In Pakistan, nine women were raped, on average, every day for the last five years.Then why is everyone turning a blind eye to these horrors?
When Aamina Bibi, a teenage first-year student from Muzaffargarh, was coming back from college on that fateful day, the 5th of January, she might have been thinking she was going to be one of the few well-educated girls in her otherwise-backward district, ruled by feudal lords and self-serving politicians.
She might have been planning to become a successful professional in a field of her choosing and help her family to out of the abyss of poverty.
Surely, she was not thinking that she would become like Mukhtaran Mai, or the thousands of other daughters of the Pakistan who were raped by powerful, ugly men and had to silently suffer through their trauma because of the injustice handed down to them by the ineffective judicial system and a morally dead society.
Whatever she was thinking when the five cruel men kidnapped her from the Bet Mir Hazar area and raped her, she could never have contemplated the possibility that she eventually would have to set herself on fire to avoid the shame society would heap upon her.
Ironically, despite her sacrifice, she still remains one of thousands of vulnerable women of this country who were raped and the state failed to provide them justice. Some of them â€˜succeededâ€™ as being officially registered as â€˜rape victimsâ€™, a stigma they have to carry for the rest of their lives!
After she set herself on fire, this ill-fated 18-year-old girl now faces a posthumous investigation to verify her claim of being raped and whether she should be included in the official statistics of women who have been registered as having been raped.
Official data confirms that 17,075 women were raped over the past five years. Of these, 1,368 were instances of gang-rape.
In just the past two years, the statistics recorded by the National Police Bureau (NPB), show that 6,887 women were raped, while 550 were gang-raped during this period (2012-2013).
According to these statistics, over 3,000 women are, on average, raped every year in Pakistan. In 2013, the total reported cases of rape were 3,164. In 2012, this number was 3,173.
Reported cases of gang-rape in 2013 remained 257 and 293 in 2012. In 2011, police registered 3,272 cases of rape besides the reports of 264 women were allegedly gang-raped. In 2010, the numbers were 3,158 and 310 respectively.
There was no major difference in 2009 when 2,940 complaints of rape and 244 gang-rapes were registered.
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But these numbers, which NPB collected from regional police departments, reflect only the tip of the iceberg. These are the cases the authorities actually registered. There are countless others which are not reported because police officials refuse to register First Information Reports (FIR) after taking bribes from the culprits.
In many other rape cases, local community leaders, families, politicians or victims deliberately try to cover up incidents of rape to avoid â€œsocial embarrassmentâ€.
Surprisingly, there is no differentiation between â€˜rapeâ€™ and â€˜adulteryâ€™ in the government papers. All rape cases are compiled in one column of â€˜Zinaâ€™ given in the crime data document. Hence, nobody can differentiate that how many people were booked for adultery and how many of them were accused of rape or sexual assault.
This helps police change the nature of the case and charges whenever and wherever needed. The refusal to register complaints is so common that the officials monitoring and compiling the statistics admit it themselves.
â€œThis data is based on the FIRs registered in all police stations across the country. We believe the actual number of incidents is far higher than numbers which are reported,â€ said a senior government official, who monitors the crime statistics.
â€œIt is very difficult to get â€˜realâ€™ statistics from the provinces. They hide several incidents and show less cases than there actually are,â€ the official told Pique on the condition of anonymity, because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
â€œIt is a common trend with our police department that they desperately avoid registering the FIR and try their best to prevent the complainants from registering one,â€ he said.
â€œThey (police officials) discourage the complainants and there have been quite a few cases where the police delayed registration of an FIR even after a court directed them to do so,â€ said the official. â€œThere are numerous incidents, particularly in the more remote areas, where the police is openly controlled and influenced by the landlords, especially those with political and bureaucratic influence.
In many such instances, the victims and their families themselves prefer avoiding police involvement if the crime has been committed against them. And if someone in grave distress approaches the police, the police usually donâ€™t entertain them.â€
â€œForget the rapes, we are even skeptical about the murder data. There are dozens of killings and robberies everyday in the country, but data doesnâ€™t reflect the actual situation on the ground,â€ said another official.
