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Rape cases highlight terrible plight of women in Pakistan

On June 22, 2002 one woman's honour was redeemed, by the gage rape of another woman in Meeranwala, Jatoi (Punjab). Because her brother - whose exact age is known neither to him nor to his accusers, he could be 11 - was allegedly caught in a compromising position with an elder woman of superior social standing. He was beaten up and gleefully sodomized by a string of gentlemen of a higher social standing.

Thereafter a so-called panchayat of some eighty stout citizens, most of them armed, met to decide on further punishment. The boy's father was asked to produce one of his daughters. He brought forward a daughter, a divorced woman in her thirties. As is the honourable custom in this country, honour plays a large and important part when it comes to meting out punishment. She was raped by eight persons.

In Meeranwala, the police took no action when the matter was reported to them on June 30, supposedly because they knew no better than to believe that justice had been done, ignorant of other forms of justice which prevail in the outer world, and out of fear of the local bigwigs.

But one advocate of conscience on July 2 filed an application in the Supreme Court of Pakistan asking the chief justice to take note of the incident. The chief justice did and the case was heard on July 4. The relevant police officials of the province and the district were summoned. Up until then no arrests had been made. (Now most of them are arrested.) Police did not arrested the rapists because they belong to a superior tribal clan, Mastoi and are owners of most of the land in the area and the victims belong to the Gujjar family which is considered as a lower cast.

After the case was opened and published in the newspapers, the governor of Punjab and President Pervez Musharraf and other government officials condemned the rapists and ordered to take immediate action.

The Mastoi tribe is a criminal force for the big landlords like Jatois and Syeds in that area. In this case the head of the district assembly (the new system introduced by Pervez Musharraf) was working as cover for the Mastoi tribe. The area is typical feudal dominated and there is law of tribalism.

The government has arrested only one ASI from the police, not on the charge that he did not register the FIR, but for negligence to his duties.

Regarding this case, General Pervez Musharraf sent a female minister, Attiya Anayat-Ullah, Minister of Women's Affairs with a compensation of Rs 500,000. The government announced a girl's school in her name in her village.

But the victim, Mukhtiar Bibi, held a press conference on July 9, 2002. In this press conference she blamed the police that when they took her statement they locked her in a room at the police station and harassed her to give statement in favour of police and some so-called "honourable personalities" of the village.

This happens everyday, all over the country, in its remote villages and towns inhabited by illiterate, brutalised barbarians. According to the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) report, one woman is raped every six hours and another is gang-raped every fourth day. The number of registered rape cases last year stood at 572 - a number that includes 28 violent deaths. In Pakistan, social taboos and outmoded concepts of shame prevent victims from stepping forward to demand justice. So these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.

In Punjab, 364 cases of rape were reported last year, 157 of them involving minors. Punjab police only managed to register 321 cases and arrest 33 alleged rapists. In Sindh 210 cases of rape were reported, 86 of them involving minors and 106 of them classified as gang rape.

The large number of cases goes unreported because any suggestion of sex is considered taboo in Pakistan. In most cases, alleged rapists can grease police palms and walk away free men.

In Pakistan women do not enjoy equal rights and opportunities in all walks of life. More distressing is the common perception that women are the property of their men, as well as the guardian of the family honour.

Honour killings are common in Pakistan. Thousands of women have been slaughtered in the name of honour during last few years. This is like a ritual in Sindh called "Karo Kari". (See Women in Pakistan - Victims of the social and economic desecration) The custom of "Karo Kari" is also used to humiliate or show power to another family or a tribe. It is used as a profitable business too. They accuse a person of a rival tribe of having a relationship with the girl of a powerful tribe. If the accused runs away then the family of accused has to pay 120,000 rupees to the tribe who claim to be honour victim.

In Merpur Mathelo (Sindh), one person was labelled as "Karo" (accused of having a relationship with a woman). The person who accused him as "Karo" said that this person had relationships with his mother and he proved it by saying that he was praying on the grave of her mother. That person had to pay a high price to get him free.

A few years back a girl was labelled as "Kari" (the female accused) for giving directions to a stranger and the elders of her village proved it with her foot position.

Violence on women is also common in Pakistan. In the newspapers of July 10, 2002, there were reports of violence on a woman, Zeenat Bibi, in Pak Paten (Punjab) by her husband who has cut her nose and lips.

Rape has a horrendous political dimension and has been used by one group as an instrument of control over another. In some areas where tribal customs still prevail it is not uncommon to inflict public punishment on innocent young girls or women as a form of retaliation against their families. As in 1984, in Nawabshah (Multan), influential landlords paraded some women naked on the streets to punish the men of a lower class.

Rape cases are increasing day by day. As I mentioned earlier that very few cases get registered because of the taboo and the horrible law of Hadood Ordinance, implicated by Zia ul-Haq dictatorship. The Islamic Penal Law "Hadood Ordinance" repealed the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code related to rape cases, in 1979. The Islamic Law of evidence applicable to cases of rape requires the evidence of four adult male Muslims, in order for the penalty of Hadood to be imposed upon the accused. Being a half witness by law the raped woman can't even testify against the crime committed against her. According to these laws, testimony of the victim requires strong corroboration for conviction by the court. On the other hand, where sexual intercourse is established but the absence of consent cannot be proved, the presumption that such intercourse occurred with the woman's consent can place her at the risk of prosecution. In cases, adultery or rape, a woman is kept in jail pending the ruling of the court. 52% of women languishing in the jails of Pakistan are waiting for their fate in these cases. In the case of a woman marrying without the consent of her family, the marriage can be declared invalid and the couple could then be accused of the offence of Zina (adultery).

Last month there was a case of Zafraan Bib from NWFP province that was sentence to death in a Zina case.

If the women victimized by the offenders contact the law (the police) and the other investigating agencies, the women of the oppressed classes are subject to police brutality and crimes like rape are often carried out while in custody. The incidence of sexual assault on women in police custody increased after the implementation of these Islamic laws.

Another law, "Qasas", is also used to victimise women, because under this law if a person kills somebody and the family of the victim compromises with the killer then they are paid an agreed amount of money, land and of course women by the assassin's family.

In these circumstances when a case becomes public, it comes under the spotlight of the newspapers and TV media. There are articles being written on the Jatoi case. The NGOs are in action. They have given some financial support to the victim. The government has also announced a high level investigation and the maximum punishment for the culprits.

But the same will happen in this case as always happens in cases like this. The NGOs will use this case to get further grants from funding agencies. The government may give the culprits the punishment they deserve. But today's press conference by the victim (as I mentioned above) showed the real face of the collapsing state in Pakistan. It also shows the reality of what will be the future of this case.

The question is this: if this victim succeeded to achieve justice what is the fate of those women who have been victims of these social customs like "Karo Kari", rape, and violence every day? There are thousands of cases unreported. Will this system which is based on brutality, not only to women but to the whole of humanity, be able to give any solution to these problems? Can reformism change it?

We have lots of NGOs who are working on women's issues. But basically they are trying to repair the rotten rug of the social fabric and the system. But the system is collapsing. It is beyond repair. Taboos and norms cannot be changed by the slow and steady process of evolution (as the NGOs believe) but only by Revolution. A new system, Socialism.

Lahore,
July 10, 2002

Socialist Appeal Issue 83

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FILM: Greece on the Brink

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