By: HASAN MANSOOR
KARACHI: A roundtable conference on violence against women held on Thursday noted with grave concern an alarming rise in incidents of rape and the fact that very few victims dared report it to police while ratio of conviction remained significantly low.
A reputed lawyer shocked the audience by declaring that demand for new laws to protect women would not deliver as the state, which guaranteed and implemented them, had ‘collapsed’.
Though no other speaker agreed to his statement they concurred with the lawyer’s narrative, which detailed the host of difficulties a rape victim had to go through normally if she dared to approach the justice system in her quest for justice.
“It is a myth that any new law meant to protect women could deliver as it is expected, for such laws never get implemented as the state, which sets laws in motion, has collapsed,” said Faisal Siddiqui, a lawyer, at the conference on ‘Opposing violence in Pakistan: improving responses’.
The moot was jointly organised by the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) and the Women Action Forum (WAF) at the SZABIST campus in Clifton.
He shared his experience with rape victims whose cases he had fought and said the incidence of rape was on an alarming rise. Very few victims dared report it to police while conviction was rare, he said.
“Our criminal justice system brutalises and discourages rape victims and benefits perpetrators only. A rape case could take seven to 10 years to decide and ultimately it ends up with acquittal (of the accused).
“If a victim is bold enough to fight the case to its logical end, she has to do it on her own as the elite civil society leaves her very soon and the media gets other cases to report instead of following up her case,” he said.
He said that a rape victim had to endure hardships in all forms and from everyone starting from a policeman to a judge of a lower court. He cited the new disturbing trend in which rape victims were getting killed as well and many of the bodies found were mutilated.
Anis Haroon of WAF disagreed with Mr Siddiqui on the ground that it was abuse of religion that introduced certain anti-women laws, which made the situation worse, and said such laws had to be replaced with better ones with better implementation.
“The state itself has fallen victim to its own atrocious laws. Better and improved laws could help the state too to stand on its feet,” she said.
She said that sexual violence against women was on the rise. Without giving figures, she said the number of rape cases and other offences against women this year so far had already exceeded the entire last year’s figures.
A recent report of the National Crisis Management Cell said a total of 10,703 rape cases had been reported in the country over the past five years. Most cases (8,806) were reported in Punjab, some 722 cases each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, 86 in Balochistan, 295 in Islamabad and some 22 rape cases were registered in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Sara Zaman of the War Against Rape (WAR) said that a victim’s troubles started with her first contact with police. “If she succeeds in lodging an FIR with police, she is among the fewer lucky ones among a whole lot,” said Ms Zaman.
She spoke about the procedural loopholes when a victim was flummoxed by police and medico-legal officers in hospitals whether to lodge an FIR first or get a medico-legal examination.
Even chemical examiners bluntly called the victims shrewd and declared them impostors before a case formally went to court, she said.
She said that she saw significantly fewer FIRs lodged with police than the number of medico-legal certificates issued, which showed how police discouraged a survivor from lodging the case.
She said that with the number of rape cases on the rise, the victims’ ages were alarmingly getting lower. “The number of younger rape victims is rising, but we don’t see enough rapists in jails,” she said.
She said the reported rape cases were only a tip of the iceberg as an overwhelming majority of the cases were not reported, for most perpetrators belonged to the victimised families.
Journalist Afia Salam said that unlike in the past women’s issues were getting space in media. However, she said the electronic media – both news and entertainment channels – were yet to be properly sensitised to women’s issues.
Deputy Inspector General (South Zone) Abdul Khaliq Shaikh admitted a large number of policemen were not sensitised to women’s issues and the department had plans to make them aware of the sensitivities of gender-based crimes.
“Thousands of police officers are duly sensitised to the offences against women and they deal the cases with requisite sensitivity but many others are not sensitised as yet,” he said.
He said that many police officers had to prioritise the cases. “They have to set priorities to handle cases and unfortunately, gender-related cases do not come on top of their priorities,” he said.
He said that for a policeman who was not sensitised to women’s issues cases of terrorism and law and order were more important and needed his immediate attention.
About investigations into sexual violence, he said, they had fewer witnesses who often turned hostile and even the victim became reluctant at times and her family preferred to settle the case out of court in most cases.
He said that police too, in many cases, did not play a professional role and failed to collect evidence to make a strong case. He called the reported reluctance on the part of police over registering rape cases a wide question mark and said they had to register a case about a cognisable offence.
Ahmed Chinoy, chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, said they reported six cases of runaway women everyday in Karachi and two cases of rape in the town so far.
WAF’s Uzma Noorani moderated the conference and SZABIST’s Dr Riaz Shaikh thanked the audience.