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Who’s afraid of rape survivors?

By Zohra Yusuf

The writer is chairperson of the HRCP and has spent over three decades in advertising zohra.yusuf@tribune.com.pk

This section of Pakistani society (which is afraid of rape survivors) is fairly large and diverse – ranging from the feudal landlords to the judiciary, religious leaders, TV talk show hosts, Pervez Musharraf and the infamous Jamshed Dasti of the PPP. While feudalism in Pakistan has long been associated with various human rights abuses, including rape of peasant women, the judiciary’s attitude towards survivors has been barely reported, till the recent Mukhtaran Mai judgement by a three-member Supreme Court bench.

The judgement, acquitting all but one charged with gang rape, set in motion a chain of reaction that exposed many for what they are. Reporters, covering the Supreme Court hearing, are said to have literally applauded the judgement, while certain talk show hosts have chosen to put Mukhtaran Mai through another trial – this time by the media. But television anchors are not the only ones with callous attitudes towards rape survivors. When Dr Shazia Khalid was raped in Sui, allegedly by an army officer, ex-president general Pervez Musharraf was quick to exonerate the officer (not on the basis of any evidence, but on the presumption that army officers are above such crimes). He went on to allege that women get raped in order to acquire visas from western countries. Dr Shazia Khalid, another brave woman who chose to speak out, was treated as a traitor, spilling out state secrets. She was spirited away from Sui and kept comfined in a safe house in Karachi. Later, she was pressured into leaving the country.

Religious leaders have, predictably, been against rape survivors. Their misogynistic tendencies are too well known. In the case of the acquittals of Mukhtaran Mai’s alleged rapists, Liaquat Baloch and Munawar Hassan of Jamaat-e-Islami have criticised those questioning the Supreme Court judgement. On the basis of their position that court judgements should be accepted, one would like to question as to why they are then running a campaign against the court verdict in the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui. They would probably create a distinction between our honourable courts and the disreputable American justice system. However, it must be acknowledged that it was a local maulvi who brought attention to the heinous crime against Mukhtaran Mai.

The fact that our judiciary is fairly misogynistic is really not a revelation. One has to go through certain judgements involving women, or even simply talk to women lawyers, to know how deeply ingrained these prejudices are.

A reading of the judgement in the Mukhtaran Mai case is even more revealing of the anti-women bias in the superior judiciary. Justice Saqib Nisar, for example, has taken upon himself the task of determining what can or cannot happen to women in a backward feudal society, of which he has probably little knowledge. If gender sensitisation of institutions is to be undertaken, Pakistan’s judiciary should be the starting point.

Source: The Express Tribune

Date:5/16/2011

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