The tragic case of Mukhtaran Mai

Published: April 23, 2011
Mukhtaran Mai, is photographed while giving an interview at a school in Meerwala, located in the Muzaffargarh District of Pakistan's central Punjab province on April 22, 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Mukhtaran Mai, is photographed while giving an interview at a school in Meerwala, located in the Muzaffargarh District of Pakistan's central Punjab province on April 22, 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

The decision by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly on April 22 to disallow any discussion on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mukhtaran Mai is most unfortunate, especially given that it was PPP MNA Sherry Rehman who wanted to speak on the matter.

The Supreme Court decided earlier this week to uphold a Lahore High Court verdict that had acquitted all the accused in Mukhataran Mai’s gang rape in 2002, except one. The gang rape was ordered by an illegal panchayat of Meerwala in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, after which an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced five of the six accused to death. The fact is that a powerful local tribe has been able to prevent its men from being punished by the justice system. The powerful in our society can first cause a delay in justice — nine years in this case — and then cause a miscarriage of justice through manipulation of the lower ranks of the police.

Mukhtaran Mai is one of many women who have to put up with violence at the hands of men and are forced to keep quiet because the investigative-judicial system is biased against them. Because of ‘anticipated injustice’ in Pakistan’s judicial system, Mukhtaran Mai was made into a global symbol of an abused woman, a challenge which she accepted. Unfortunately, the state became defensive about the publicity and support she got from all over the world; it also manifested a clear conservative bias against the women’s rights movement in Pakistan, which is demonised by powerful religious lobbies.

There was more than ‘anticipated injustice’ in the Mukhtaran Mai case. This was the impunity of the powerful, seen in relation to the terrorist elements in Pakistan which are supported by sections of the state. According to official statements, no terrorist caught after horrendous acts of killing has been punished. Those who view our judiciary politically say that the kind of out-of-the-box jurisprudence applied by the courts to matters such as the NRO will never be applied to Lal Masjid and Mukhtaran Mai. This view holds that the judiciary has always been drawn from a largely conservative legal community and it tends to agree with religious constraints to justice when it comes to women, while tacitly accepting the reign of the powerful in society.

The Supreme Court had intervened after the Federal Shariat Court in 2005 contested the jurisdiction of the Multan Bench. It heard the case and, agreeing with the Multan Bench verdict, ordered the release of the accused. Mukhtaran Mai went in appeal and the latest decision has come after over five years of hearings. Now, in 2011, two of the three judges on the bench have decided to go along with the earlier findings while one judge thought the Court could have taken a more pro-reform view and focused more closely on the notorious methodology of registering an FIR in areas where feudal power trumps justice all the time. The Musharraf government — illegal in the eyes of the Court — pitted itself against this wronged woman and put a ban on her travel abroad. If the liberal elements in Pakistan had stood behind the so-called ‘liberal reforms’ of Musharraf, this was one case that they did not support his government on. Alas, the Supreme Court’s latest decision will be seen as being supportive of Musharraf’s policy of hiding the truth of women’s disabilities in Pakistan from the world.

The judiciary takes the position that its power is not only derived from the Constitution but also from civil society, which stood up for the judges dismissed by Musharraf and finally got rid of the military ruler through street agitation. But civil society also includes women and their rights must equally be defended; more so because Pakistani society needs reform before it learns to treat women as desired by the Constitution. And the Court remains the guardian of the Constitution. If the Honourable Court is today dubbed as being ‘activist’ in favour of the people, let it be clear that it is not the Court of the conservative elements simply because they are powerful.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Saad
    Apr 24, 2011 - 12:51AM

    Aitzaz should quit now I remember when Mukhtaran met the CJP then deposed and what they said Shame on themRecommend

  • Billoo Bhaya
    Apr 24, 2011 - 1:59AM

    Mr Editor,

    Well said. Agree with all you say especially that the fountain head of all power in a democratic system are the people. Recall Abraham Lincoln’s last lines of his Gettysburg Address: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” His whole speech is a prayer for the dead, said amidst over 50,000 soldiers buried in the fields of Gettysburg. In Pakistan, the Government and its institutions are not part of any ideology, except ripping people off any way they can. As they have no rationale hence they don’t support peoples causes. More so Mr. Editor, we never had people of quality that could lead the nation forward, into a new age. Imagine how Lincoln changed the destiny of America; his greatest gift the Emancipation of the Negroes, even if it had to be achieved by a Civil War that left over 600,000 dead, many more permanently disabled in a nation of 11 million people. One in 6 died or was a casualty of the Civil War.

