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


Chloe Cushman for BuzzFeed Information

The date within the grainy video footage says “July 17, 2019, 9:19 p.m.” A person 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 crimson mild of a digicam observing him. Defiant, he stands out his tongue and makes a face, puffing out his cheeks. The person proceeds to pry off the entrance panel of the ATM and notices a second digicam embedded within the machine. He pulls extra faces, chuckling. Lastly, he grabs the money and makes his getaway.

So far as heists go, this was nothing spectacular. The person within the video — my cousin, Salahuddin Ayubi — made off with lower than $400. However due to his taunting, the safety footage started 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 earnings 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 economy is capsizing underneath the pressure of stolen billions, and we’re one of the vital corrupt nations in the world — 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 in search of him; for per week after the video went viral, my cousin Usama frantically tried to achieve him and warn him to lie low. However mixing into the gang was by no means one thing Salahuddin was keen to do.

After 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 circumstances — presumably schizophrenia and bipolar dysfunction, based on the docs who finally identified him and who couldn’t look after him. My earliest recollections 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 baby I used to be petrified of him however discovered his antics entertaining. I didn’t know then that my mischievous cousin would sooner or later develop into a lightning rod for a whole 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 shortly 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 conference 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. But 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 house, the viral case having been put to mattress. By the following day, my cousin was useless.

In an announcement launched the following 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, significantly 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 analyzing physicians pronounced him deceased.

The demise of a suspect in custody is a violation of the Geneva Conference, 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 public’s outrage, pointing fingers at each other. Salahuddin’s face, contorted in mischief in that ATM vestibule, turned a picture of resistance, with a whole lot making it their profile image. Social media customers demanded #JusticeforSalahuddin and stuck their tongues out in solidarity to decree #IAmSalahuddin. Practically a thousand individuals rushed to my cousin’s funeral on a bleak September day in Gorali: mates, 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.

Individuals with psychological diseases who’re killed are sometimes both stereotyped or sympathized with, and they’re hardly ever seen as absolutely human. Salahuddin isn’t any exception. In all the following media protection since his demise, my cousin has been painted as a criminal, a victim, a martyr, and a maniac. To the general public, his demise is the one essential factor about him. However 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 a protracted winding street, main as much as a set of mud homes surrounded by wheat fields. The air hums with the solar’s cruel beams, and within the summers individuals 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. Regardless of 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 virtually 32 years in the past. And from the start, it was clear that somebody had entered Gorali who didn’t match. The primary indicators manifested early; Salahuddin’s acts of violence started with chicks and ducklings, however shortly 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.

Whereas 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.

Each morning, he would barge into the homes across the village to change pleasantries for now 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. However as Salahuddin grew up and the character of his pranks grew increasingly pricey, the villagers introduced their complaints to his father.

It doesn’t matter what anybody stated or considered him, Afzal wasn’t going to desert his son.

My uncle Afzal, a quiet man with a protracted 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 facet of the street. Afzal wasn’t educated in psychological well being consciousness and didn’t learn about psychiatric medication or remedies, however he did know one factor for certain: It doesn’t 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 gasoline 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 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 Psychological Well being on Jail Street, a psychiatric hospital the place, after a checkup, Salahuddin was admitted. With a heavy coronary heart, Afzal traveled again house, promising himself he would go to as usually as he may afford to.

Remedies at institutes like IMH fluctuate, however nonetheless embody many therapies that aren’t supported by science or are confirmed to be dangerous to sufferers. There have been reports of patients around Pakistan in psych wards being handled like prisoners, denied meals, beaten, and sexually abused. The docs at IMH, used to stereotyping their sufferers as dunces, appeared baffled by Salahuddin’s excessive degree of useful intelligence mixed together with his lack of ability to grasp social norms. In cellphone calls to Afzal, they expressed doubts about with the ability to look after him.

Salahuddin, for his half, responded to the remedies by organizing his often 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. Quickly 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 house.


As in a lot of the world, well being care is a unstable situation in Pakistan. Whereas the wealthy can afford to take planes to Europe and america for his or her remedies, the plenty usually go with out, as public hospitals are crammed with 5 sufferers to a mattress and a few dying on the ground whereas ready to be seen. On this local weather, assets for individuals with psychological well being issues are few and far between.

