Pakistan: State failure allows jirga to order 'revenge rape'

Asia Human Rights
July 29, 2017
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is horrified by the news of the rape of a 17-year-old on the orders of a jirga (tribal council). The girl from the Rajpur area of Multan, Punjab province, was raped to avenge the rape committed by her brother.

When a jirga was convened and informed that Umer sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl in an agriculture field on July 16, Umer was ordered to bring along the unmarried women of his family before the jirga. The jirga then ruled that Umer's 17-year-old sister should be raped by the brother of the 12-year-old raped girl. The rape occurred in front of the jirga and the girl's parents.

The mothers of the raped girls later filed police complaints, resulting in two rape cases being registered at the Muzaffarabad police station, with 20 suspects taken into custody. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has also taken notice of the matter. The Punjab Chief Minister also took notice and suspended the police officials of the whole district.

Rape cases have a certain lifecycle in Pakistan. After an incident of rape occurs, it is reported and followed by a certain amount of media frenzy, leading to a Suo Moto notice being taken. Within a week, the frenzy dies down and the "breaking news" is reduced to a ticker at the bottom of the TV screen. Finally, the matter disappears from the radar of public consciousness and morality.

The particular problem with honor related crimes in Pakistan is that they are usually treated as the personal affairs of the family. This case of 'revenge rape' was also hushed up by the families. It only saw the light of the day because the mother of the 17-year-old girl reported the case. Consequently, the other aggrieved party also filed an FIR. Tragically, the usual ending in such cases is that both families pardon each other and compromise, to ensure their men are released from jail. The pain and scars of the rape victims are overlooked and forgotten; after all, they are merely women.

These compromises make a mockery of Pakistan's laws, which in fact offer serious penalties for rape and the trading of girls or women to settle disputes. Section 310A of the Pakistan Penal Code provides a maximum punishment of 10-year rigorous imprisonment for giving a woman or girl in marriage to settle a dispute, and can be used by the police officers to initiate action against members of jirgas and panchayats for allowing rape. Meanwhile, the maximum punishment for rape under The Protection of Women Against Violence Act-2016 is the death penalty. Alternately, convicts may face imprisonment of up to 25 years. Unfortunately, these laws remain on paper and have yet to be made use of in practice.

Punjab is the worst hit province for rape, with new police data showing that cases of rape and gang rape are on the rise. The 2014 police annual report stated that one female was assaulted sexually every three hours and 40 minutes, while one gang-rape incident occurred after every 45 hours and 38 minutes. Of 2,576 rape incidents reported in 2014, the victims in 167 cases were children.

In November 2016, a married woman set herself on fire after being raped on the orders of a Panchayat in Dhillu Gharbi village of Gujrat district. The woman later died from her injuries.

The ordeal of the poor woman began when her father was caught attempting to molest a minor girl in Dhillu Gharbi village. The panchayat decided that the father of the minor girl would rape the woman in punishment for her father's attempt to molest the girl. The woman got pregnant as a result.

Jirgas ordering rape as a crime deterrent is barbaric, cruel, illegal and immoral by every standard of human rights, and yet there are no convictions of those ordering the rape. The fact that the perpetrators go scot free speaks volumes about the impunity in the country. It also leads to the increase in incidents of gang rape and rape by the orders of jirgas.

These jirgas follow the archaic customs that dictate that the body of a woman is not hers, but rather it belongs to her handlers; her husband, father, brother or son. In addition, in the tradition of collective responsibility, they see it fitting that women should suffer for the crimes of her male relatives.

Such sadistic behaviour has no place in modern society. In fact, nowhere else in the world are women subjected to such barbarity. The structural failure of Pakistan's criminal justice system, coupled with the tattered moral fabric of society, rampant impunity and weak writ of the state, all allow the perpetrators unbridled prowess to do as they will. Settling scores is now easy, with the mantra 'You rape our women, we rape yours; no hard feelings'.

While the situation is sickening and cringe inducing for every conscientious man and woman, such violence cannot be erased by enacting laws alone. It is the mindset of society that needs to be changed, in order for progressive laws to work. The state needs to invest in measures to change social attitudes and mindsets that perpetuate impunity for honor related crimes, by treating all such crimes as crimes against the state and thus cognizable. Civil society must raise its collective voice against Pakistan's failure to eliminate inhuman jirga practices in the name of instant justice.