According to the statistics available, the number of total murders in 2013 was 13,937, while 13,846 cases were registered in 2012.
â€œWe need to improve our data and the crime reporting system. The present system has failed to deliver,â€ he said. Not only that the rape cases are under reported, but there are very few examples when the culprits have actually faced sentences.
In most cases, the perpetrators get away scot free because of corruption within the police and prosecution departments, the unavailability of the proper evidence and police failure to conduct DNA and other medical tests.
Given the situation, social behavior analysts and gender specialists think that the system has collapsed and has become incapable of delivering justice; the people simply donâ€™t believe in it. To them, it is a tool for suppressing victims and the poor while encouraging the criminals and influential.
â€œPeople donâ€™t trust the countryâ€™s judicial system,â€ says Farzana Bari, a vocal campaigner for womenâ€™s rights and professor of gender studies at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.
â€œThe rape cases reported or highlighted in media are nothing but a little reflection of what is actually happening on ground,â€ she adds.
â€œPeople know it will take a long time to get justice even if they succeed in filing a report, so in many cases victims and their families themselves refuse to report such crimes.â€
â€œThen there is disrespect to the victim, her future is at stake. She loses any chance of leading a normal life after a sexual attack,â€ Bari asserts, adding that poverty is another hurdle to obtaining justice.
â€œIn most cases, poor girls and women are raped by the feudal, the rich and the influential. The victims and their families donâ€™t have the money to bribe police, pay lawyers or wait years to get justice from the slow courts.â€
â€œThe sense of being humiliated is another major injustice with the rape victims. They feel disrespected and desecrated after the rape, whereas it is actually the rapists who should feel the disrespected and humiliated, not the victims.â€
Bari believes that this situation necessitates immediate action against the gender bias and violence against women on a state-level.
â€œIt is just like the emergency to fight against polio. The national media should run a campaign to sensitise the judiciary and the police. Violence against women should be stigmatized as being â€˜inhumaneâ€™. We should change the concept of the manhood. The syllabus should be changed. The images of manhood in books should be changed. A man raising a hand over a woman to beat her should not be considered a â€˜manly actâ€™. Police need to be told they should register all crimes. The cops should be trained for gender sensitivity. Their promotion should be linked with the gender sensitivity.â€
The toothless laws
What have the 2006 amendments to the notorious Hadood Ordinance of Zia done to alleviate the suffering of rape victims?
The answer is, simply, nothing. Under the original laws, the rape victim was bound to produce four witnesses of the incident, which never happened in the 27-year history of this controversial law. Now, police refuse to register even a complaint to avoid the â€˜complicationsâ€™ of a DNA test and the cumbersome process of identification parade for the victims.
Rather, police officials have turned this into a profitable business. They try to scare the complainants about the consequences of registering the case. They tell horror stories of what happens to rape victims: the defamation, the disrespect, future ostracism and the possibility that they will be killed for their troubles by the powerful culprits. Through all this, the officials sitting at the police stations are making money off the accused in a bid to get them off the hook.
Bari says the government and the judiciary have to set boundaries to change the situation. â€œThere should be a time-frame for justice to be delivered. A limited period of three months or six months should be fixed to decide rape cases. The culprits should be seen punished.â€
But the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court of Pakistan â€“ which is the final safeguard and paramount authority on the countryâ€™s laws and their execution â€“ is nevertheless disturbed.
In one of the hearings conducted to examine the Aamina Bibi case, the apex court observed that the incident reflected that the girl had lost all hope of getting justice from the police.
This observation came after the Supreme Court was informed that the rape victim who had set herself ablaze and later died in a hospital was neither medically examined nor was a DNA test carried out.
Ironically, in this case, police are mandated to register a suicide case against the dead girl but the department can still wriggle out of its responsibility of registering her complaint of â€˜forced gang rapeâ€™!
Those who have been elected by the people to legislate for curbing crime and protecting the innocent from criminals, are unwilling to accept gravity of the situation.
â€œMost of the girls who complain about rape are actually involved in illicit relationships,â€ suggests Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, chairman of the National Assembly standing committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights.
