Pakistan: Yet another victim of rape fighting for justice

Every day 8 rape cases are reported but for every case reported there are two that go unreported in Pakistan

Two weeks ago ‘The News’, an Pakistani daily published in English, published an interview with the Sonia Naz, a 23 year old rape victim. The ordeal Sonia Naz reported to the paper shocked the whole nation. She was in tears when she told the reporter of ‘The News’ how she had been brutally tortured and repeatedly raped by a police officer whilst she was held in illegal custody for over two weeks.

Her ordeal started when she visited the National Assembly buildings to ask the help of MPs to release her husband from police custody after his arrest on corruption charges along with 12 other officials of the Customs and Excise office in the city of Faisalabad. All the other accused were quickly released but Sonia’s husband had disappeared while in police custody. During her visit to Parliament and her protests there, Sonia was arrested by police on the orders of the Speaker of the House. After interrogation she was released. However, she was rearrested, this time by the police in Faisal Abad in retaliation for lodging protests with the authorities against them.

Rape and torture

It was clear that the Faisalabad police wanted Sonia to sign a statement withdrawing her allegations and to stop her appearing on the local and national media. She remained in the illegal custody of two police officers, and during this time she was raped and tortured. Sonia was only released after promising to remain silent about her treatment. After her ordeal, Sonia’s in-laws refused to accept her and forced to leave the family home with two children. The police also forced her in-laws to lock up their house and leave the city. This is not the first incident of this kind.

The police in Pakistan are regarded as a brutal, criminal and corrupt force. Custodial tortures, deaths, fake encounters and rapes are the usual practices and tradition. Now many police officers have their own private torture cells, where they torture people to extract bribes. The government has formed a committee consisting of police officers to investigate the case.

General Musharaf made a fiery speech at a regional conference on violence against women in Islamabad on 7 September, in which he said “we have to eradicate feudalism and tribalism to control violence against women in the country. But this eradication will be through education and enlightenment. Tribalism and feudalism are the root causes of violence against women. How could one expect justice from law enforcers with a feudal mindset in cases of violence. This is the fight to change hearts and minds of the people, to emancipate and enlighten them. I am disappointed with individuals and organisations who usuallytry to project Pakistan as a country where violence against women is commonplace. May God give them wisdom. I would support NGOs highlighting women related violence in Pakistan, but if they raise the issue only to malign Pakistan’s image, then I will oppose them with all my power and will”.

General Musharaf has raised some important questions and half truths. He told half a truth when he spoke against tribalism and feudalism. The fact is that he ignores the role of capitalism and reactionary political in the repression of women. The second fact is that the military dictators and their respective so-called “democratic regimes” are responsible for strengthening feudalism and tribalism. General Musharaf himself relies on the support of feudal lords and tribal chiefs. All the main families of these privileged layers have representation in the Federal Cabinet and Provincial Cabinets.

The heads of the military have not only protected the rotten feudal lords and tribal chiefs for the last 58 years, but have also acted to strengthen their social, political and economic position in the rural areas. General Musharraf formally has all the power he needs to abolish feudalism and tribalism, but he will never do this because he needs their support.

Another important factor is the military has become a leading land owner in Pakistan. They are certainly the leaders in the property world. Therefore it is not in their interest to abolish feudalism. It will be very difficult for the establishment to manage and control the politics without the support of the big landowners. So it is not enough just to criticise or point out the root cause, but the important thing is to change the conditions and system, which are responsible for the discrimination and exploitation of the working class women.

Despite all the claims and fiery speeches made by the present regime about women’s rights, the fact is that there is no difference in the conditions of working and poor women under the present regime compared to other regimes in the past. There are more than 12to 15 reported rape cases in the newspapers every day, most of them gang rapes. Every day many couples approach the courts to get protection against police excesses for being married with their own consent.

Hudood laws

The military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq introduced the most reactionary and discriminatory laws against women referred to as the Hudood Laws in 1979. These laws were aimed directly aimed at the women activists. He used religion to give his regime legitimacy to repress the masses. His military regime introduced a whole number of different policies to segregate women from social and political activities. But General Musharraf has done very little to change these policies and laws against women.

General Musharraf has expressed his anger with the individuals and organizations which are highlighting the sufferings and horrific conditions in many areas of the country faced by women on many occasions. He has sharply criticised them for destroying the image of Pakistan and bringing a “bad name” to the country. These statements shows that he knows nothing about the realities on the ground. Fareeha Rafique rightly said in her article in the News on 11 September “Pakistan: Home to the Bomb, terrorists and injustices against women. This is how we are generally known internationally. More often than not when we are picked up by the international media it is for a news report related to one of the above. Where young blind girls (Safia Bibi), pregnant women and little girls get raped, where women are even raped while in police custody. Where little boys are raped by the religious teachers in Madrassas (religious schools). Honour killings in this country show no sings of abating, adolescent girls are married off to old men, and adults who dare to marry without parental consent need decrees from court to validate the marriage as legally acceptable. We have also been unable to shake off the controversial Hudood Laws. And every few months along comes a rape case that is highlighted in the press, and corridors of Justice.”

It is little wonder that of all forms of violence against women from acid throwing to stove burning cases rape is the least talked about crime in society. Many victims and their families believed that this most horrific infringement on an individual’s self respect, dignity and body is best ignored. With all the stigma attached to raising one’s voice, seeking justice is not always the first thing on the mind of victims. Given the strangely twisted notions of honour and shame that most people like to abide by, even in the supposedly emancipated educated echelons of society, no wonder then the victim risks being victimized.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP): “for every case reported, there are two rapes that go unreported, by estimates. Eight rape cases are reported every day, of which five are committed on minors, and of reported cases, two thirds are gang rapes. Pakistan has among the highest rates of violence against womenin the world, with up to 80% of women a target of physical, sexual or verbal abuse”.

Shuttling between the police, Sharia courts( Islamic Courts), and at times NGOs as well, women or parents of minors really don’t have much of a choice in seeking an impartial judgement.

Earlier this year, Mukhtar Mai, a victim of rape, was blocked from traveling to the United States on the invitation of a women’s rights group. President Musharraf said he feared the negative publicity would tarnish Pakistan’s reputation. The government then reversed the ban after criticism from Washington. Maybe be President need not have expressed that fear! How can you tarnish an already tarnished reputation?

Nothing will change under the capitalist and feudal system. The Musharraf government tried to reform the existing system, which has proved a failure and has only led to increased misery. The working class needs to fight not only for their rights but also shoulder to shoulder with working class women to change this rotten system. Full emancipation from exploitation, violence and all sort of discrimination cannot be achieved under capitalism. Genuine freedom and emancipation can only be achieved thoruhg the struggle for socialism. To establish a democratic socialist society and to overthrow the existing system, it is necessary that the working class should unite itself to over come bias on the basis of gender, religion, caste, race, language and nationality. Women will not be fully emancipated unless the whole working class will is fully emancipated from the shackles of capitalism.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of The Socialist, newspaper of the Socialist Movement Paksitan.

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September 2005