HRS International

Rape in Pakistan: Shazia, Mukhtaran or Afia?

Last month, the government of Punjab in Pakistan issued a cheque worth roughly USD 5800 to the parents of Shazia, a 12-year-old Christian girl who died early last year. Her original postmortem report made it obvious that Shazia had endured physical abuse. She had old scars and fresh bruises and even the telltale signs of blunt-force trauma; also, she suffered from malnutrition and a lack of hygiene. It was clear that this young child, who had lived and worked in a wealthy Lahore household, had not died of natural causes.

Rooshanie Ejaz

HRS, Pakistan: The payment came on the heels of the acquittal of Shazia’s employer, Chaudhry Naeem, and his family of all charges related to her abuse and death. One question cries out for an answer: if the Naeem family was not responsible for Shazia’s death, why was compensation money paid to her parents (who, even now, are quarrelling over the division of the blood money). And one fact seems clear: Shazia’s death failed to make any difference for the hundreds of children who are subjected to torture and even rape at the hands of powerful and wealthy employers in Pakistan.

Cut to a different (yet not entirely different) case: Mukhtaran Mai, a well-known figure in Pakistani and international media, recently lost her suit against five of the six men she charged with rape. Her story is tragically common in Pakistan. Mukhtaran’s brother was seen with a young girl from a tribe superior to his, as punishment, the village punchayat (village court) ruled that in order to recoup the girl’s family honour that had been lost by her appearance in public with Mukhtaran’s brother, Mukhtaran would be raped by the young girl’s family. This sentence was carried out with the full knowledge of the entire village. After the rape, Mukhtaran was paraded nude through its streets.

Mukhtaran then took the brave step of fighting for justice. Her fight went on for years. During that time, the young woman co-authored a book about her ordeal and become a go-to person for young girls who have suffered such fates in the vicinity of her village. (She has actually moved back to her own village, for she feels she is needed there the most.) When the District Courts acquitted her assailants, she appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court. Last month, it let her down, upholding the District Court’s decision and freeing all but one of her rapists.

From ex-president Pervaiz Musharraf to popular mainstream-media television hosts like Mubashir Lucman, the critics of Mukhtaran are plenty. Jamshed Dasti, a member of the National Assembly, literally threatened her and demanded that she withdraw her case. (Jamshed Dasti was also one of the many politicians recently proven to possess fake graduate degrees.) Musharraf criticised Mukhtaran, stating that she was only in this for the fame and money; he said that by “sensationalizing” her story, she was bringing unwarranted shame to Pakistan. Mubashir Lucman, on his evening show, which is viewed by millions, openly stated that Mukhtaran should “have some pity” for her rapists and let them live their lives with some semblance of normality.

When public figures such as these do not speak up against the country’s rape laws, but choose rather to criticise a rape victim for seeking justice and change, they are contributing to the perpetuation of the deplorable social practices that turned Mukhtaran into a victim. Those practices have, of course, an extensive pedigree. The culture of the subcontinent has been suffused with misogyny for a very long time. Things only got worse for the cause of women’s freedom when the Islamists came along with their hard-line views on women’s sexuality and stoked the fire by introducing sharia law into the Pakistani constitution. The deplorable statements about Mukhtaran by Musharraf, and others have only fuelled the fire. Today, rape statistics in Pakistan are on the rise, as are the numbers of honour killings, forced marriages, and other practices that effectively deprive women of freedom. The sad fact is that over the course of its 60-year history, Pakistan has never managed to give women more freedom; it has only managed to take more and more freedom away from them.

If political leaders refuse to criticize the laws that make possible the abuse of women like Mukhtaran, it is because they are afraid of losing votes. Last year in Faisalabad, a well-known landlord’s brother-in-law, Eithisham, broke into a house, in which he raped a girl named Raheela. She was an invalid: she suffered from polio and was unable to move. When her family returned home to find her bleeding, they took her to a hospital. When Raheela’s brother went to the district police to report the crime, the police refused to file a report and claimed he was lying. While this was happening, Eithisham was at the hospital, trying to buy off the girl’s silence with 10,000 rupees. When her family refused the offer, he kidnapped the girl. The girl has never resurfaced. The police have never taken action.

Another girl, un-named for security reasons, was gang-raped last year in Larkana and her body dumped outside her home. There are many such stories. It is obvious that violent rape is an easy crime to get away with in Pakistan.

Not only do politicians refrain from taking firm action in regard to a core issue in our society; the champions of Islam in Pakistan don’t either. These are the same people who have taken to the streets in protest against the U.S. detention of Dr. Afia Siddiqui. They have raised funds for her cause, opened centres to coordinate protests against her capture and trial. It seems they are blind to justice, since Afia Siddiqui’s links with terrorism have been amply proven in court. Nonetheless she is touted as “The Nation’s Daughter”.

The stark contrast between the ways in which these women are treated is key to grasping the place of women in a society ruled by mobs who support Islamic extremism. It has been proven that Dr. Afia has terrorist associations. Mukhtaran and Shazia are victims of abuse who never received justice. Why does popular support in Pakistan lie with Afia and not with the others?

Until and unless Pakistani politicians face up to the reality of what Islamic extremism is, and where it is taking our country, the future of Pakistani women is not going to improve. As pointed out by several international media outlets, Pakistan, out of all countries in the world, has the highest number of searches for violent pornography on the Internet. Think of what this means: it means that violent porn is the most common form of sex education for Pakistani youth. This fact makes a lot of things very clear. After all, when there is as much sexual repression as there is in Pakistan, and when the average man or boy learns about sex in such a manner, sexual violence is only to be expected.

To all decent-thinking people, the issue is a no-brainer. Everything about the way in which Pakistani law enforcement and the Pakistani judiciary deal with rape is wrong – terribly, outrageously wrong. A corrupt system in which it is not justice but power and wealth that rule the day is systematically depriving the daughters of this nation of their fundamental human rights. It is long past time for this to stop.