Pakistan: Court verdict reveals tribal cultures' mistreatment of women

crime | Apr 22, 2011 | By Aftab Alexander Mughal

 On April 21, in its judgment on Mukjtaran Mai’s case the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan upholds the Lahore High Court (LHC) earlier verdict. Under the judgment, of the six accused of Mai’s gang rape, five are acquitted and a sixth will complete the life imprisonment. Interestingly, not even a single woman judge is in the SC.

 Mai, 40, a poor Muslim woman from Meerawala village in district Muzaffargarh,southern Punjab, was ganged-raped on the orders of the village panchyat (council) on June 22, 2002. The case was not registered against the council members and the rapists because all belong to the powerful tribes of the area. 

 The rape was a punishment for her younger brother’s alleged illicit relations with a woman from a rival tribe, the Mastoi. Later investigations revealed that the boy had been molested by three Mastoi tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up, daily The New York Times reported.

 According to the Washington Post, the case exposed to the world a side of Pakistan’s tribal culture in which women are often punished harshly for affairs or sold as brides to settle disputes or compensate for the perceived sins of theirrelatives.

 Human rights activists say that the verdict is shook for them and have shaken their confidence. It will also discourage women to stand for their rights. Furthermore,the ruling will strengthen the parallel “justice” mechanism of panchayats,jirgas and local councils where poor do not get justice. Human rights activists also held a protest demonstration against SC verdict in Islamabad.

 BruceBhatti, a Christian rights activist, said, “If a Muslim woman cannot get justice from even the highest court of the country how can a poor Christian woman can justice from Pakistan’s judicial system. The Supreme Court’s judgment clearly shows the vulnerability of Pakistani Christian women who have been kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam and there is nobody who listentheir cry.” 

 Athree-member bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice Mian ShakirullahJan, Justice Nasirul Mulk and Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, announced the verdict,which was earlier reserved on January 27, 2011. In its order, the court instructed the immediate release of the five accused if no other cases were registered against them. Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, a well-known lawyers’ movement leader, appeared for Mai, whereas Malik Muhammad Saleem represented the accused.

 Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty Internationa,l reacted on the judgmen tand said, “A woman has been brutally gang-raped but the Pakistani authorities have failed to bring anyone to account for this horrific crime, sending a green light for abuses against women to be committed without fear of punishment.”

 On June 28, 2002, against the inhuman act only Maulana Abdul Razzaq, a localreligious leader of the village, raised the voice against the decision the decision. After getting no support of the villagers, Razzaq informed a local journalist, Murad Abbass, who dared to report the incident to his newspaper. As news appeared in the newspaper the women rights organisations held country-wide protests which gave courage to Mai to stand against the most powerful people of the area.

 Onlyunder pressure the police registered a case against the culprits. In 2002, the Anti-Terrorist Court in Dera Ghazi Khan convicted six of the 14 men, while acquitting eight of them. In an appeal, the Lahore High Court (LHC) Multan Bench acquitted 5 other.

 This was the time when the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) took it upon itself to assert its parallel authority over the judicial machinery of Pakistan, like it has routinely done whenever it came to the cases of violations of women’s rights, a report says. The FSC took suo moto action and overturned the LHC verdict.  It was the Supreme Court that took suo moto notice on the LHC’s decision and now its decision to uphold the initial verdict is extremely disappointing for many. 

 Mai is a role model and a hero for the women of Pakistan and the internationally recognised icon of courage and resistance crimes against women. After hearing the judgment, Mai feels unsafe and said if something happens to her or her family the court will be responsible. She further said that she has been struggling for justice for nine years without any success. “I have no trust in courts anymore,” she told the media.

 Naeem Mirza of Aurat Foundation, “She didn’t get justice at all as it seems that courts in Pakistan are still not independent.”

 According to The News, the women rights activists condemned the insensitive and a pathetic attitude of some sections of the media, who were grinning at the verdict and clapped after they recorded the responses to the judgment. They urged the owners and editors of these media houses to inculcate responsible and sensitive attitude in such “chauvinistic” reporters.

 Farzana Bari, a rights activist based in Islamabad, told TNYT, “Mai’s case was so well known and for nine years we had been campaigning and even then if she cannot get justice then there is no hope for any victim.”

 “This is a setback for Mai, the broader struggle to end violence against women and the cause of an independent rights-respecting judiciary in Pakistan,” the Human Rights Watch said in a statement. 

 A recent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report says that 2,903 women raped in 2010 alone. Sexual violence against women is on the rise in Pakistan and in the first three months of 2011, at least 239 women and children have been raped or molested, says a report issued by Madadgaar in Karachi on April 13.


Aftab Alexander Mughal is the editor of MinoritiesConcern of Pakistan.




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