Pakistan: Mukhtar Mai, a rape victim in search of Justice

Despite all the claims of the present regime, women are still facing a horrific situation in Pakistan.

Domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, inequality, injustice, and discrimination are the realities of everyday life. Conditions are especially dreadful in the feudal and tribal areas. On the 3 March 2005, the Lahore High Court Multan Bench shocked the whole nation with its verdict on the case of a young woman, Mukhtar Mai, who was raped. The court freed 5 men convicted of rape by the Anti Terrorist Court. According to the judges, the evidence failed to prove that gang rape actually took place and the counsel for the victim could not prove that a Panchayat (local elders council) was even remotely implicated in this dreadful act. The “learned” judges also criticised the police for incorrect investigation and inefficiency.

This verdict has reminded people throughout Pakistan once again of this barbaric incident, in which four men gang raped 35 year old Mukhtar Mai for hours on the orders of a Panchayat in Meer Wala village in the district of Muzzafar Gar in Southern Punjab in June 2002. This case caught the attention of the international media and human rights organisations, which forced the government to take action against the accused and the members of the Panchayat. The Anti Terrorist Court awarded the death sentence to the six accused. This innocent women was working in her house, when the Panchayat ordered her father to bring her to them to “apologise” on behalf of her brother who was accused of having an affair with the daughter of a rich, feudal family. When she was brought to the Panchayat, the village elders ordered her to be raped in order to restore the pride and honour of the family who brought the case.

The Seraiki speaking belt of Southern Punjab is notorious for these incidents and horrific crimes against women, particularly those from a poor background. In 1981, three women of a poor family near Multan was forced to dance naked in the streets of that village. Three months ago, in another district of South Punjab called Vehari , thirteen men raped a girl for similar reasons given for the action taken against Mukhtar Mai. According to police records, 580 women were raped in the first 6 months of 2004 in Southern Punjab. Twenty four were maimed by acid attacks, 634 abducted and sexually molested and 115 were killed after rape or during resistance against attack. These are just the reported cases – the vast majority of cases are of course never brought to the police.

Socialist Movement Pakistan Central Committee member and a peasant leader Dr. Aashiq Zafar Bhatti has been at the forefront of the struggle to get justice in this case and others. He was among the few courageous people, who raised his voice in support of Mukhtar Mai from the platform of AIMS Organisation (a civil society organization working against the domestic and sexual violence against women). He mobilised hundreds of people, especially women, against the verdict of the High court. The Socialist Movement Pakistan with the help of other organizations organised a seminar and demonstration, in which 500 people participated, the majority of whom were women. Some NGOs organised a protest rally in Multan on 7 March, in which Socialist Movement members participated.

When they raised the issue and criticised the court verdict, the High Court judge issued a contempt of court notice to fourteen of the participants, which also included 2 SMP members. Despite that contempt notice, SMP members organised an International Womens’ day seminar on 8 March in Jatoi. More than 250 women participated in this seminar. SMP members played a key role to organise a public meeting in front of Mukhtar Mai’s house in Meer walla, Jatoi to show solidarity and support with her. More than 4000 people were mobilised for this public meeting. This meeting was covered widely by the international and national media. Members of the SMP also sold copies of their paper, The Socialist, and other material. The SMP is the only left organization directly involved in this campaign and also campaigning against the Hudood Laws – for example SMP members in Muzafar Gar organised a march and seminar against these Laws on 16 March in which 300 people participated.

Despite having small forces, the SMP is playing a vital role on the issues of women, poor farmers and other oppressed sections of society in this very underdeveloped and feudal dominated area.

This rape case has exposed the whole judicial system and the corrupt practices of the Police and local influential feudal lords. There is no safe future on the basis of capitalism and feudalism for working class women in Pakistan. The overthrow of this rotten system is the need of hour. Only socialism can provide a way forward for women, workers and poor peasantry of Pakistan.

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April 2005