Human Rights

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Pakistan’s rape laws: A blot on “enlightened moderation”

Vikram Johri

Pakistan’s government recently delayed presenting a bill to Parliament to reform Islamic laws covering rape and adultery after vociferous objections from Islamic parties.

The government gave in to the hardline Islamist alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) after the latter threatened to quit Parliament if the laws, commonly known as the Hudood Ordinances, were changed.

The laws caught international attention after the tragic story of Mukhtaran Mai came to light. Mai was 30 when she was ordered to be gang raped by a tribal jirga in Meerwala Jatoi in southern Punjab. She was made to pay for the clannish disputes between her tribe, the Tatla and the Mastois.

The incident was enough to revive the debate over the Hudood Ordinances. A set of laws intended to make the criminal justice system conform with Islamic law, they were enshrined in Pakistani law in 1979 by General Zia ul-Haq to assuage the country’s powerful religious elite following his military coup. These laws cover offences including Zina crimes (unlawful sexual intercourse including adultery and rape) and Qazf (wrongful accusation of Zina crimes). The maximum punishment for Zina crimes is death by stoning. Many Pakistani women are imprisoned for years, convicted or awaiting trial for Zina crimes.

According to Amnesty International, if women report a rape to the police they are often charged with Zina crimes because they have in effect had sexual intercourse outside of marriage and are unable to prove absence of consent. The victim’s own testimony is not admissible as evidence. Rape must be proved either by the perpetrator’s confession or by the testimony of four men.

Bewildering perversity

The very letter of the law is bewildering in its perversity. How can the victim be expected to produce four witnesses to her rape? How does one “prove” absence of consent? The law puts the onus of proving the rape on the victim and her family. It discourages families from reporting rape to the police since if the rape is not proved, the family is charged with misreporting and detained under Qazf laws.

This is why, despite the Pakistan Human Rights Commission’s shocking figures (as per one report, every two hours a woman is raped in Pakistan and every eight hours a woman is subjected to gang rape), the actual frequency of rape is thought to be still higher because many rapes remain unreported due to glaring chinks in Pakistan’s laws.

General Pervez Musharraf’s claims of furthering “enlightened moderation” have begun to sound a lot like hot air. At first sight, his government seemed to be moving forward on the issue. Law Minister Mohammad Wasi Zafar asked for rape to be tried in secular courts and not Islamic ones. That would have been a step forward in rescuing not just rape laws but others, most notably those directed against women and other kinds of minorities (religious, sexual et al), from the influence of Sharia. But all this may come to naught if the government does not resist pressure from the Islamic alliance to retain regressive laws in the statute book.

The government may derive relief from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a major ally of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, that has said it doesn’t want to “cave in to conservative people who want to take the country back to mediaeval times”.

But that is small comfort for Musharraf who is fighting hard to portray the image of a benevolent reformer to the outside world. Unless he does more to bring Pakistan’s laws in tune with notions of a civilized society, Pakistan’s claims of being a reformist Islamic nation, following in the footsteps of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey, will continue to ring hollow.

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Comments by: aswathyms     Posted on :9/28/2006 9:42:49 PM (#4576)


i was bewildered afer reading the article. i have always had a strong sense of frustruation towards the outdated and dumbish attitude of musilms ( the extremely orthodox one`s) towards women. a rape is like a murder for a woman. so inorder to atleast give her sense of dignity, after a tragic mishap, the judiciary should try to give maximum punishment ( preferably death sentence) to the culprits. the people fo pakistan should realise that they are no longer living in the 18th century, the modern society is changing. so the traditional views that supress the rights of a women to get justice shold be re checked. muslim sociey had always been pariarchial.
Comments by: trueguyalways     Posted on :9/28/2006 9:25:34 PM (#4575)


Whatever rape case, the accused must be punished severely. The law what it says now is ridiculous. They should get the maximum possible punishment, Like slicing of penis, and then live all his life in prison.Life term punishment is must for this kind of people, that too after cut their penis. And if someone throwing acid, or involved in molestation, also must be punished severely.Otherwise just we are here to read the news and vomitting our thoughts. Who will do all this? Why government still not taking any severe action against this? How many families got affected? How many of our sisters lost their life? How many cases never been reported? How many accused still live happily after destroying one girl’s life? Why we people are like this? We have backone, we have to do something, to terminate these kind of accused from our country. I dont know the people who read this can understand my thoughts or not? Just i want not to read anymore rape cases, not to hear anymore such cases. For that what is required? My opinion is severe punishment, so that the accused will not have future.Will it happen?I hope …….yes.
Comments by: nooruddin_yaadgar     Posted on :9/27/2006 4:52:18 PM (#4572)


