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Rape and the law

Rape and the law

Pointing to a glaring injustice, PPP Senator Sughra Imam told the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice recently that the conviction rate for rape cases filed during the last five years has been zilch. A press report quoting the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report for 2013, says that 2,576 rape cases were registered in Punjab, 127 cases of rape and three of gang-rape in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 27 gang rapes in Sindh. Yet no one was brought to book. Frustrated with the situation female members of the Senate staged a protest walkout from the House last December. It is good to see that they have not given up on the issue. Talking to journalists after a roundtable discussion with representatives from bar councils, the committee chairman, Senator Kazim Khan, said “we will first determine why the conviction rate is zero and whether [there is something] in the laws, the judiciary or the legal procedure itself.”

Senator Imam has proposed amendments to the existing laws that deal with investigation recommending that any public servant who fails to carry out proper investigation in breach of his duties should be punished “with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.” Furthermore, she wants to strengthen the law pertaining to disclosure of a rape victim’s identity, and to make breach liable with punishment with up to three years of imprisonment and fine. These changes should be helpful, but the real reason the conviction is so hard to achieve arises from a different source. As women’s rights groups have been pointing out for several years, under the Zia era Hadood Ordinance a rape victim has to produce four pious male witnesses to prove the crime or risk being accused of fornication. Common sense suggests that no one will commit rape in the presence of four pious male witnesses. Hence, the intent of the Islamic command could not be what the law makes it out to be. It in fact protects a rape victim from false accusations of fornication. Which is obvious from the relevant Quranic verse that reads: “those who defame chaste women and do not bring four witnesses should be punished with eighty lashes, and their testimony should not be accepted afterwards, for they are profligates.” Unfortunately, however, those who framed the law for Zia turned around the intent of the command to favour the perpetrator instead of the victim.

The sad reality is that many in this society do not think much of this heinous crime against women. In fact, every now and then village councils order gang-rape of women as a way of keeping the weak and powerless in their place. A well-known example is that of Mukhtaran Mai. Also fresh in public memory is Dr Shazia Khalid rape case, which led to a major confrontation between the Bugti tribe hosting her as a guest doctor, and the federal government protecting an alleged uniformed rapist. In order to lead a normal life the victim had to take refuge in Canada. In comments reflective of a typical mindset the then president General Pervez Musharraf had outraged civilised sensitivities at home and abroad when he told a Washington Post interviewer “This [rape] has become a money-making concern. 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.” This mindset that trivialises the crime of rape needs to be changed. If the laws are strong enough to make conviction possible, attitudes will also change with the passage of time. Towards that end, the Hadood laws need to be brought in line with the true spirit of Islam. The Council of Islamic Ideology ought also to act in the same spirit rather than remaining insistent on a literalist approach and review its decision not to allow DNA evidence for proving rape.

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