That former MNA Liaquat Abbas Bhatti was granted bail on Saturday, was, unfortunately, not surprising. What, ironically, was more surprising was that he was arrested in the first place. Still, the discovery of his servant, Shahida, who had been kept in chains, exposed the face of a kind of slavery that it had been assumed had come to an end, but which is still practiced in Pakistan, that of a debt.

That Shahida herself did not incur the debt, but her parents had borrowed Rs 400,000 from Bhatti for the release of her brother from jail, does not seem to have helped her. After getting a son out of jail, the parents handed over their daughter to Mr Bhatti, who ran away home because of his cruelty and violence. She was forcefully taken back, and it was from then that she was chained at night.

A number of abuses are shown by the episode. The first is the use of debt to imprison human beings. Then there is the clear preference for a son’s freedom over a daughter’s. Then there is the freedom that parents feel to dispose of their children as they wish, irrespective of what living hell they may be plunging their child into. All are depressingly common practices in our rural areas.

It is up to the police to show that it will not tolerate such abuses of the law by ensuring that Shahida gets justice. Through it, the state must show that no one, no matter what position he may have held, can get away with violations of the law. The secret of how landlords staff their houses is out, and the practice, depressingly common, must be stopped, even if it means stopping members of the ruling party of the day from exploiting their constituents in such illegal ways.

The political parties also need to ensure their members do not engage in such practices, otherwise they will end up having to defend the indefensible. The PML-Q, while chagrined by Mr Bhatti’s exit to the PTI, might now be relieved while the latter party scrambles to explain how it will maintain its squeaky clean image in the face of Shahida’s chains.