There are tens of thousands and thousands of individuals in search of psychological well being therapy within the nation, and solely round 400 training psychiatrists, resulting in one of the lowest doctor-patient ratios on the earth for psychological well being. In neighboring India, it has been estimated that 1 in every 6 people resides with a psychological well being situation. Few of these individuals ever receive care, and the care they do obtain is usually so insufficient as to be actively dangerous. Regardless of the near-epidemic nature of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia in growing nations the place individuals face crushing economic burdens, these illnesses are nonetheless not taken seriously and are sometimes shunted to the facet in the case of public well being budgets. In response to the World Well being Group, more than 75% of individuals with psychological well being problems within the growing world don’t obtain care. In the meantime, in Pakistan, 0.4% of well being expenditure is directed towards psychological well being care.

One of many causes individuals with psychological well being points may be so arduous 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 cherished him, however we had no illusions about what sort of world we — and he — lived in. His aunt Firdous remarked after his demise that “We knew it was going to occur sometime. There have been solely two methods for somebody like Salahuddin to finish up. Useless or in jail.”


Within the early 2000s, my dad and mom 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 house and Usama was house taking a nap, he was woke up by the sound of somebody yelling his identify outdoors 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 understanding what he would do subsequent — whether or not he would have a superbly balanced, virtually rational dialog or play a pricey prank. However 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 relations was in the event that they knew how he was doing. Later, from the second Salahuddin first acquired his palms on a cellphone, he made certain to name Usama each month to immediately inquire about his well-being.

“There have been solely two methods for somebody like Salahuddin to finish up. Useless or in jail.”

Usama let Salahuddin into the house, seated him on the eating desk, and left him there momentarily, making an excuse to fetch tea. It was an not possible concept that Salahuddin, simply a few years older than his cousin, had managed to cross your entire nation on his personal with no cash to point out up on our doorstep in Karachi. However when he was decided, he could possibly be extremely intelligent and resourceful.

Usama knew that Salahuddin’s compulsive tendencies meant he hardly ever 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 needed 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 baby would. Whereas serving Salahuddin tea, he one way or the other managed to rope the nala (drawstring) from his shalwar (trousers) round him.

Genuinely stunned 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 dad and mom and I got here house 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 dad and mom, making an attempt to relax a hysterical Salahuddin.

“Assist me! They may kill me,” he would yell.“They’re out to get me. … Oh god, they’re beating me to demise. … I’m being ripped aside.” It was not possible to calm him down; he refused to hearken to anybody’s assurances, refused to imagine he was protected.


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

This was about 12 years in the past; Salahuddin had grown bored of his village, the individuals in it, and their disdain for him. So at 15 or 16 he ran away from house, penniless, to start touring the nation in earnest. He one way or the other 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 surprising 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 instances, 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 house handle, cellphone quantity, and Salahuddin’s situation tattooed on his son’s arm in case he acquired misplaced or in bother with the authorities.

It was on these journeys of exploration that Salahuddin had slowly began to search out himself within the odd place of getting a cult of character type round him. There’s a precedent in South Asian historical past for individuals “touched by insanity” 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 individuals — shopkeepers, beggars, automotive salespeople — noticed Salahuddin as saintlike.

It’s arduous 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 identified to dole out 30,000 rupees (greater than $200) for a 3-kilometer automotive journey. As a substitute of making the most of his followers, Salahuddin ridiculed their saintly concepts of him. He challenged them to suppose for themselves, and refused to provide 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.

In the meantime, I had grown up and develop into deeply annoyed 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 dad and mom 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 best way Salahuddin had at all times been mistreated by the world was at all times at the back of my thoughts, and it was a think about my political awakening — however there it remained, within the again. In all my makes an attempt to dwell out my politics by supporting essentially the most marginalized individuals round me, what I didn’t do was suppose twice about Salahuddin and the way I may assist him.

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

There was, I now understand, nonetheless a silent cliff’s edge in my understanding of psychological sickness. It’s a border drawn within the minds of many individuals around the globe between “protected” and relatable psychological well being points — anxiousness, melancholy, temper problems — and the extreme, unstable, “harmful” ones. Darker or tougher circumstances stay largely out of mainstream understandings or sympathies. Maybe, regardless of believing that Salahuddin wanted and deserved assist, I used to be too petrified of him to do one thing to assist him myself.

Individuals like Salahuddin wrestle as a result of each door they attain for is closed to them. They’re 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 when Salahuddin had needed to dwell a standard life — go to high school, have a profession, have a household — he couldn’t have carried out that. However Salahuddin wouldn’t have been content material with a standard life, and he definitely wasn’t keen to accept the empty shell of it he was provided. He needed extra.

