Vendetta rapes persist in Pakistan

Freedom’s on the march in the USA’s closest South Asian ally. From the New York Times, Oct. 14:

KABIRWALA, Pakistan — Pursuing justice is not easy for a woman in Pakistan, not if the crime is rape. Ghazala Shaheen knows.

Two years ago, relatives say, an uncle eloped with a woman from a higher social caste. The revenge by the woman’s family was the rape of Ms. Shaheen, she and relatives charge, after a gang of men raided her father’s home and abducted her and her mother in late August.

It is not uncommon in Pakistan for women to suffer callous vendettas for the wrongdoings of their male relatives. That was the case for Ms. Shaheen, a 24-year-old from a relatively poor family who had nonetheless managed to earn a master’s degree in education. She says she wants to be a teacher.

Under what are known as the Hudood laws in Pakistan, a woman must produce four witnesses to prove rape. A failure to do so can result in her becoming a victim twice over, and being charged for adultery. The stigma alone is enough to keep many women from trying to bring their attackers to justice.

Human rights advocates have repeatedly called for the repeal of the Hudood laws, which were enacted by the country’s last military dictator, Gen. Zia ul Haq, in 1979.

President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to introduce amendments to the laws, but critics say his efforts have been halfhearted. Under pressure from hard-line clerics, Mr. Musharraf’s government delayed passage of a proposed law in September that would have allowed rape to be tried in civil courts, where a rape victim needs only to provide a medical witness and other evidence.

In 2002, the case of Mukhtar Mai became a cause célèbre of human rights advocates after she was ordered gang raped by a village council to avenge her brother’s supposed misconduct. She has since become an international figure, praised worldwide for her courage to talk against the crime and her legal struggle to bring the culprits to justice.

Despite the outcry, lesser-known cases, like Ms. Shaheen’s, continue to emerge with regularity as the laws go unchanged.

Ms. Shaheen recounted her ordeal at an uncle’s home in Kabirwala, a dusty farming town in the southern part of Punjab Province. It was not far from where she says more than a dozen men on Aug. 25 forced their way into the house owned by her father, who is a retired military police officer.

Some of the attackers were wearing police uniforms, Ms. Shaheen said. “ ‘Pick up the women,’ they shouted,” she said. “They dragged me and my mother and put us on two motorbikes.”

Both of them were told they were being taken to the police station in connection with Ms. Shaheen’s uncle. “But we soon found out that we were kidnapped,” she said.

The abductors held them for 11 days. Both said they were beaten.

“I was raped by two men,” said Ms. Shaheen, with moist eyes ringed by dark circles. One of her rapists, she said, was Nazar Mirali, from the rival clan. She said she did not know the other one.

“I pleaded,” she said. “I implored, but they did not listen to me.”

Mr. Mirali was arrested and could not be found for comment. He and another man, who was not identified, were named in the complaint filed by Ms. Shaheen on Sept. 26. Word of Ms. Shaheen’s abduction spread throughout the area and neighboring Multan, the largest city in southern Punjab.

On Sept. 2, human rights advocates, with Ms. Mai, called a rally in Kabirwala to demand the arrest of the accused.

Two days later, both Ms. Shaheen and her mother were recovered by the police from Jhang, a neighboring district, after a tip from someone in the area, said Abdul Rashid, a cousin of Ms. Shaheen.

Ms. Shaheen said that evening at the police station that she had been threatened and harassed to keep silent about the ordeal by her attackers. A police official, too, told her not to mention rape, she said, and the police logged the case only as a kidnapping. “I was frightened. They threatened they would kill my father,” Ms. Shaheen said, referring to the Miralis, who are a relatively well-connected family in the area.

Ms. Shaheen said she suffered in silence for more than a week but then gathered courage to come forward. She went for her medical checkup.

“Yes, I confirmed in my medical report about rape,” said Dr. Saima Iftikhar, the medical officer at District Hospital Kabirwala who examined her.

Since then, Ms. Shaheen’s ambitions have been shattered, and it is she who suffers scorn for the rape. She says she feels helpless. The school where she was to teach has refused to accept her.

“They said they can’t accept me as it is a matter of their repute now,” Ms. Shaheen said.

Human Rights advocates have criticized the police. They say the police have been slow to move against the accused under pressure from high-level politicians.

“Have they collected all the evidence? Have they raided the houses of all the accused?” said Rashid Rehman, an official with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent body, which has taken up the case.

On Sept. 26, Ms. Shaheen along with Mr. Rehman submitted another application to the police and presented a copy of the medical report confirming rape.

Thirteen of the 14 men accused of taking part in the abduction are in hiding, police officials say.

“We have apprehended the main accused,” said Shahid Hanif, the district police chief of Khanewal, who seemed exasperated by the case.

“No one is happy with police,” he said. “What else does she expect us to do? We recovered her. We have arrested the man accused. Does she expect us to kill him? We can’t do that.”

See our last posts on Pakistan, and the abysmal status of women in the USA’s closest South Asian ally.