The acquittal of five of the six men accused of raping Mukhtaran Mai has been met with “shock and absolute disgust” by a cross-section of civil society groups, which gathered at the Aurat Foundation building on Thursday to discuss a future course of action as a result of the Supreme Court’s verdict.
With just 30 days to file for the review of the decision which some organisations, such as the Aurat Foundation, felt was the best way to go.
However, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) member Iqbal Haider said a review was not a good option nor did Mukhtaran seem interested in filing for one. Haider suggested that Justice Nasirul Mulk’s statement should have been delivered as the verdict but “the courts are slaves of the laws and mere technicalities.”
Many of the women’s rights organisations felt the need to “do something”. Naeem Sadiq, a social activist, said focus needs to be laid on the “dangerous indications the verdicts point to. There are many Mukhtaran Mai and this decision puts their future at stake as well.” Sadiq said contempt of court in citizen’s voicing their opinions on the verdict should act as a stumbling block.
Member of Citizens for Democracy Mohsin Sayeed said, “We need to directly target the judges. Contempt of court is not greater than contempt of human dignity.” Sayeed suggested mapping out a sustainable protest with clearly defined short-, medium- and long-term strategies and goals. “We must force the judges to review themselves.”
Director for War against rape (WAR) Sarah Zaman agreed. “We need to avoid the headless chicken syndrome where there is a sudden hype but the matter fizzles out just as fast and is more damaging,” she warned.
Zaman said for years they have been hearing snide remarks against Mukhataran. “In fact, women who go to the station to register a rape case are taunted by police officers on duty saying, bara Mukhataran Mai banay ka shauq hai tumhain? (You are really trying to follow in the footsteps of Mukhtaran Mai). The idea in people’s minds is that rape survivors come forward for the celebrity status and to cash in on their situation,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Islamabad-based National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and the Insani Haqooq Ittehad (IHI) – an alliance of human rights organisations that includes Mehergargh, Rozan, Sungi, Bedari, Ethno Media, Pattan and others – expressed deep shock and disappointment at the verdict. Additional reporting by Sumera Khan in Islamabad
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2011.