October Issue 2005

By | News & Politics | Published 19 years ago

General Pervez Musharraf’s derogatory comments about victims of rape have outraged all sections of opinion in Pakistan and abroad. Women, in particular, have condemned these comments most strongly and have expressed their concern on the prospects of justice for women who become victims of crimes such as rape, honour-killings and other forms of abuse. The remarks were obviously designed to silence those who have dared to make their plight public, and those who have exposed the abysmal failure of the state to protect or deliver justice to victims of violence.

The General accuses Pakistani women of ‘crying rape’ for material gains. His utter contempt for women is apparent in his base attempt to convince the outside world that “This has become a moneymaking concern.” He went so far as to deliberately convey an impression that this was a widely held view in Pakistan. Imputing the view to others, he said, “A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada, or citizenship, and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.” The General should have disclosed who are these “lot of people” that he thought fit to quote in support of his own view. Were they a figment of his imagination, or were they no other than his own circle of sycophants who would go to any extent to undermine and discredit any voices that protest the human rights violations resulting from the commissions and omissions of the regime?

Incidents of violence against women have been on the increase in Pakistan for many years. The recently available figures show that at least 1000 women in the country suffer rape or gang rape each year. How many of them have made millions or sought visas for Canada? The General received a well-deserved rebuke from the Canadian Prime Minister for his comments. Nobody has ever claimed that the incidence of violence against women, including rape, is limited to Pakistan alone. However, any government worthy of respect would be troubled by such occurrences and certainly more focused on addressing the issue through appropriate legislative and policy initiatives, than on blaming the victim.

The facts speak for themselves. A flawed criminal justice system coupled with corrupt and incompetent state machinery has placed the burden of prosecution on the shoulders of the victim. The police refuse to register cases until the victim has arranged for some influential intervention, or to bribe the police. In the first place, dishonest, partial and flawed investigation mars their prospects for successful prosecution of perpetrators of this crime. If the cases get to the court, discriminatory laws and procedures, anti- women biases and social prejudices stand in the way of any redress for the victims. Many such women have emerged from the process feeling humiliated and having lost any confidence in the system of justice. There are too many instances of such humiliation to think of them as isolated cases. Many were subjected to violence at the hands of the police at their first port of call to register their grievances.

rape-4-oct05The courts have frequently allowed or have themselves made unjustified and unnecessary comments on the character of the victim. Many reported judgements contain references to the victim as “a woman of easy virtue” or “loose character.” Not only is her character attacked but also her privacy by bringing in matters completely extraneous to the case within the ambit of the proceedings, causing great anguish to the victim and her family.

Throughout this process, victims and their families are frequently threatened or harmed by the culprits, witnesses are intimidated, and evidence tampered with. Far from coming to the aid of the victim, the state agencies have permitted all this to happen. Victims who protest against such conduct or anyone supporting them are intimidated and maligned.

Take the case of Mukhtaran Mai. The incident involved the holding of an illegal jirga that ordered the victim to be raped during proceedings witnessed by scores of people. From subsequent reports it is apparent that the police not only had knowledge of this illegal tribunal but also of the crime committed against Mukhtaran at its instigation and with its connivance. The police failed to register the crime for several days.

The local press published the story of this heinous crime, and human rights activists raised their voices for justice to be done. It is only then that the government felt the necessity to take action. Several ministers were rushed to the site, one of them carrying a cheque from the General himself which she made sure was handed out to Mukhtaran Mai with great pomp and show, in full view of the press specially called to witness this gracious visit to Mukhtaran’s village.

All that the victim had asked for was justice. There is nothing to indicate that she had either asked for or expected money from the General for the wrongs done to her. Obviously, it was not this victim, but the General who thought of money as compensation for rape.

No effort was made by this flock of ministers to ensure that all legal requirements for successful prosecution were taken in time. Investigation competently conducted in good faith, and diligent prosecution of the accused would have been the proper recompense for the victim. Instead the investigation was botched up by taking illegal shortcuts and doing too little too late, allowing the accused to gain an edge. The prosecution was conducted in a negligent and lukewarm manner. The rules and standard of proof required as evidence of rape are already tilted against the victim. An application of these without a judicious consideration of the ground realities and flaws of the system by courts made it impossible for Mukhtaran’s case to be concluded with justice being done.

Strangely enough, the legal process instead of vindicating the victim ended up casting doubt on an occurrence that had no dearth of witnesses. Women’s anger at the government’s mishandling of the case and the system once again having failed to deliver justice was legitimate. Irked at the criticism, the General lashed out at the victim and prohibited her travel to attend an international conference. Mukhtaran Mai was placed on the notorious exit control list. While the Prime Minister and other luminaries of this government kept confusing the public as to the facts, the General proudly owned up to placing curbs on her movements in order to “protect the image of Pakistan.” Interestingly, this disclosure was also made by him to the media during his official visit to New Zealand.

The plight of women who are violated by those in a position of influence or power is even worse. In Dr. Shazia Khalid’s case, the General himself announced on television that he was convinced that the nominated accused was innocent, even before any investigations were conducted. What kind of confidence could the subsequently constituted tribunal of inquiry inspire under these circumstances? The proceedings before this tribunal only caused immeasurable agony to the victim and exonerated the accused.

Shazia’s tribulations did not end there. She has narrated her whole story in a recent interview in BBC online and exposed the threats and intimidations that the government used in order to force her to leave the country, so that the case could be hushed up. It would be interesting to hear of the role that General Musharraf played in Dr. Shazia’s dramatic exit from Pakistan.

Sonia Naz is another victim of state violence. She was raped by police officers. Every attempt has been made to damage her case through multiple inquiries, although the first step mandated under the law is the registration of a case. She has been seeking registration of her complaint for over three weeks. The man she accuses has been found guilty of all sorts of misdemeanors, which she was the first one to expose. The government, however, refuses to register her complaint of rape.

Instead of acknowledging the justification of women’s outcry against the injustices done to them, the General threatened to use all his might to silence anyone who dared to question the working of the state while he was at the helm of affairs. In a meeting in New York organised by the Pakistan government to extol the general as a champion of women’s rights, he once again exposed his arrogance and intolerance of criticism. The manner in which he attacked the woman who expressed disapproval of his anti-women comments, showed him in a poor light. He called her an enemy of the state and threatened to fight people like her with full force.

Threatening women or maligning them will not divert attention from the way that the General reacted in the case of Mukhtaran Mai or Dr. Shazia Khalid. It is not exposure of the malady that afflicts the country, but the conduct of the government and its highest functionaries that brings a bad name to Pakistan.

The Journalists in the United States who investigated and reported the illegalities committed by Nixon that led to his impeachment were not blamed for bringing a bad name to that country. Imrana, the Muslim woman who was raped by her father-in-law in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, was not admonished by her government for tarnishing India’s image.

Pakistan’s civil society, especially the women’s movement, has always received respect for their struggle against military dictatorships, resistance to any undemocratic trends of civil governments, and refusal to accept gender discrimination or religious intolerance. Their diligence in monitoring and reporting human rights abuse and support and protection of victims is the one factor that has distinguished Pakistan. The General’s tantrums and threats will certainly not frighten them into silence.