backs of their necks. Soon after, they have been once more detained and the employees, enraged, referred to as Afzal to fetch Salahuddin. They refused to maintain him on the hospital, declaring him undiagnosable and untreatable. So Afzal took his son again dwelling.


As in a lot of the world, well being care is a unstable problem in Pakistan. While the wealthy can afford to take planes to Europe and the United States for his or her remedies, the plenty typically go with out, as public hospitals are filled with 5 sufferers to a mattress and a few dying on the bottom whereas ready to be seen. In this local weather, assets for folks with psychological well being considerations are few and much between.

There are tens of thousands and thousands of individuals looking for psychological well being therapy within the nation, and solely round 400 practising psychiatrists, resulting in one of many lowest doctor-patient ratios on the planet for psychological well being. In neighboring India, it has been estimated that 1 in each 6 folks resides with a psychological well being problem. Few of these folks ever obtain care, and the care they do obtain is usually so insufficient as to be actively dangerous. Despite the near-epidemic nature of despair, nervousness, bipolar dysfunction, and schizophrenia in growing international locations the place folks face crushing financial burdens, these illnesses are nonetheless not taken severely and are sometimes shunted to the aspect on the subject of public well being budgets. According to the World Health Organization, greater than 75% of individuals with psychological well being issues within the growing world don’t obtain care. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, zero.four% of well being expenditure is directed towards psychological well being care.

One of the explanations folks with psychological well being points could be so exhausting for the neurotypical majority of the inhabitants to grasp and settle for is as a result of they pressure us to acknowledge that our actuality is simply that: one notion of many doable choices. Uncertainty makes it simple to worry them. Salahuddin’s household liked him, however we had no illusions about what sort of world we — and he — lived in. His aunt Firdous remarked after his dying that “We knew it was going to happen someday. There were only two ways for someone like Salahuddin to end up. Dead or in jail.”


In the early 2000s, my mother and father and I lived in Karachi, the smoggy coastal megalopolis of Pakistan. My cousin Usama had simply turned 10 and moved in with us so he may attend the higher faculties within the metropolis. One afternoon, whereas the remainder of us have been out of the residence and Usama was dwelling taking a nap, he was woke up by the sound of somebody yelling his title exterior on the road.

Groggy and grumbling, Usama went to the drawing-room window to see what the ruckus was about. He froze when he noticed it was a 13-year-old Salahuddin, banging on the grilled gateway of the constructing.

To most individuals, Salahuddin was a wild card. There was no realizing what he would do subsequent — whether or not he would have a superbly balanced, nearly rational dialog or play a pricey prank. But when it got here to Usama, who had additionally spent his early childhood in Gorali, Salahuddin was constant in his deep admiration and curiosity, bordering on obsession; gaining Usama’s validation meant the world to him. The very first thing he would ask any members of the family was in the event that they knew how he was doing. Later, from the second Salahuddin first bought his arms on a cellphone, he made positive to name Usama each month to instantly inquire about his well-being.

“There were only two ways for someone like Salahuddin to end up. Dead or in jail.”

Usama let Salahuddin into the residence, seated him on the eating desk, and left him there momentarily, making an excuse to fetch tea. It was an inconceivable concept that Salahuddin, simply a few years older than his cousin, had managed to cross the complete nation on his personal with no cash to point out up on our doorstep in Karachi. But when he was decided, he may very well be extremely intelligent and resourceful.

Usama knew that Salahuddin’s compulsive tendencies meant he not often stayed in a single place for for much longer than 5 or ten minutes — he’d depart the second he felt the social interplay he wished was full. The considered our cousin out on the streets of a humongous metropolis was terrifying, so Usama got here up with an answer that solely a toddler would. While serving Salahuddin tea, he someway managed to rope the nala (drawstring) from his shalwar (trousers) round him.

Genuinely shocked at discovering himself tied up, Salahuddin howled in outrage, accusing him of betrayal, whereas Usama begged for his forgiveness, close to tears. This was the scene that my mother and father and I got here dwelling to. I nonetheless bear in mind Salahuddin’s bloodshot eyes as he screamed to be let go and my father rushed to free him. He hated being trapped. So a few years later, when what occurred occurred, they discovered marks of bindings on his battered physique.