    In Pakistan neither has our armed forces stood up for that measure of devotion and sacrifice, nor has our notorious Judiciary. It got a chance to stand up and be counted. Just as in ZAB’s verdict (now again up for review), on a split 2-1 decision Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists instead of hanging were set free. I hope the Judiciary henceforth keeps its wives and daughters under lock and key. Recommend

  • MAS
    Apr 24, 2011 - 8:07AM

    This editorial is bad example of yellow journalism and therefore should be fully condemned for showing poor standards of English journalism. The amateurish editorial writer should know that courts decide cases on solid facts and evidences which are brought before the courts by the police; it’s not job of courts to appease media by deciding cases on mere hearsay. Supreme Court is only an appellate court which decides in light of available circumstances and facts. The editorial writer has also written her name as Mukhataran Mai which is wrong; her correct name is Mukhtar Mai. Media should also investigate that why the crucial evidence of father of Mukhatar Mai was not recorded? The actual story is that a local reporter of an Urdu newspaper, in connivance with Mukhtar Mai, highlighted this “fake” story which helped the then Mush government to pass a controversial bill in favor of women. Recommend

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 8:11AM

    Very shame for court…really we feeling shame for your this unlaw,uncivilized have any answer about this that if it happened with your’s daughters,then from where are you present the witness behind the close doors?Recommend

  • White Russian
    Apr 24, 2011 - 9:40AM

    What happened to that famous judicial activism which so spontaneously sprang forth to correct the biggest injustice of all: unfair sugar prices? Recommend

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 12:25PM

    The courts are being condemned. The government wants to retry the ZA Bhutto case. The verdict on the Mukhtaran Mai case is being condemned. The judicial system is to blame for everything which is wront – not the criminals.Recommend

  • adam
    Apr 24, 2011 - 1:36PM

    The courts and their heads are no different than the politicians, Like there is PPP, PML N. the same way we have the Supreme court and the provincial wings of every party. They all come into power to get more power and money. For me 2007 was the worst year in the history of Pakistan when all the parties including PPP, PML N, Courts, and some elements of the army got involved in the so called “Azaad Adliya Movement”. What did we gain from that? nothing but corruption, poverty, injustice, terrorism and so on. Recommend

  • Apr 24, 2011 - 1:37PM

    Why aren’t criminals (specially rapists) subjected to lie detector tests? If a criminal refuses to undergo the test, it should be concluded that he’s guilty.Recommend

  • qazi zafar
    Apr 24, 2011 - 2:57PM

    sir, who was there at time of her gang rape , don’t do this kind of sabai propagandaRecommend

  • pakpinoy
    Apr 24, 2011 - 6:54PM

    @qazi zafar:

    Hundreds of people there to watch it, you ignorant hypocrite!!! Recommend

  • Mariam
    Apr 24, 2011 - 9:19PM

    It is sad how men who stand up for women are murdered and men who assault women are set free.Recommend

    Apr 24, 2011 - 10:28PM

    This so called judgement will have a catastrophic effect on the Pakistani society and women will have to bear the brunt. Recommend

  • sfoziak
    Apr 27, 2011 - 8:36AM

    Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon Him) was so kind to women and children. We claim so strongly to be Muslim and claim love for Prophet but are we really practicing Muslims? Do we really love our prophet? If we do not follow the examples of our Holy Prophet how we can claim to love him? If we do not follow our book “Quran” how we can claim to be Muslims?

    If hundred of people were witnessing, if not thousand, as first how just 10 people were able to treat a woman in front of them like this. How they became so coward that they could not together stop only 10 people. Then in courts how non of them dared to go and say the truth? The people who did this, who approved this, who witness this has only showed to their women, their mother, their daughters, their sisters that this is how much they will care about it and this is how much they will protect them. How they even go back home and face their mothers, sisters, wife and daughters or non of them had any of these women in their lives. Recommend

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