THE ZINA LAW HAS BEEN MIS-INTEPRETED BY PAKISTANI GOVT AND IN ISLAM A REPIST HAS THE MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT AND THERE’S NO RESPITE FOR THEM,THIS ONLY FURTHER STATES THE STATE OF WOMENS LINING UNDER PAKISTANI JURISDICTION..HOW HELPLESS THEY MUST BE,ITS REALLY SAD A LAW WHICH BARRED WOMEN FROM THEIR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT’S HAS BEEN FORCED IN THE NAME OF ISLAM..WOMEN ARE MIRROR OF ISLAM THEY SYMBOLISE THE PURITY AND SACRIFISE..PAKISTAN SHOULD TAKE SOME VITAL NOTES FRM INDIA ON HOW TO PROTECT WOMEN FRM ALL WALKS OF RELIGIONS..IT IS OFTEN HEARD FRM PAKISTANI SIDE HOW INDIA HAS BEEN VIOLATING THE HUMAN RIGHTS IN KASHMIR..WHERE AS NOT FOR ONES DID THEY ACCEPT THEIR GOVT’S PROTECTS A RAPIST..PAKISTAN HAS SET A WRONG EXAMPLE FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD NOT JUST ONES BUT ON SEVERAL OCASSIONS..PAKISTAN’S CORE FOCUS IS ONLY ON INDIA AND ITS ACTIVITIES WHT’S HAPPENING HERE IS ALL WHAT MUSHRRAF IS CONCERNED..CHILD MOLESTATION AND SEXUAL HARRASSMENT IS ON ITS ALL TIME RISE IN PAKISTAN BCZ THE WOMEN IN TRIBAL AREA’S AND INTERIORS FEAR LEAVING THEIR HOMES..AND THE PRICE IS PAID BY YOUNG GUYS, ITS MAY SOUND REDICULOUS BUT ITS TRUTH..
Comments by: afreenjalal     Posted on :9/26/2006 9:43:44 AM (#4570)


The figures are shocking and this happening in a islamic state is a shame for all muslims. The reason is Pakistan is still ruled by cynical tribes who are far from civilization. They still see women as a secondary human being. I see a major gap in the understanding of rape laws of Islam. Answering some of my friends below, we are more than proud to be Indians. And this is the reason why we shout for upholding the secular,democratic fabric of India intact because I believe that India is a shining example of harbouring so many religions and cultures together and progressing ahead.
Comments by: ghaziajalali     Posted on :9/26/2006 9:37:01 AM (#4569)


Its a fact that Pakistan is still in stone age. They are still a group of tribals who have no idea of where the rest of the world is. Quran holds woman in very high regard. Zina laws are very well defined in Quran and what these tribes do is in no way compliant with them. I wish Musharraf good luck and hope he can win against the wilds who can gang rape a woman for “justice”. Pakistan was created (after so much bloodshed) as a Islamic state but I must say they have done more damage to the image of Islam than anybody else.The whole dream of independence was shattered because of the greed of power of few.
Comments by: sdhull     Posted on :9/25/2006 8:07:26 PM (#4568)


Just a thought, we should also think of inviting comments from people who feel the other way…The others ( or second ) opinion, u see.
Comments by: JASAUS     Posted on :9/25/2006 8:23:33 AM (#4566)


Few days back Mr Mussaraf gave a statement that after 11/9 he got a threat from America to check the activities of Talibaan, otherwise they will fell so many bombs on Pakistan and Afganistan to send them in stoneage. I don’t think this threat was needed, just go through this article i think they are already living in stonage. The muslim community living in India should be proud that they are not living in stoneage country and there anscestors did right decision by not leaving India at the time of partition. Dear friends the religion is to make our life easy not difficult.
Comments by: gupsn     Posted on :9/21/2006 5:27:40 PM (#4555)


Some people seem to hide their own crimes in the name of Religion. These laws are meant to RIDICULE women, forget respecting them. This is OPPRESSION under the cover of DEMOCRACY by imposing their own laws. Its even difficult to imagine the trauma which the poor woman(victim) and her parents have to undergo. Such a high rape rate is just shhocking. Immediate steps are required to be taken against these inhuman laws.
Comments by: ayurdhi     Posted on :9/20/2006 10:29:45 PM (#4553)


i was absolutely dumbstruck at reading this article.being a woman i can easily imagine the ordeal a woman goes through aafter any form of molestation i.e from eve teasing to something as henious as rape.and the laws governing the women of pakistan concerning the same are not worth being called laws.it’s absolutely ridiculous how one has to prove “absence of consent” or have four men present at the occasion to testify.if 4 men were actually sitting there watching the crime happen they should be the forst to be castrated and then the rapist.a woman’s life has turned into an absolute nightmare and then the incessant “tanas” of society followed by relentless and humiliating questioning in the courts is enough to have anyone revert back to home and report the crime.a country exists because of its people and its the foremost responsibility of the government and the law governing bodies to ensure its people’s safety.this in a sincere request,no,actually a desperate plea to humanity:start respecting woman or a day would come when they would be among the “endagered spesies” group.

What can I say? Things like this happen in India too, in the remote villages where the word of the Upper Caste is the law. Women are taken advantage of just as easily as it is being done in Pakistan. US citizens express shock at the lack of human rights in India while we dont much give a damn about it. We express our righteous indignation about the state of affairs in words but we do not have the balls to do anything about it.

But yes as much as I have said, if what Mr. Vikram Johri has written is true  and I see evidence, there is a chance I might vomit right now.

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~ by badkow on October 4, 2006.

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