- The problem has roots in the Internet
The Federal Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday, decided in principle to promulgate two Ordinances designed to curb the increase in the cases of rape of women, children and other genders. The need for such an emergency step was strongly felt in view of the series of horrendous incidents of rape, particularly the one that occurred on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway recently, sending a wave of indignation and outrage throughout the country and sparking a demand for awarding the severest possible punishment to the culprits. Some circles even suggested public hanging to make an example out of the criminals. Probably it was also felt that the laws already in vogue did not prescribe punishment commensurate with the severity of the crime and were also not adequate enough to cover all aspects of the crime..
The proposed pieces of legislation suggest an expansion in the definition of rape incorporating within it the terms ‘transgender’ and ‘gang-rape’ and harsher punishments for the perpetrators including chemical castration, establishment of rape crises centres and special courts to try the alleged rapists. Bringing in these statutes through ordinances indicates the sense of urgency, sensitivity to heinous crime of rape and honesty of purpose on part of the government to deal with the phenomenon with iron hand. It is indeed a laudable initiative.
Violating the modesty of a woman, or the sexual assault of a child or a transgender, are the gravest social crimes which not only impinges upon Islamic injunctions but also constitute an affront to the state. No religion or society in the world endorses and condones this act of bestiality and they have a consensus on awarding due punishment to the offenders, though they differ on the scope and severity of the punishment.
Punishments do act as a deterrent against the commission of a crime, more so if they are harsh to the greatest possible extent. However the actual deterrent is the element of certainty of the award of the prescribed punishment, and that would also require putting in place other measures, such as improvement in investigation and prosecution procedures and practices with the help of the available technologies as well as judicial reforms to make the whole process free of loopholes. It means reforms in the overall system of the dispensation of justice.
It can be safely inferred that rape and gang-rape of women, children and even transgenders, cannot be prevented only through promulgation of harsh laws. It needs changes in the social attitudes towards women and systemic changes in the way the country is governed as also by preventing the onslaught on pornography through the internet. I hope the PTI government, particularly the Prime Minister, who is a well-meaning person, would take note of all these factors and chalk out a comprehensive plan to rectify the maladies afflicting the system of governance as well as to eradicate the social fault lines, besides introducing legal steps to deal with the problem
Punishing the perpetrators of rape is only one aspect of this detestable act. The government and society also need to look at the causes and temptations for rape. Some of these are related to our social power structure and archaic practices. We have witnessed Jirgas and panchayats ordering gang-rape of women as a retribution for the crimes committed by their siblings. The case of Mukhtaran Mai and many other such incidents are shameful blots on the face of our society.The feudal character of our politics, which encourages a culture of graft and entitlement, is also a major factor in promoting such crimes.
In our society, women are regarded as symbol of the family honour. In certain cases the people consider it as the best revenge against an enemy to dishonour their women. Custodial rapes are also very common. According to the late Asma Jahangir, chairman and co-founder of Women’s Action Forum, 72 percent of women are subjected to physical and sexual abuse while in custody. This indicates that something is also terribly wrong with our policing and jail systems. We have a well-entrenched ‘thana culture’ patronized by police high-ups. Dragging police into politics also gives them the licence to dishonour people.
In my view, easy access to porn sites on the internet is also responsible for arousing libido among men and youngsters who then develop the temptation for rape or gang-rape of women and even children. As is evident from the foregoing facts, rape and gang-rape are probably the biggest social crimes in Pakistan making it incumbent upon the government and the society to launch a crusade against this mind-boggling crime. The society through social organizations can play a pivotal role in changing attitudes, reforming social customs and dismantling social practices that encourage rape and humiliation of women and children. Many NGOs are also working in different areas related to gender equality and rights of women besides discarding the image of women being merely sex objects.
The government has a greater responsibility in regards to changing social attitudes. It cannot be done merely by promulgating laws and punishing the perpetrators of rape. A sustained campaign needs to be launched in this regard by also availing the services of the religious and social leaders to educate communities within their domain of influence. Making this issue a part of the educational curricula could also help in mitigating the severity of the problem. The government also has to bring systemic changes in the working of police and jails and other organs of the state which are supposed to protect the vulnerable sections of the society, particularly women and children.
In the modern era media has emerged as the strongest tool in influencing social behaviour and attitudes. It is indeed the strongest forum to educate the people with regard to issues related to social harmony and the need for a crime-free society. It can be asked by the government that the media include this subject in their programmes on a regular basis. Media being the representative of the society must also feel its social responsibility by voluntarily addressing the issues related to rape and violence against women and children.
It can be safely inferred that rape and gang-rape of women, children and even transgenders, cannot be prevented only through promulgation of harsh laws. It needs changes in the social attitudes towards women and systemic changes in the way the country is governed as also by preventing the onslaught on pornography through the internet. I hope the PTI government, particularly the Prime Minister, who is a well-meaning person, would take note of all these factors and chalk out a comprehensive plan to rectify the maladies afflicting the system of governance as well as to eradicate the social fault lines, besides introducing legal steps to deal with the problem.