Salahuddin needed journey, and thrill, and the sensation of feat. 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 individuals behaved the best way they did, he understood how the world noticed issues. He noticed the countless pasture of the longer term obtainable to Usama and to me — the faculty 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.

Maybe it was the unusual seems he acquired in Pakistan, and the occasional beatings by offended crowds. Maybe 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. Regardless of the motive, in the previous few years Salahuddin had set his sights on journey past what he’d carried out earlier than. Two of his cousins had immigrated to Italy, and he turned obsessive about the concept of the Mediterranean nation. However such a visit — such an escape — required cash. Cash he didn’t have. We’ll by no means actually know, however maybe it was for that motive, with pictures 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. Nearly every thing that occurred to Salahuddin — as he was arrested, interrogated, and tortured — was documented and seen by your entire nation. And it was by social media that I came upon Salahuddin was useless.

The reality of what occurred on the final day of Salahuddin’s brief life could by no means be identified in full element. However after the ATM footage, his apprehension, and the press convention, there was another 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.

Within 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.

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

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

Quickly after that video reduce 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 dad and mom lived, and my uncle Afzal obtained the decision he had been dreading for many of his son’s life.

Usama rushed to accompany Afzal to establish and get well Salahuddin’s physique. Regardless of the police’s claims that there have been no indicators of bodily torture on his physique and that his demise had occurred attributable to sudden cardiac arrest, the reason for demise was left clean. The complete postmortem report later confirmed that his corpse displayed signs of intensive torture. There have been lashes from his brow to his groin to the soles of his toes. Within the pictures 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 identify, quantity, and handle.


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

Over a number of weeks, Usama met with native Nationwide Meeting members and opposition leaders as political gamers of all stripes rushed to Gorali. Gorali was not used to such lavishly rich guests; definitely, its roads won’t ever be unsettled by so many tinted-window Pajeros once more. Usama instructed me that most of the high-powered guests “needed the furor to easily go away. However what they did to Salahuddin was past the pale. It was homicide in chilly blood.”

“What they did to Salahuddin was past the pale. It was homicide in chilly 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 circumstances usually come hand in hand with violence. He had been a part of a landmark group of legal professionals that gained a judgment towards Grasp Tiles, one of many nation’s largest firms, for exposing staff to silicosis, and he had confronted demise threats for his involvement. However 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 a lot of weeks after Salahuddin’s demise, it was uncommon to listen to his mom communicate a single phrase. Shedding a baby is at all times devastating. For my aunt and uncle, although, it’s not the primary time. Salahuddin was one in every of 5 siblings. His oldest brother and youngest brother each predeceased him — misplaced to mindless religious violence in Kashmir, having been brainwashed by the distinguished non secular 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 lot 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 1000’s of donations at their funerals.

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

Saeed dangled the hope of non secular forgiveness; he identified {that a} authorized case wasn’t prone to lead to a good verdict however was sure to trigger years of fruitless, harrowing hearings. His private consideration to the matter was essential, as Afzal and plenty of others within the area look to him as a guru. The household, bereft, confused, and devastated, agreed not to pursue charges towards the police. As usually occurs with this stuff, the outrage dies out, the reporters go house, the federal government gives blood cash, and all is resolved — although nothing is settled.


The litany of how wherein the world failed Salahuddin is just too nice to totally 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 demise by cops who will face no penalties. The police can’t be the one individuals held liable for his demise. This entire nation killed him.

And what occurred to Salahuddin, whereas tragic, just isn’t distinctive and even uncommon. Within the US, individuals with psychological diseases are 16 times more likely to face lethal violence by the hands of police; globally, individuals with severe psychological well being circumstances like psychosis and bipolar dysfunction face a 10- to 25-year reduction in life expectancy. My cousin’s story is one in an countless checklist of examples of how most cultures nonetheless stigmatize and ostracize individuals with psychological well being points, and the way simply their deaths are forgotten.

Ultimately, I believe 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.

Within the months since September, I usually 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: Assist me, they are going to kill me. … They’re out to get me. … Oh god! … They’re beating me to demise. … I’m being ripped aside. Typically I wander right down to the kitchen the place my mom can also be sitting awake, poring over the identical questions and recollections and regrets. We sit awake collectively, sip our tea, and marvel: Had been 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, filled with nothing extra merciless and fantastical than flesh-and-blood human beings. ●


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

— Bilal Anwar to www.buzzfeednews.com