Salahuddin’s uncle was referred to as to fetch him, and within the intervening week we entertained my cousin. By day, he was alternatively boisterous and aggravated. By evening, his screams echoed all through the home. I bear in mind waking up and tiptoeing out of my room to see across the nook at my mother and father, attempting to settle down a hysterical Salahuddin.

“Help me! They will kill me,” he would yell.“They are out to get me. … Oh god, they are beating me to death. … I am being ripped apart.” It was inconceivable to calm him down; he refused to hearken to anybody’s assurances, refused to consider he was secure.


A few years later, the information got here from my aunt, who had heard it from her brother, who was on his method to the Chinese border, that Salahuddin had discovered himself at K2 — the second-highest mountain on the planet, which sits on the Pakistan–China border — and, being unimpressed, had as a substitute made for the purple state. An uncle had been dispatched to fetch him from the clutches of the Chinese border patrol.

This was about 12 years in the past; Salahuddin had grown bored of his village, the folks in it, and their disdain for him. So at 15 or 16 he ran away from dwelling, penniless, to start touring the nation in earnest. He someway managed to transverse huge distances, from the towering peaks of the Himalayas all the best way to the coast of the Arabian Sea. After the primary sudden go to, many extra of those journeys ended on our doorstep in Karachi after which in Lahore.

After Salahuddin had run away the primary few occasions, my uncle Afzal had to surrender hope of restraining his son with out going so far as tying him up; the boy’s wanderlust couldn’t be contained. Afzal then had the household’s dwelling deal with, cellphone quantity, and Salahuddin’s situation tattooed on his son’s arm in case he bought misplaced or in bother with the authorities.

It was on these journeys of exploration that Salahuddin had slowly began to seek out himself within the odd place of getting a cult of character type round him. There is a precedent in South Asian historical past for folks “touched by madness” being seen as touched by God, and Salahuddin’s devotees would comply with him across the nation and present up at his village to hunt his blessings. Coming from all walks of life, greater than 100 folks — shopkeepers, beggars, automotive salespeople — noticed Salahuddin as saintlike.

It’s exhausting to say precisely why — some mixture of his charisma, the historical past of Sufi mysticism within the area, and the truth that Salahuddin, not realizing the worth of cash, was recognized to dole out 30,000 rupees (greater than $200) for a Three-kilometer automotive journey. Instead of benefiting from his followers, Salahuddin ridiculed their saintly concepts of him. He challenged them to assume for themselves, and refused to present any blessings or acknowledge them as his followers; at most he would permit them to accompany him on his journeys up and down the nation.

Meanwhile, I had grown up and grow to be deeply pissed off with the established order and the rabid conservatism I noticed in every single place in Pakistan. I devoted myself to altering it. I went to rallies towards oppression and harassment; I learn books about incapacity and psychological sickness. I drove my mother and father to tears as they begged me to again down from progressive activism in a rustic the place progressive activists have a humorous tendency to vanish, and I had my very own brushes with police brutality, getting each eyes blackened after a protest. The manner Salahuddin had all the time been mistreated by the world was all the time at the back of my thoughts, and it was a consider my political awakening — however there it remained, within the again. In all my makes an attempt to stay out my politics by supporting probably the most marginalized folks round me, what I didn’t do was assume twice about Salahuddin and the way I may assist him.

Perhaps, regardless of believing that Salahuddin wanted and deserved assist, I used to be too fearful of him to do one thing to assist him myself.

There was, I now notice, nonetheless a silent cliff’s edge in my understanding of psychological sickness. It is a border drawn within the minds of many individuals around the globe between “safe” and relatable psychological well being points — nervousness, despair, temper issues — and the extreme, unstable, “dangerous” ones. Darker or tougher situations stay largely out of mainstream understandings or sympathies. Perhaps, regardless of believing that Salahuddin wanted and deserved assist, I used to be too fearful of him to do one thing to assist him myself.

