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
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.”
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.