KARACHI – A female cricketer who committed suicide by drinking acid was under extreme stress after an administrator sued her for pursuing a sexual harassment case against him, her cousin said on Thursday.
Halima Rafique, a 17-year-old all-rounder from Multan died in her home on Sunday in a case that has shocked both fans and women's rights activists, who have accused cricket authorities of covering up her damaging claims.
Halima along with four other domestic cricketers – Seema Javed, Hina Ghafoor, Kiran Irshad and Saba Ghafoor – had jointly levelled the charges against Multan Cricket Club chairman Sultan Alam and selector Mohammad Javed in a television show in June last year.
The allegations rocked the cricketing establishment in a country where the women's game only recently gained prominence and male non-family members are barred from watching matches at stadiums. The Pakistan Cricket Board formed a two-member inquiry committee which in October cleared the officials of any wrongdoing and banned all five women from playing for six months.
Three of the women changed their statements before the committee, while Saba and Halima declined to appear, amid speculation that the women had been pressured to back down. Last week, Sultan Alam filed a defamation case against the television channel officials as well as the cricketers seeking damages of 20 million rupees ($20,000).
Halima's family said the lawsuit had pushed her over the edge. “It’s tragic,” Rashid Rafique, cousin and brother-in-law of Halima told AFP from Multan on phone. “She was very worried and we feel that the tension took her life.”
Punjab Minister for Sports Rana Mashhood has ordered an inquiry. But Halima requested privacy in to allow them to grieve properly. “Halima's mother has been bed-ridden since the tragedy and she is a heart patient,” said Rafique.
He described Halima as a bubbly personality and a cricket fanatic. “She was very cheerful and wanted to be an international cricketer,” reminisces Rafique. “At a very young age, she used to bowl fast and bat like a batsman and realising her interest we allowed her to play cricket,” he said.
“We never knew that her small wishes, her interest in the game will take her life,” said Rafique, who used to drive her to and from the stadium. “She was a mad fan of Shahid Afridi,” said Rafique of popular male all-rounder.
“When Afridi won the match against India in the Asia Cup in February this year she went berserk and celebrated it for several days.” Bina Shah, a prominent feminist, said that the women were likely threatened and pressured into backing down.
"The thought of having to pay twenty million rupees to her abuser probably was too much for Haleema to bear," she wrote on her blog.