People like Salahuddin battle as a result of each door they attain for is closed to them. They are provided scraps, and in Pakistan they most frequently find yourself homeless, with a drug dependancy, imprisoned, killed by police, or, within the best-case state of affairs, shut up in a room of their household’s home for his or her total lives. Even if Salahuddin had wished to stay a traditional life — go to highschool, have a profession, have a household — he couldn’t have executed that. But Salahuddin wouldn’t have been content material with a traditional life, and he actually wasn’t prepared to accept the empty shell of it he was provided. He wished extra.

Salahuddin wished journey, and thrill, and the sensation of accomplishment. He had a depraved glimmer in his eyes. He wasn’t uninteresting or dumb; his wit was as sharp as a knife, and even when he didn’t perceive why folks behaved the best way they did, he understood how the world noticed issues. He noticed the countless pasture of the long run out there to Usama and to me — the school levels, the jet-set summers, the glimmering reputations — after which he noticed the dim, decaying patch of grass that was to be his lot in life.

Perhaps it was the unusual appears he bought in Pakistan, and the occasional beatings by indignant crowds. Perhaps his wanderlust simply couldn’t be contained in a single nation anymore, or it was the truth that Usama had set off for Europe too. Whatever the explanation, in the previous few years Salahuddin had set his sights on journey past what he’d executed earlier than. Two of his cousins had immigrated to Italy, and he turned obsessive about the thought of the Mediterranean nation. But such a visit — such an escape — required cash. Money he didn’t have. We’ll by no means actually know, however maybe it was for that motive, with photographs of Venetian waters and heaping plates of pasta filling his thoughts, that Salahuddin started within the early months of 2019 to rob ATMs.


I typically marvel if, in a world with out Twitter, my cousin would nonetheless be alive. Almost all the pieces that occurred to Salahuddin — as he was arrested, interrogated, and tortured — was documented and seen by the complete nation. And it was via social media that I came upon Salahuddin was lifeless.

The fact of what occurred on the final day of Salahuddin’s quick life could by no means be recognized in full element. But after the ATM footage, his apprehension, and the press convention, there was yet one more social media star second left for him: a leaked video of him being interviewed by police, exhibiting his final phrases — a video I watched for the primary time, frozen in horror, on WhatsApp.

In the footage, Salahuddin is sitting on a chair in a darkish room. Shadows hang-out his swollen face and he appears to be reeling, but he gathers the braveness to problem authority one final time.

“May I just ask one question?” he inquires, interrupting his inquisitor. The inspector assents. “Will you beat me if I do?” Salahuddin asks. The inspector assures him that he won’t. “Do you promise?” Salahuddin asks once more. The officer guarantees.

“Where did you be taught to torture folks like this?” Salahuddin asks. Despite the ache he’s in, the ghost of a smirk lingers on his lips, however fades rapidly. The inspector’s response is garbled, and the video clip ends abruptly.

Soon after that video lower off, 400 miles away in Gorali, the ringing of a cellphone broke the evening’s silence within the humble mudbrick home the place Salahuddin’s mother and father lived, and my uncle Afzal acquired the decision he had been dreading for many of his son’s life.

Usama rushed to accompany Afzal to determine and get better Salahuddin’s physique. Despite the police’s claims that there have been no indicators of bodily torture on his physique and that his dying had occurred attributable to sudden cardiac arrest, the reason for dying was left clean. The full postmortem report later confirmed that his corpse displayed indicators of in depth torture. There have been lashes from his brow to his groin to the soles of his toes. In the photographs of his battered physique that circulated on social media, there was a nasty bruise on his forearm — proper subsequent to the tattoo of his father’s title, quantity, and deal with.


After Salahuddin’s dying, his childhood playmate and closest cousin turned his defender. On Sept. 2, someday after Salahuddin died, Usama — who’s now a Fulbright scholar and a Columbia-educated excessive courtroom lawyer — registered a homicide case towards cops Mehmood Hassan, Shafaat Ali, and Matloob Hussain on behalf of Afzal. Usama and Afzal claimed that police brutality had induced Salahuddin’s dying; unbiased forensic testing and exhumation of the corpse confirmed the claims made within the case.

Over a number of weeks, Usama met with native National Assembly members and opposition leaders as political gamers of all stripes rushed to Gorali. Gorali was not used to such lavishly rich guests; actually, its roads won’t ever be unsettled by so many tinted-window Pajeros once more. Usama advised me that lots of the high-powered guests “wanted the furor to simply go away. But what they did to Salahuddin was beyond the pale. It was murder in cold blood.”

