PAKISTAN: Safe Haven for Rapists in Uniform

Pakistani women, be they young or old, or even dead or alive, suffer rape by perverted elements that use rape as a tool to suppress and oppress half of the country’s population. One cannot fathom the moral bankruptcy of a society where a rape occurs every two hours. Going by the statistics, each day 12 women suffer rape in the “land of the pure”. It is not simply a matter of blaming a proportion of perverts in a society, when State functionaries are themselves indulging in rape with abandon.

That rape is endemic in a country where Islam is the ideology seems oxymoronic. And, the way it is addressed is only making matters worse. Pakistani society, by and large, treats incidents of rape as a hush-hush affair to be swept under the carpet. The response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Thus, many women are forced to suffer in silence. It beats common sense that you can get raped, but can’t speak about in a conservative society like Pakistan. No woman dares to approach a police station to report this crime for fear of further shaming and potential abuse by the police officials themselves.

Rape is the most common form of custodial torture against accused women. Law enforcement officials also force the accused to confess to a crime by raping his female relative in front of him, i.e. rape is used as a means of torture. Many women are also raped as a result of vendetta against their male relatives. Some women are simply kidnapped by law enforcement officials from their homes or the streets and raped. Despite the reality, torture and ill-treatment of women in custody has received scant attention from legislators and adjudicators alike. No specific law exists to penalize such heinous crimes.

Recently, on 6 April 2016, Station House Officer (SHO) Digri Police Station, Badin District, Sindh Province, picked up a 20-year-old mentally challenged woman from her home. Later, on the victim’s complaint of rape, an FIR (No. 42) was registered against Digri SHO Mohammad Aslam Jamali, under Section 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Jamali was suspended and later arrested. However, with the help of his colleague, he managed to escape from police custody in Mirpurkhas District of Sindh Province.

Proving rape is in itself a difficult task. However, when the law enforcement agencies are involved in such crimes, it becomes next to impossible for the victim to seek and attain redress. Even in most of the cases that garnered media attention, the matter was hushed-up after the initial hullabaloo and media frenzy.

The cases of Dr. Shazia Khalid and Uzma Ayub, highlight the extremely insecure environment in which women of Pakistan are compelled to live, one where the custodians of law turn predators and commit sexual violence. Both the victims were raped by military personnel and were later forced to flee the country. In an interview, Shazia said, “I did not get justice and I will regret that for the rest of my life”.

When asked to comment on Dr. Shazia’s case by a reporter of The Washington Post, General Pervez Musharraf, the then President of Pakistan, unabashedly stated that claiming rape has become a “moneymaking concern” in Pakistan and that many Pakistanis felt it was an easy way to make money and get a Canadian visa.

Loot and rape has become an everyday affair for the citizens of the country. On 3 September 2015, six policemen raped a 22-year-old for three days while keeping her intoxicated. The victim later told the police that Constable Shahzad Warraich, along with Zulfiqar and his four accomplices, kidnapped her at gunpoint. She said that the accused took her to a hotel and continually raped her after administering intoxicants. She alleged that the accused had also snatched gold ornaments worth Rupees 1,50,000 from her.

Heartbroken and dismayed many victims resort to self-immolation as a mean to protest and escape the injustice. On 22 October 2015 a 20-year old woman from Multan in Punjab Province set herself on fire when the police refused to register a case of rape against three police officers. On her deathbed she testified that three policemen raped her. The officers were arrested after the woman’s death began receiving local news attention.

The delay in registration of the case not only gives impunity to the perpetrator it also allows time for the evidence to vanish thus making it impossible to prove rape. Delay in judicial proceeding is another hurdle faced by the victim. The conviction rate of rapists is zero in Pakistan, making the country a safe haven for rapists. Many cases of rape are settled outside of court, where the perpetrator is allowed to go scot free, or gets away by paying peanuts in the name of compensation to the aggrieved family of the victim.

In Uzma Ayub’s case, the perpetrator of rape, a military man, told Uzma that they would pay her whatever compensation she required. She refused any offer of settlement. The influential elders of the area, who were acting as arbitrators between Uzma and the alleged rapist, were forced by the police to pressurize the victim for settlement. Upon her refusal to accept compensation, she was threatened and harassed.

Under administrative jurisprudence, an act of a State functionary amounts to the act of the State itself and the State is responsible to protect and compensate its citizen if he or she is victimized by such actions. However, there is no semblance of the rule of law in Pakistan and so the State feels no duty towards its citizens. The status quo in the garb of democracy is perpetuating and unleashing terror upon citizens by giving unbridled impunity to the guardians of law. This State-sanctioned violence against women and sex-discrimination by law enforcement authorities is a denial of the fundamental right of access to justice to women.

The persistence of violence against women in Pakistan highlights the failure of the judicial system, which is affected by a strong feudal system, religious and social taboos, traditions, customs, a homogeneous religious society, a vast gender gap, a monstrous policing system, and sexual discrimination in economic and social activities.