March Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 19 years ago

The media images of a distraught Mukhtar Mai, weeping silently, will remain etched in memory. Mai is inconsolable. Her tormentors – all but one of the six men who allegedly gang-raped her in full public view in Meerwala and were sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in D.G. Khan – have been allowed to get away by a division bench of the Lahore High Court. On grounds of ‘insufficient evidence.’ Insufficient evidence? The defence lawyer argued that the accused could not be prosecuted on the testimony of one woman. One woman! The woman who was shamed and humiliated publicly just because the powerful head of a panchayat decreed so, as ‘honour’ punishment for her 14-year-old brother’s alleged affair with a woman of the powerful Mastoi clan in 2002. Was her evidence not admissible in a court of law?

And whatever happened to the 150 or so witnesses to this bestiality — could the police not find even four adult, male witnesses to come forward and testify in favour of the victim? Or were the police bribed into submission and the witnesses intimidated and coerced into silence? Is there any hope for people like Mukhtar Mai in a scenario such as this? Not if the courts continue to play only by the book, as they seem to have done in this instance.

Then there is Dr Shazia Khalid, the Sui rape victim, who, unlike Mukhtar Mai, has not been able to face the public since that trauma. In her case the police has yet to nab the culprit, despite the fact that this crime was committed in a high security zone. One of the accused named in the case — a man in uniform — has already been declared ‘possibly not guilty’ by the highest in the land — also in uniform. The manner in which the entire case has been handled reeks of foul play.

And as if that were not enough, the doctor has been declared a kari, shockingly by one of her own in-laws, thus raising fears of danger to her life. Rumours are that Dr Shazia Khalid plans to take asylum in a foreign country — like Dr Shaista Almani before her, and Riffat Afridi before that — to escape the fate of hundreds of women like Samia Sarwar, who have been slaughtered in the name of karo-kari.

Unfortunately, the feudal lords in the present assemblies are determined to thwart any attempts to address the issue of karo-kari. As was obvious from the response of some members of the ruling party to an amendment to the karo-kari bill, proposed by one of their own — PML(Q)’s Kashmala Tariq — to prevent an honour-killer from winning impunity through the provision of diyat or blood money. They ganged up with the MMA to defeat the bill. Their argument: it would encourage the women to marry out of choice, thus shaming their parents. Fifty-eight years down the road, some Pakistani men still want to deny women the right to choose their own husbands.

General Musharraf may have reserved 33 per cent of the seats in the local bodies and 22 per cent in the assemblies for women, but has that political space translated into real empowerment?

At a recent UN conference to examine women’s progress since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing nearly 10 years ago, the Pakistani prime minister’s adviser on women’s development reportedly won “thunderous applause” as she proceeded to dilate on the merits of the government’s recently passed karo-kari bill. Perhaps Ms Tariq could enlighten Ms Nilofer Bakhtiar on the flawed nature of the bill when she returns from New York.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.