By Arab News
The acquittal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court of five of the six men charged with raping a girl because her 12-year-old brother had been seeing a girl from their family, has been greeted with outrage around the world.
This, however, should not be seen as a new cause for the international women’s liberation movement but as a blow to Pakistan itself and to its legal system. The conviction of one man who took part in the gang-rape was upheld by Pakistan’s highest court, but the other five men walked free for, according to the court, lack of evidence. The convicted man saw his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
There are three important lessons for Pakistan arising from this sordid and deplorable crime. The first is that such “punishments” are not uncommon in a country where family honor is often paramount. It seems clear that as a result of the friendship between a young boy and a girl from another clan, the elders of that clan decreed the family of the other should be humiliated. It is important to realize this was not just a rape crime. All too often in similar circumstances the victim, weighed down by the shame of what has happened to her, has taken her own life. Therefore ultimately this was a crime of attempted murder. No civilized society should be prepared to tolerate such behavior.
The second lesson has been taught by the victim herself, Mukhtaran Mai, an illiterate peasant girl, who instead of taking her own life in the face of her enforced dishonor, bravely chose to take on her rapists and in doing so, the entire Pakistani police and judicial system. She and her family are still being threatened with murder.
She still maintains the police never took her statement properly and failed to investigate the crime in an efficient and timely manner. Hence, she says, it could be claimed there was a lack of evidence against all but one of her attackers, even though she was able to identify a number of them. The courts in which she pursued the men who had violated her, also displayed a distinct lack of interest in her evidence, preferring to accept the police claims rather than challenging law officers to demonstrate the effectiveness of their investigation.
This is not, however, the disaster that outsiders are claiming it to be. There can be no doubt Pakistan has been shocked by the case. For the majority there is a sense of shame that such violent and degrading behavior can ever take place and frustration that both police and courts have been so slow and reluctant to move against it. Remember this is a crime which took place fully nine years ago. The impact of the case on the authorities is likely to bring about a sea change in official attitudes. Next time that such a heinous crime is brought to the attention of the police, it must be hoped that it will not just be the rapists who are charged, but also the elders who ordered the depraved crime.