When rapists go free - Sana Bucha Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rape, like hate, is a strong word. It’s taboo to use it in some parts of the country, while the word ‘sexual assault’ is used in its place, to somehow lessen its effect. But the effect of rape cannot be lessened. For all the tens of thousands of women who have been subjected to any form of sexual abuse in any part of Pakistan – that includes kidnap and rape, gang-rape, rape at gunpoint, rape by acquaintances, marital rape, rape as a child, raped by someone in power – and are still awaiting justice, the final verdict on world-renowned Mukhtaran Mai’s case is a slap in their face.

Mai, 30, was gang raped in the month of June in 2002 allegedly, on the orders of a tribal jirga. Afterwards, she was paraded naked in the village. Her crime? Mai’s tragedy unfolded after her 12-year-old brother was arrested by police on charges of adultery leveled against him by members belonging to the village’s influential Mastoi clan. Interestingly, the police arrested the 12-year-old on a charge they had no witness or evidence for, however, the fact that that the boy’s assertion that he had been sodomised was not even worth carrying out a medical examination. This is the kind of power and hold that exists since time immemorial, and continues to be used by influential tribes, government personnel and the powerful in Pakistan for their own benefit.

But this verdict does not shock me. It only reiterates my belief – or lack of – that rape cases in Pakistan will always remain unsolved and left unpunished. Remember Veena Hayat? She was a friend of Benazir Bhutto and was allegedly gang raped by five men at the orders of the son-in-law of then president of Pakistan, the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The Hayat family and Ms Bhutto produced, what they said were authenticated police records of Ms Hayat’s formal complaint that she was gang raped on November 27, 1991. Hayat had accused Marwat of the offence, when he was adviser on home affairs in the Jam Sadiq Ali ministry. Ms Bhutto seemed visibly shaken and described Ms Hayat’s rape as the worst kind of male prejudice and chauvinism employed to send a message to a woman political leader. Marwat denied the charge and was also inducted in the Sindh cabinet. To date, the Veena Hayat case remains shrouded in mystery. If indeed she was raped, her rapists remained free then. They remain free now.

Another baffling case in point: Dr Shazia Khalid, who was raped by an army captain in her room at the Sui Gas Plant in Baluchistan on January 3, 2005. She was kept drugged for two days so that all necessary evidence could be destroyed. But as her persistence to file a complaint increased, employers at Sui doubled their efforts to keep her silent. A case was registered against Shazia pronouncing her mentally unstable, and her husband’s family cut off all ties with her for the shame that she brought upon them. But Shazia remained persistent. She finally levelled rape charges against the accused – a case that led to an uprising by the Bugti tribe, followed by the disruption of gas to most parts of the country for weeks.

The then President, General Musharraf was quick to come to the army’s rescue and declared the accused, one Captain Hammad, not guilty. And that was that. Shazia Khalid was wrapped up in an alleged deal with the government and flown to London. Asylum was the price paid for her silence. And her rapist remained free. Enlightened moderation. Indeed. More emboldened crimes, perhaps.

These are only some cases in which women directly targeted the “powers-that-be” of this country. However, there are others who have the backing of the powerful to win over the powerless. Women in Pakistan are not only victims of a feudal system underpinned by a military absolutism that recognises no human dignity, but are also prey to retrogressive cultural values and a criminal justice system that is in a deep state of rot.

There is also the recent case of a Christian nurse-aid, Magdeleine, who was allegedly raped by a medico-legal officer of the biggest government hospital in Karachi. Reportedly, amid much pressure and threats, a deal was struck. The result: Magdeleine dropped off the face of the earth and the medico-legal officer went free.

And let’s also not forget the ‘White Corolla’ case. Women were picked up at random spots in posh localities of Karachi, raped, and left stranded. The FIR was registered against an Ali Muhammad Hajiano. Turned out he was the son of an influential person. Hajiano to date, remains free and currently resides in Dubai.

The standard legal response to sex crime accusations and how such charges are handled in Pakistan, are an insult to survivors of rape and sexual assault. Those working in rape crisis centres in Pakistan will tell you that they have deep backlogs of women raped by their own fathers, step fathers, school teachers, brothers-in-law, fathers-in-law and uncles, who don’t get justice. Then there are the independent self-reliant women who are raped but can’t even get a serious hearing. ‘Women do not get out of their chaar deewari and remain safe!’ It’s due to this very perception perpetuated by chauvinistic institutions, that the women of this country are losing their battle against rape.

Mukhtaran Mai lost hers in the name of a faulty investigation by the police – the loopholes that are left intentionally to support power brokers – and an incorrect first information report. Noteworthy is the fact that nine years ago when Mai was subjected to rape, she was illiterate. She did not know what she was signing; the report was never read out to her. There has been disappointment and disdain at Mai’s verdict throughout the world and discussions are rife about how the supreme court could have, should have demanded more evidence and reinvestigation into this case. But those who are on her side need to understand that her rapists may be free today, but Mai has locked their evil designs for life.

Back in 2002, her village, Meerwala had no electricity, no roads and no schools. The young girls of her village had no understanding of their inherent rights and lacked direction. Mai came to their rescue. She managed to win the battle against the feudal elite who scorn women’s rights and do all they can to obstruct change. Mukhtaran Mai’s schools, her shelters and other operations will ensure that the next generation of Meerwala girls do not fall prey to another tribal custom. Today her rapists may be free but that’s nothing compared to the 1200 children she has helped liberate.

In a society where every oppressor’s strength is the silence of the oppressed, Mukhtaran Mai dared to speak out – an action that is fast becoming punishable by death – even for governors and ministers. Her voice gave many other women like her the courage to stand up against tyranny. Next up: Mai’s protégé, Assiya. A teenage girl who has filed a case against her rapists – tribal ‘lords’ and the police. It’s time to stand up and be counted!

The writer works for Geo TV.

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=43385&Cat=9

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