By Minerwa Tahir
In 2002, a young girl named Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped on the orders of a Jirga as punishment for her brother who was accused of raping someone. Fifteen years later, another young girl bore the brunt of another such Jirga ruling.
Are we still living in 2002? Women continue to bear punishments for crimes committed by men related to them. A man, identified as Umer, raped a 12-year-old girl in Multan. A Jirga, which is a controversial form of a local council meant to dispense quick justice, ruled that the brother of the 12-year-old rape survivor should sexually assault Umer’s 17-year-old sister to settle the matter. As if it was not enough that one child was violated so brutally, another was made to bear the same fate in the name of compensation for the former’s ordeal. That, too, in the name of justice. Moreover, the head of the Jirga that handed out this verdict was the uncle of the 17-year-old. Let that sink in.
On behalf of the child who was violated, the men of the two families decided that another child should be raped. This sense of entitlement is nothing new. Jirgas are a centuries’ old tradition in Pakistan. While they have no legal standing, these local courts are tolerated in most parts of the country. In Mukhtar Mai’s case, six men were convicted and sentenced to death later that year, though five of them were later freed on appeal. The Supreme Court has ordered action against the culprits involved in the recent Multan revenge rape case. Punjab Chief Minsiter Shehbaz Sharif is set to meet the rape survivors on Thursday. The situation, however, begs the question: why do we continue to suffer, in this so-called modern day and age, for crimes committed by our men? Why is our patriarchal society only pacified by the reduction of women to mere objects owned by men? How can we address these issues? In order to address a problem, we must first identify the root cause begetting the problem.
Some argue that the reason such cases happen is a lack of proper and accessible justice system in the country coupled with illiteracy. If the police and judicial systems were effective and women-friendly, crimes against women could be curbed. If people were educated, they wouldn’t commit such acts. While all of this does make sense, these factors are only symptoms of a disease. Why are the police and judicial systems not women-friendly? When a woman is raped and goes to report the crime to a police station, she is viewed with suspicion (We are always asking for it, right?). Her character is brought into question and her attire becomes a more pressing issue than the ordeal she has suffered. Why did she forget that she needs to have a man by her side in public to command ‘respect’ from other men? Did she not remember that men will only ‘respect’ her if she is already owned by another man? How can she forget that it is a duty binding upon all men to ensure that all women are owned by their kind? Why did she not cover herself properly? Why is she still single? Why is she even breathing? The problem does not lie in the justice system or lack of education; it lies in the collective misogynist mindset of our patriarchal society that births these manifestations of misogyny. Men like to tell us that they want to respect and protect us – which is is just a sugar-coated way of saying that they want to own our bodies, making it a point to tell us that even female sexuality is to be controlled by them (Remember Qandeel Baloch?).
Ownership of the female body seems to be the most pressing concern for an average Pakistani man, educated or not. I need to control and monitor her. If it’s my wife, I will not entertain her male friends. In the name of kink, I will casually force myself upon her sometimes. If it’s my sister or daughter, I will keep an eye on her until I send her off with a man who can force himself upon her. These cattle and their bodies are mine and I get to choose what I do with them – until I can pass these bodies on to other men of my liking. This mindset is religiously upheld by men of nearly all castes and socio-economic classes in Pakistan – it’s almost like it’s in their blood now. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that a minor girl was raped in Multan in similar fashion as Mukhtar Mai. Misogyny and the need for men to control us are all around me. If men really wanted to respect us, they wouldn’t ask us to stand at a distance and watch while they act all macho beating a man who harassed us. If they really respected us, they would ask us to beat them up. Male idea of protection is basically being in charge, denying the female any and all sorts of control. Perhaps what sets the Multan revenge rape apart from all other manifestations of male dominance is the fact that while everyday exploitation of the woman is benevolent, this was just a little more hostile.
Women need to take charge of their lives. No man can or will protect us – they will only protect their own vested interests that enable patriarchy to perpetuate. Of course, we will have male allies in this struggle. But the struggle is ours to be waged and it has to begin from the homes. Speaking to a news agency on the Multan revenge rape case, Mukhtar Mai said, “If there were any justice in the panchayat, they should have shot the rapist. Why punish an innocent girl instead?” Perhaps we, as women, can begin with organising our own public courts to give the oppressors a taste of their own medicine. It will only be through revolt that the authorities will wake up to introduce women-friendly legislation.
Story first published: 30th July 2017