The futility of justice: Was the movement in vain?

We may have seen the return of the chief justice, but ‘justice’ has still not been delivered.

Usman Ahmad April 23, 2011
The lawyers’ movement that began three years ago was supposed to restore justice and fairness to the Pakistani judicial system with the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been so unceremoniously dumped from his position by then president, General Pervez Musharraf.

But, while Chaudhry returned to his former office, justice it seems got lost somewhere along the way.

After nine torturous years, Mukhtaran Mai, who was gang raped and assaulted on the orders of the village council of where she lived, witnessed five of the six accused freed by the Supreme Court (SC).

A desperate end to a harrowing saga that began in 2002, when the village elders of a tribal court ordered the rape as punishment for the adulterous relations of Mai’s younger brother with a woman from a rival clan.

Mai was visibly distraught after the verdict was announced and suggested that the release of the men threatened and endangered her life and that of her family. Still, as testament to her bravery and courage, she pledged to remain in her village and carry on with her work running a school for girls and an NGO which she founded after the incident.

'At least one accused was not released'

Apologists of the verdict claim mitigating circumstances in order to fend off the scorn and outrage that it has inevitably invited. Mai, they say, was defended by one of the finest lawyers in the country and the supreme figurehead of the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan and in stark contrast to most cases in Pakistan, her case passed through the courts relatively swiftly.

Further, given the fact that Pakistani law treats victims of rape more like suspects than injured parties, the SC ought to be applauded for, at the very least, acknowledging that a crime was committed by upholding the sentence against one of the accused. In the very pages of this newspaper, Nadir Hasan, argued that the problem is not with the judges but runs far deeper than that.

He writes:
“The problem is purely institutional... with Mukhtaran Mai, the police in her village of Meerwala refused to register her case for several days after she was raped... That delay torpedoed her chances of a fair hearing and ensured that a miscarriage of justice was the most likely outcome.”

Not only that, he adds that Pakistan’s parallel justice system must also carry a significant portion of the blame given that the various different courts contradict and contravene each other and only serve to hinder the judicial process.

Honour crimes and justice

While all that might be true, the upholders of the law cannot be so easily exonerated. Honour killings and rape cases have historically been poorly investigated by the police and all too often have gone unpunished by the courts. In Mai’s case, would it have been too much of a stretch for the judges of the SC to deliver a more damning verdict. In the face of such overwhelming evidence and the fact that the conviction was upheld by the Federal Shariah Court suggests that there was more than just the constraints of the country’s Hudood Laws that influenced the decision making of the judges.

One may choose to recall the case of the blind servant girl, Safia Bibi, who in the 1980s was notoriously sentenced to fifteen lashes for the crime of becoming pregnant following a multiple rape. The perpetrators went unpunished because of “a lack of evidence” and the pregnancy itself was entirely ignored. The steadfast upholding of the pernicious blasphemy law has also resulted in numerous travesties over the years.

Judiciary penetrated

The courts have long been criticised for pandering to the whims of the religious right especially in cases which are of a religious nature. The hero’s welcome, Salman Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri received from the lawyers and the subtle acclaim of his actions by some judges, certainly suggests that Pakistan’s legal institutions have been infiltrated by the firebrand politics and hard line views of the extremist fringe.

The judiciary in Pakistan is not merely a slave to Pakistan’s Penal Code. It is, to a certain extent, straitjacketed by far too many insidious tenets. But even then, the depressing truth is that all too often it is a sordid collaborator.

When justice is not done even when the circumstances and evidence allow for it, then there is surely no excuse.

In March 2009, we may have seen the return of the chief justice, but ‘justice’ has still not been delivered.
Usman Ahmad A British freelance writer and photographer based in Pakistan. His worked has been published with Foreign Policy Magazine, The Huffington Post and The National among others. He tweets @usmanahmad_iam ( and you can see his work on his website
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Jeddy | 13 years ago | Reply First of all if Mukhtaran Mai's is the only case of rape which has ever been heard in court and someone has been charged for the crime - then it should be considered a victory for women. The verdict of the court however has been condemned because it did not sentence all the accused. Who decides who is guilty and who is innocent? Who will decide? The judicial system has been accused of delaying the case then it has been accused of not giving the correct verdict. If the judicial system country is so extremely flawed - would not be better to seek judicial reform - so that there be no 'miscarriage of justice', How is there should be 'justice' for Mukhtaran Mai and not the men whom she has accused?
ibn masood | 13 years ago | Reply @Reasonable: What are you on my friend. A woman was gang-raped - on person is convicted hmmmm right ok. It has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jirga, tribal court or whatever ordered the rape - hmmmmm one person is convicted. One of the excuses furnished by the Supreme Court was that Miss Mai was to late in coming forth with here claim. Hmmmmmm as if that is sooooooo uncommon in rape cases the world over where the sense of shame and trauma usually causes women to hide rather than proclaim the crime. And as for the impartiality of the Supreme Court - surely you don't believe that, surely you don't. The SC is not impartial in any political or religious matters - need not list the innumerable examples here. Oh and as someone who knows the law the article is neither in contempt nor libelous.
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