WHEN A GIRL WAS RAPED IN PAK­ISTAN, THE PUN­ISH­MENT WAS RE­VENGE: THE RAPE OF RAPIST’S SIS­TER.

AS­SAULTS SHINE LIGHT ON PAK­ISTAN’S PAN­CHAYAT SYS­TEM

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SA­MAN­THA SCH­MIDT

THEY ARE VIC­TIMS AND AC­CUSED AT THE SAME TIME. IT’S BAR­BARIC.

The ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers all lived within yards of each other, in a small vil­lage near a river bank in Pak­istan’s largest prov­ince, Pun­jab.

It was in this vil­lage in Muzaf­farabad, a sub­urb of the city of Mul­tan, where the first of two rapes took place.

A daugh­ter of the fam­ily, around the age of 12 or 13, was cut­ting the grass in nearby fields on July 16 when a teenage boy cov­ered her with a cloth and raped her, po­lice said. The boy was a 16-year-old rel­a­tive.

In the days that fol­lowed the rape, the fam­ily’s el­ders gath­ered in shock and an­guish, seek­ing to re­solve what hap­pened.

But mourn­ing soon led to vengeance. The el­ders — who ef­fec­tively served as the fam­ily’s “pan­chayat,” or vil­lage coun­cil — de­cided jus­tice should be served as re­venge. They in­structed the vic­tim’s brother, who is about 16, to rape the teenage sis­ter of the at­tacker in re­turn for his crime, said Ah­san You­nis, head of the Mul­tan city po­lice.

So the 16-year-old brother fol­lowed suit, as­sault­ing the teenage girl in his fam­ily’s home and ef­fec­tively car­ry­ing out what You­nis called a “re­venge rape.”

Two rapes, within two days, all in one ex­tended fam­ily. It turns out the first as­sailant’s father is a brother of the sec­ond as­sailant’s grand­fa­ther.

“They are vic­tims and ac­cused at the same time,” You­nis said Thurs­day. “It’s bar­baric.”

In­deed, the case was shock­ing. But it was not en­tirely un­heard of — such “hon­our” crimes still take place in some parts of Pak­istan and In­dia. What made this case dif­fer­ent was that some­body spoke up, and author­i­ties took ac­tion.

The rapes were re­ported to the Vi­o­lence Against Women Cen­tre in Mul­tan, and author­i­ties pur­sued the ar­rests of the two men ac­cused. But as they in­ves­ti­gated the cases, po­lice learned there were dozens of ad­di­tional fam­ily mem­bers in­volved, You­nis said.

Author­i­ties or­dered the ar­rests of 29 peo­ple — all mem­bers of the ex­tended fam­ily. Of those, 25 are in cus­tody, in­clud­ing the first of the ac­cused as­sailants.

Fam­ily mem­bers ad­mit­ted to po­lice the sec­ond rape was or­dered as re­tal­i­a­tion for the first. But they as­serted the de­ci­sion was a con­sen­sual one be­tween the two fam­i­lies.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Vi­o­lence Against Women Cen­tre told the Pak­istani news­pa­per Dawn that the mother of the first ac­cused man of­fered ei­ther of her two mar­ried daugh­ters to set­tle the score, on the con­di­tion the first vic­tim’s fam­ily would not take le­gal ac­tion against her son. But the el­ders, the pan­chayat, de­manded she hand over her un­mar­ried teenage daugh­ter to be raped as pun­ish­ment.

The two men ac­cused of rape could face the death penalty, You­nis said, but “that is up to the court.”

The “re­venge rape” has spurred out­rage in Pak­istan and prompted the coun­try’s chief jus­tice early Thurs­day to or­der the in­spec­tor gen­eral of Pun­jab po­lice to sub­mit a re­port re­gard­ing the case, ac­cord­ing to Dawn.

It has shed light on the con­tin­ued preva­lence of the pan­chayat sys­tem, an in­for­mal vil­lage gov­er­nance sys­tem in which vil­lage lead­ers have been known to set­tle dis­putes over women with forced mar­riages, ston­ings and other pun­ish­ments.

This was a dis­tinct pan­chayat com­prised en­tirely of el­ders in the same ex­tended fam­ily.

Hu­man rights lawyer and ac­tivist Asma Ja­hangir on Wed­nes­day urged the gov­ern­ment to take fur­ther ac­tion to crack down on all pan­chay­ats.

“Pan­chay­ats have no stand­ing and the courts have stated the same,” Ja­hangir said, ac­cord­ing to Geo News. “If they act out­side of law, then the pan­chayat and its mem­bers should be pros­e­cuted ac­cord­ing to law.”

The hor­rific story also un­der­scored the prob­lem of vi­o­lence against fe­males in Pak­istan, which has ranked as the world’s third most dan­ger­ous place for women, ac­cord­ing to a 2011 Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion ex­pert sur­vey. More than 1,000 women and girls are vic­tims of “hon­our killings” ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to Pak­istan’s Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

But progress has been made. Last year, Pun­jab law­mak­ers gave un­prece­dented pro­tec­tion to fe­male vic­tims of vi­o­lence, pass­ing a new law that crim­i­nal­izes all forms of vi­o­lence against women, whether do­mes­tic, psy­cho­log­i­cal or sex­ual. It also man­dated the estab­lish­ment of women’s shel­ters and a toll-free abuse-re­port­ing hot­line, Reuters re­ported.

The case also had sev­eral par­al­lels with the most high-pro­file case of its kind, which took place in the same dis­trict: The gang rape of a woman named Mukhtar Mai.

“Such in­ci­dents re­mind me of what hap­pened with me in 2002,” she told Geo News Wed­nes­day, say­ing she was heart­bro­ken by the case, and en­cour­aged the rape sur­vivors to speak out.

In 2002, Mai was al­legedly dragged into a house, raped and pushed back out naked. About 200 tribal lead­ers watched in ap­proval nearby. The woman’s father was too afraid to save her.

The gang rape had been or­dered as pun­ish­ment to her fam­ily af­ter her brother was ac­cused of a hav­ing an af­fair with an older woman.

Mai did what many in Pak­istan do not have the courage to do, due to stig­mas against sex­ual as­sault: She re­ported the at­tack and chal­lenged her as­sailants in court.

Af­ter a lengthy, re-trau­ma­tiz­ing and hu­mil­i­at­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and court case, judges ac­quit­ted most of the 14 men ac­cused in her gang rape.

She be­came an in­ter­na­tional sym­bol of women’s rights, won awards and founded a pri­vate school. Her story even in­spired an opera, Thumbprint, which opened in New York in 2014.

But de­spite all this, she stayed in her poor vil­lage in Pun­jab.

“I have so many stu­dents and poor women turn­ing to me,” she said in 2011. “I can­not leave them.”

SS MIRZA / AFP / GETTY IM­AGES

A Pak­istani teenage girl was raped in this room in the neigh­bour­hood of Raja Ram in Muzaf­farabad, a sub­urb of Mul­tan. Mem­bers of the Pak­istani vil­lage coun­cil have been ar­rested for or­der­ing the rape of a teenage girl as pun­ish­ment for an­other rape com­mit­ted by her brother, po­lice said.

Two rapes within one fam­ily in Pak­istan have drawn out­rage and at­ten­tion to the pan­chayat, or vil­lage coun­cil, sys­tem. Author­i­ties or­dered the ar­rests of 29 peo­ple, all fam­ily mem­bers.

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