“Nothing will change unless courts set precedent”

 
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ISLAMABAD July 28 (TNS): A young man named Umar Wawda on July 16, ostensibly kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old girl in Multan. The case was brought before a local panchaiyat to preside over. Two days later, the council elders ordered the complainant to rape the 16-year-old sister of the accused in return. The first information report of both incidents was registered on July 20. Police have till now arrested 20 people. The accused are still at large. Here we are again talking about new Mukhtar Mai.

Mukhtar Mai is not surprised. It is a norm for panchaiyats and jirgas to penalize a woman for a man’s crime. They call it ‘justice.’ Men in Pakistan, guilty men, go unpunished. Women, innocent women, get punished. People in Pakistan, and elsewhere, often ask her why jirgas still exist in the country. She tells them that they exist to remind Pakistanis that their legal system has failed.

For a poor man or a woman, it is not easy to get a police complaint registered. Then, even if you do get one registered, you will be confronted with a long-winded process of going to courts year after year. A poor person cannot afford to go through this both financially and mentally. In the end he approaches a jirga for the speedy resolution of his dispute.

Regrettably, these men who sit on these councils are never fair to women. It does not matter to them that the only crime committed by a woman is that she is unfortunately related to a criminal.

Over the last few years, Mukhtar Mai met many rape survivors but did not ask them any questions. Why should they relive that horrible and devastating moment? So, instead, she sat with them, sometimes quietly. Then, she told them she went through what they did but she was still alive. She is, maybe, stronger and they will be too. When she heard about this incident in Multan, her blood pressure shot up. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did her 15 years of fight to highlight this injustice go fruitless? Nothing she said or did was of any use.

Television and newspapers will continue to raise the issues. The activists will continue to raise their voices. But unless the courts set a precedent and punish these men and their facilitators, not much will change. Those in power, those in courts, and those in police stations do not know what it is like for a woman to try to live a life after a woman is assaulted. From then on, she is neither alive, nor dead. She is neither accepted by society, nor by her family. In Multan case one of the girls was 12 and the other was 16. If this isn’t brutality, then we can’t identify what is.

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