â€œMany of the reported rape cases are false. There are many complications regarding this issue. There are problems with police but there are also problems with the complainants,â€ Virk said, doing his best to negate the suffering of hapless rape victims.
â€œNobody has approached us. When somebody will come to us with a complaint, we will take action against the culprits. We will definitely do it,â€ he says when asked what action they are mulling to stem the incidents of sexual assault taking place across the country.
The Moral Police
The mullahs and the so-called Jihadi brigade always shout loudest in matters of morality in society and even across the border. Always lecturing about Muhammad Bin Qasimâ€™s adventure in the sub-continent to save the dignity of one Muslim daughter, just get away with this issue.
â€œIt is the governmentâ€™s job to stop rape incidents,â€ says Munawar Hassan, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the foremost religious party of the country. â€œRape cases are (on the rise) because the provincial and federal governments are not doing their job.â€
Asked what the prayer leaders and clergy can do to stop this â€˜evilâ€™ spreading its tentacles so fast, he replied: â€œThis is not our job to enforce law and keep people away from the evils. The rape cases are lesser because the religious leaders are doing their job, if they did not do this, you would have seen much more incidents. Just donâ€™t confuse it, it is also a job of parents and siblings and the government. Everybody should work to improve morality in the society.â€
Mukhtaran Mai â€“ herself a victim of gang-rape who became an activist fighting against the menace â€“ now runs a womenâ€™s shelter and a school in her village Meerwala, few kilometers from Bet Mir Hazar, where Aamina was raped.
She was the first person Aamina approached for help. â€œWe tried our best to convince her to be patient in the fight for justice. We donâ€™t know what happened to her that she decided to take her own life,â€ Mai said.
Having vowed to root out the evil of rape from her area, Mai receives substantial resources from both local and foreign donors, to fight this menace. But even she admits that no NGO can truly win the fight against rape until the government brings a legal and social revolution.
â€œWhat I can do? What other NGOs can do? What media can do? We arenâ€™t a court!â€
â€œThe government has to punish one culprit of rape to set a precedent. When one will be punished, others will automatically learn a lesson and will start behaving. Otherwise incidents of rape will continue to rise,â€ she said.
Zulfiqar Ahmed Cheema, who is considered to be one of the most competent police officers among the present cadre, agrees that the crimes are under-reported mainly because the officials want to avoid bad reputation.
â€œThey avoid registering every case because increase in crime statistics brings bad name for a Station House Officer (SHO), the District Police Officer (DPO), the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and ultimately the Chief Minister (CM) of the province,â€ he said.
â€œThere is also an issue of bribe and influence. The senior officers should monitor their juniors closely and carefully.
The promotions should be attached with the behavior to the complainants,â€ he said.
â€œIf action is taken against a corrupt police official who refuses to register a case or investigate heinous crimes such as rape, and an honest officer gets reward, the number of such crimes will decline.â€
Shoaib Suddle, former head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and a retired Inspector General of Police (IGP), believes that the denial of justice is a major cause for increase in such crimes and under-reporting.
â€œThe reported crimes are less than 50 per cent of the actual crimes in the country. The registration of cases can be improved if the policemen who refuse registration of FIRs are punished for denying this right to the complainants or victims,â€ he said.
A rape attack scatters the personality of the victim and she is immediately traumatised. Her self esteem is shattered and she feels insecure and depressed life, says Naima Hassan, a senior psychiatrist and consultant at the United Nations (UN).
â€œRape is a crime worse than murder. When you rape somebody, you ruin her life, her body, her soul, her feelings and her self-esteem.â€
The rape victims require constant mental treatment for years. They need intensive physical and psychological care from family, friends and psychiatrists.
â€œPeople who commit rapes are frustrated. They have sexual frustration, egoistic frustration and crave a power trip.â€
â€œIn order to sensitize men to respect women, we need to change our syllabus. We need to introduce the subject of reproductive health in our middle schools.
If we donâ€™t introduce gender sensitization in our society now, the violence and abuse will only increase,â€ she said.