“What they did to Salahuddin was beyond the pale. It was murder in cold blood.”

If Salahuddin’s case was uncommon, so was his consultant. Usama is a uncommon breed of lawyer in Pakistan: fixated on justice, regardless of the danger to himself in a rustic the place contentious authorized instances typically come hand in hand with violence. He had been a part of a landmark crew of attorneys that received a judgment towards Master Tiles, one of many nation’s largest corporations, for exposing staff to silicosis, and he had confronted dying threats for his involvement. But his quest for justice on this case, which mattered much more to him than all of the others, was not one he may win.

For many weeks after Salahuddin’s dying, it was uncommon to listen to his mom communicate a single phrase. Losing a toddler is all the time devastating. For my aunt and uncle, although, it’s not the primary time. Salahuddin was considered one of 5 siblings. His oldest brother and youngest brother each predeceased him — misplaced to mindless spiritual violence in Kashmir, having been brainwashed by the outstanding spiritual chief Hafiz Saeed into believing that it was their patriotic obligation to journey to the contentious India–Pakistan border and get shot at. They have been simply two amongst a whole bunch of younger Punjabi males recruited to be freedom fighters, however in actuality they have been used as goats for slaughter. Their our bodies could be taken again to their villages, the place Saeed gave eulogies about how India had made them martyrs and picked up hundreds of donations at their funerals.

In October, the Punjabi authorities, determined to make the PR blunder of Salahuddin’s dying go away, promised to construct a technical faculty in Gorali and supply a fuel connection to the village. At first, the villagers resisted the state’s overtures. But then Saeed, hoping to cement his personal political capital by brokering a peace, approached the folks of Gorali in spite of everything authorities makes an attempt had failed.

Saeed dangled the hope of religious forgiveness; he identified authorized case wasn’t prone to end in a good verdict however was sure to trigger years of fruitless, harrowing hearings. His private consideration to the matter was necessary, as Afzal and plenty of others within the area look to him as a guru. The household, bereft, confused, and devastated, agreed to not pursue prices towards the police. As typically occurs with these items, the outrage dies out, the reporters go dwelling, the federal government provides blood cash, and all is resolved — although nothing is settled.


The litany of the way during which the world failed Salahuddin is just too nice to completely comprehend. He was a sort, clever, troubled one that managed to cobble collectively a life for himself in a society that despised him and tried at each alternative to make his existence untenable. He was let down by the well being care system, by household, and by society — solely to be crushed to dying by cops who will face no penalties. The police can’t be the one folks held liable for his dying. This entire nation killed him.

And what occurred to Salahuddin, whereas tragic, shouldn’t be distinctive and even uncommon. In the US, folks with psychological diseases are 16 occasions extra prone to face lethal violence by the hands of police; globally, folks with severe psychological well being situations like psychosis and bipolar dysfunction face a 10- to 25-year discount in life expectancy. My cousin’s story is one in an countless record of examples of how most cultures nonetheless stigmatize and ostracize folks with psychological well being points, and the way simply their deaths are forgotten.

In the top, I think Salahuddin was not killed for robbing an ATM or sticking his tongue out at a digicam. He was killed for failing to grasp our social mores and the brutality of our establishment; he was killed for not understanding that when there’s a boot, it should come down in your neck.

In the months since September, I typically take into consideration these nights throughout Salahuddin’s first go to to Karachi when he couldn’t sleep peacefully. His phrases and screams are etched into my thoughts: Help me, they are going to kill me. … They are out to get me. … Oh god! … They are beating me to dying. … I’m being ripped aside. Sometimes I wander right down to the kitchen the place my mom can be sitting awake, poring over the identical questions and reminiscences and regrets. We sit awake collectively, sip our tea, and marvel: Were his desires a portal to his different actuality, or have been they a journey into ours? Was he seeing monsters? Demons? Or possibly he was merely seeing his future, stuffed with nothing extra merciless and fantastical than flesh-and-blood human beings. ●


Bilal Anwar is a author, political cartoonist, and environmental activist primarily based in Lahore, Pakistan. He could be reached at @bilalanwarc.



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