PAKISTAN: The ritual abuse and naked humiliation of three women casts
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The violent humiliation of three women reported from Punjab this week has thrown stark light on the complicity of the police and the courts in gender-based crimes — and on the continued degeneration of law enforcement in the region. This week three woman accused of prostitution were forced to parade naked through their neighborhood and onto a local highway; they were stripped and physically tormented under the direction of a man who leads a banned militant organisation.
Yet when the police arrived on the scene they arrested the women. The courts complied with the arrest. According to media reports this violation started, as many do in the country, with a land dispute. Union Council Nazim wished to purchase the house of a woman, Ms. Shehnaz, who had been accused of running a brothel from home for a number of years. On September 27 a mob attacked her house, dragged two women out and destroyed it. The women were stripped, reportedly under the orders who leads a banned Muslim militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but before they were forced to walk nude, children were instructed to degrade them by poking them with sticks, one woman’s face was blackened with ink and garlands of shoes were put around both their necks. When the home owner arrived on the scene the same was done to her. The three were paraded and tormented in a procession that led from their village onto a nearby national highway about 500m away.
In a show of solidarity for the base vigilante hysteria, the police arrested the three victims as soon as they arrived on the scene, to a chorus of jeers. The women were booked under sections 371-A and 371-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) which deals with prostitution. Though dismissing all of the women’s rights to protection — no one leading the mob was arrested — police have protested that they did their duty by providing the women with clothes before they were taken away.
The next day in the local magistrate’s court of Patuki town, advocates objected to the arrest and demanded that cases be filed against the police for the inappropriate use of the penal code; they after all, applied the wrong section with no evidence. The magistrate chose not to do so, simply releasing the women on bail. It is still not clear on which charges they were being released on bail. According to Pakistani law, persons who are booked on wrong case must be set free. The gravest abuse of all was that neither the police nor the judge considered the rights of those being abused and defiled, because they were women; though many of these rights are clearly and very strongly represented in the constitution and the penal code. The one clear crime taking place when the police arrived, under Section 354-A of the PPC, can be met with the death penalty or life imprisonment or both. As the Section reads: ‘assault or use of criminal force to women and stripping her of her clothes, in that condition exposes her to the public view, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to a fine.’ Yet instead possible prostitution and the satisfying the irrational zeal of a mob took the officers’ priority — perfectly symbolic of the ways in which Pakistan’s laws are being belittled, mocked and abused by those meant to uphold them.
The question here perhaps, is whether the police and the magistrate even knew about this law. It is entirely likely that with the rights of women being so little regarded in legal practice in the country, laws protecting them have fallen into the shadows. They need a good airing. The people consistently comes across cases, in Punjab province in particular, in which vital laws are not being used; and strongly doubts the knowledge and the competence of certain police, judicial members and even ministers in the provincial government of Punjab, in applying laws correctly in the running of the state.
The other option is that the police and the magistrate knew of the law and of their responsibility to protect the abused women, but did not consider it worth applying. This not only shows a disregard for the law and those who wrote it, but is once again symbolic of the depths to which the judiciary has fallen when it comes to the protection of women. Supreme almost medieval challenges continue to face the women of Pakistan and they are receiving very little help.
That the police allowed their duties to be dictated to them by the leader of a banned militant organization is a different and yet equally disturbing, entrenched issue, one dealt with regularly in people’s statements and appeals from different human right forum, especially AHRC.
People are outraged and appalled at the handling of this incident by the authorities and condemns the weaknesses it brings to light, and it urges the government of President Asif Zardari and the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Shareef to take strong and appropriate action. The Speaker of Punjab Assembly, Rana Iqbal Khan has strog hold in that area. Provicial Law minister, Rana Sana Ullah is elected by the people to handle such issues. Yet, these violations take place regularly because they go unpunished. The government must take a much stronger interest in the revival and implementation of laws to protect women in order for a change to be seen. Chief Minister must act more strong on such issues he loses the favours of the people that they earned during Black Coat Revolution.
I urge that all those involved in the ritual vigilante and abuse and humiliation of these three women be thoroughly investigated and punished under section 354-A of PPC, and the police officials and magistrate responsible for the further legally sanctioned abuse of these women be investigated for misconduct by the Chief Justice of the High Court Mr. Khawaja Shareef. Training and education are also clearly required in these areas; we recommend that gender sensitization programs are undertaken without delay. For the women who fell foul of this vast male ocean of administrative and moral ignorance, the legal system must now be strong and representative.
Compensation must be paid and their honour restored. Or the time is not that far, when the people lose hopes on this judicial system and political leadership and start making the decisions themselves.