Is there an act more violent, barbaric and traumatising than rape? Treating this issue as taboo has had serious repercussions, and the consequences of our societal closeting of this brutality are becoming increasingly obvious. Of course rape deserves criminalisation of the perpetrator(s), but what is worse is the pervasive panchayat system (village council) in Pakistan that takes the law into its own hands. In such a system bereft of accountability, the panchayat’s decisions are often ruthless and downright cruel.
In Multan on July 16th, a 12-year-old girl was raped by a man while cutting grass in a field, according to the FIR filed at the police station. On July 18th, the panchayat ordered the victim’s brother to rape the perpetrator’s sister as an act of revenge. How is the revenge justified when the victims of these rapes were faultless, just like the victims of all rapes? According to the police, the sister of the accused was dragged to the area where the panchayat was convened and was raped before the men and her parents.
What is unfortunate and in dire need of recall and scrutiny is the bill that the National Assembly passed in February of 2017, which gives legal and constitutional cover to the centuries-old panchayat systems in the country, to ensure speedy resolution of petty civil matters and reduce the burden of litigations on the courts. As evident from this case, panchayats are incompetent for the resolution of any civil matters. It is also apparent that civil matters are not “petty”—not when the course of lives is determined, and irrevocable scars inflicted.
Although the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, has taken suo-motu notice of the sexual assault, one can hope that this translates into action. Until the time of writing, reports have come in that 25 panchayat members have been captured. It is vital for the restoration of humanity and justice that all 40 are incarcerated and punished for this savagery. Panchayat politics needs to end and the government must take serious measures to protect women and girls from abuses prevalent in our country.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2017.
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