In 2002, Mukhtaran Mai was gang-raped in Muzaffargarh district. The incident garnered international outcry and there was much debate over the way rape survivors are treated in the country as well as on the rights of women when it comes to how our legal system facilitates them. While some remedial efforts have been made since then, with the passing of the Protection of Women Act 2006, as well as the Senate passing the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Amendment) Bill of 2013 last year, there has been no improvement when it comes to our medieval mindsets that continue to treat rape survivors with callousness. In the same district of Muzaffargarh, 14 years after the tragedy that befell Mukhtaran Mai, a middle-aged woman was gang-raped on January 29, in retribution for alleged illicit behaviour by her brother-in-law. The gang-rape was organised by a panchayat. Apart from the questions this incident raises over the continued menace that the jirga system poses to our society, what can also be seen here is the way the police treated the rape survivor, who was forced into visiting the police station three times before the officer on duty advised that she needed to be medically examined and then only could an FIR be filed.
Police forces across the country lack any sort of sensitivity when it comes to dealing with rape cases. The prevalence of sexual repression in an ultraconservative society is partly to blame, but just as culpable are the medieval panchayats and jirgas. The police is the first point of contact for rape survivors when they reach out to the legal system for help. A recent story in this paper highlighted the behaviour of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police that has no qualms over shaming and doubting rape survivors and the extreme reluctance displayed when it comes to filing FIRs. This is a countrywide tendency of our police forces. The finger is often pointed back at survivors and the kind of questions they are asked end up censuring them. Little attention is paid towards the need for an improved process to take criminals to task. Victim-shaming and distasteful attitudes of the police and society towards rape survivors require a deep rethinking because these only enable the perpetuation of heinous crimes against women.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2016.