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Mukhtaran Mai: Another Rosa Parks

By Shamshad Ahmad

Sharmila Faruqui

Although the apex court’s decision acquitting five persons went against Mukhtaran Mai, yet she remains victorious. To many it would seem strange, but the way in which Mai raised her voice throughout the world to get justice has no parallel.

In fact, she can be called the Rosa Parks of the 21st century. Her struggle is a beacon of hope for those who are suffering from discrimination. Mai has set new benchmarks for courageous women all over the world. She is a symbol of unfathomable nerves and steel, unbroken in the face of group torture and violence by the weak souled. Her epic struggle for women rights in Pakistan deserves tribute.

The causes of women sufferings in Pakistan are multiple that is a male-dominated society where patriarchy is getting more and more repressive and cruel with each passing day. The purpose of this article is to remind the decision makers and stakeholders about the gravity of violence being committed against women. It should help them realise the urgency to undertake concerted efforts at all levels to combat and eliminate gender-based violence in Pakistan.

All such efforts must include strong and effective administrative, political and legislative actions, in addition to raising social awareness jointly with citizen groups and the media to create and ensure zero tolerance for violence against women in the society. Some of these efforts have recently resuited into the landmark legislation on prohibition and penalising sexual harassment of women at workplace. Then the Women Protection Bill is passed by the present government and women quota in jobs has been increased. Although these are praiseworthy accomplishments in empowering the women in Pakistan, yet there is a need to address the structural causes of gender-based violence, sexual, physical and psychological violence against women and girls that is not a natural condition, nor a simple outcome of difficult social circumstances. Rather gender-based violence is a consequence of the unequal power balance between men and women and a reflection of the dominant gender-norms prevalent in our society.

Unfortunately, women are subjected to inhuman treatment in Pakistan. Over the years, the level of cruelty against them has increased. Earlier, the women were first killed and then buried. However, now they are buried alive. In the past, they were kidnapped and shot to death. However, now they are not only abducted, but also thrown before the dogs prior to being killed. There are incidents where women are forced to walk naked before the jeering crowd. The one positive difference sustaining hope is the manifest addition to the cases being reported by women. A bold and vocal media has been the key to this development.

Violence is the direct or indirect act of omission or conduct that make one suffer physical, sexual or mental abuse be it through deceit, seduction, threat or harassment. Coercion or intimidation, punishment or humiliation that deny or undermine their human dignity, sexual self-determination, physical, mental or moral integrity, security of a person, self-respect or physical and mental capacities, are all but forms of violence against them. Women, in Pakistan, suffer from the notions of honour for men, who deny them their human rights. Men as fathers, brothers and husbands control their movement and dictate patterns of behaviours. Violence against women in its differing forms is a nationwide phenomenon, which cuts across cultures, provinces, social and age groups.

Mukhtaran Mai’s case has been decided, but there are hundreds pending before various courts. Will the victims ever get justice? The courts must take up those cases on priority basis because justice delayed is justice denied. The verdict in Mai’s case comes as no surprise and in that it has become symbolic of the struggle for women’s rights by human rights groups. The specifics of the verdict are problematic. If a rape case with multiple witnesses and such extensive national and international media coverage goes unpunished, which Pakistani rape victim can hope for justice? Given the insufficient investigation capacity of the Pakistani police in rape cases, which often suffer from delayed reporting and lack of witnesses, the victim’s testimony must carry significant weight.

Lara Bush, the wife of former US President G.W. Bush, in an eloquent video tribute to Mukhtaran Mai said: “Please don’t assume that it’s only a tale of heartbreak.” She is a Rosa Parks for the 21st century – a woman simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary – who transcended her role and started a broad movement for justice. The most pressing moral challenge today is to overcome the brutality and inequality faced by women and girls in the developing world in general and in Pakistan, in particular, and Mukhtaran has become a leader of that struggle.

The writer is Secretary, Information PPP Sindh Women Wing.

Source: The Nation