- CCPO Younis says search under way to arrest remaining accused, including main character
- Asma suggests state should become complainant in such cases, says panchayats have no standing
- Mai asks rape survivours to raise their voices, says criminals have no fear due to ‘political’ influence
The police on Wednesday announced the arrest of 10 members of a panchayat (local council), including its leader, after a shocking incident took place here in Multan when the accused persons ordered the rape of a 16-year-old girl as ‘punishment’ for a rape allegedly committed by her brother.
According to the police, a man had complained to the panchayat that his 12-year-old sister had been raped by their cousin. Upon this, the panchayat ordered the complainant to rape the 16-year-old sister of the accused in revenge. A search is currently under way for the remaining men including the main accused, who fled the scene following the incident.
SHO Malik Rashid said that the FIR for both the cases had been registered at the Women Crisis Centre. As this was an incident between relatives, the SHO questioned the authority of the panchayat. “Who ordered them to order such a crime,” he said.
Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has taken notice of the incident and sought a report from the capital city police officer (CCPO) of Multan. He also directed that justice should be provided to the victim family. CCPO Ahsan Younis said a search was under way to arrest the remaining accused. He said that the case has been registered against the accused on the complaint of a senior police official.
According to the CCPO, the second incident was not reported to the police. “When the first FIR was lodged and investigated, we came to know that there was more to the case which was being hidden. When we investigated further and chased the accused for the last 2-3 days, the entire incident was unearthed,” he said.
Former Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairperson Asma Jehangir condemned the incident and said that the panchayat have no standing, legal or otherwise, and should be prosecuted if they act out the ambit of law. She said that emergence of such cases after every few years unfortunately means that the judicial system was weak.
“It pains me to say it, but our judicial system is so weak that those who appear in front of it, even if they are witnesses, either get paid off or are forced to reach a compromise and it spoils the case,” she said. In order to improve the state of affairs, she suggested that the state should become the complainant in such cases and pursuit of the case should not be left to the complainant.
“There should be witness protection. It is a crime to harass, threaten or pay off witnesses. Unfortunately, no one has been punished on these grounds till now,” said Asma, also a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). Terming the punishments handed out by the panchayats as barbaric, she said such practices have continued unabated for years.
“Most of the cases of this nature emerge from central Punjab. Either the region has a tradition for such practices, or the people are not prosecuted by law or the local police is complicit,” she said. She also commended the media for shedding light on such cases and said if the media did not pick up on such stories, the voices of those affected would never be heard.
Social activist Mukhtar Mai said that she was heartbroken over the incident. “Such incidents remind me of what happened to me in 2002,” she said. She that she would urge the rape survivours to raise their voice, saying that the social activists would do everything in their power to help them (survivours).
Mai said that the flaw lies within the weakness in the law and lack of implementation puts hurdles in the way of justice. She said that the criminals have no fear of being caught due to political influence which tilts the matter in their favour. “Either the perpetrators don’t get caught or get bail in such cases,” she said, adding that the government needs to do something concrete.
Mai said that women don’t know much about the law and their legal rights. For awareness, the government needs to begin efforts from the council level, she suggested. Even slight implementation of the laws would make a huge difference, she said. In 2002, Mai was gang raped over the orders of a panchayat in the Muzaffargarh district.
Additional input from TV channels