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Khadija Siddiqi Got Justice Because She Fought For It. What About Those Who Can’t?

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Khadija Siddiqui, a 23-year-old law student, who miraculously survived being stabbed umpteen times by her fellow student in 2016 finally saw her tormentor re-convicted for the crime. But it took three years of struggle before the justice system could pay heed to her ordeal. Before that, her case had been lingering on in the lower courts for months. It was only after the mainstream media brought the case to the national spotlight that the authorities took notice. Needless to say, media and the civil society cannot keep an eye on all cases of injustice. Isn’t it about time the justice system started doing its job without needing reminders from media and civil society?

The convict, Shah Hussain, was son of an influential lawyer, which is why the lawyer fraternity was trying to protect him. His lawyers used delaying tactics before the courts and kept trying to dodge the process. During the hearings, defense counsel also brought up pictures from Khadija’s personal life as evidence in the court. And they were not rebuked for that. Instead, the trial court judges had adopted a lenient tone towards Shah Hussain, because his lawyers were also using intimidating tactics against the judges. On one occasion, several lawyers showed up in the court, chanting slogans in favour of the accused.

When Shah Hussain was finally convicted by a judicial magistrate in July 2017, media celebrated the verdict and eventually moved its focus away from the case. That’s when the ‘influential’ lawyers once against started pressuring her and her family to forgive the convict. Shah Hussain approached Lahore High Court (LHC) against his conviction, and was eventually acquitted.

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Unlike most female victims of violence in Pakistan, Khadija stood tall amid mudslinging and character assassination attempts by the convict’s lawyers. She also refused to cow down to pressure from influential authorities asking her to forgive Shah Hussain. Those pressuring her to pardon her attacker were not just some rogue elements of the lawyer community, but the victim also received a message from the then Governor Rafiq Rijwana, saying she should pardon Shah Hussain because he has ‘learned his lesson’. If she were a woman from a comparatively conservative or rural background or simply not strong enough, she would have given up just like most women in Pakistan do.

While the Supreme Court’s verdict overturning Shah Hussain’s acquittal is a welcome development, credit goes to Khadija Siddiqi and not our justice system. Because had it not been for Khadija’s steadfastness, the convict’s lawyers would have successfully misled the court by resorting to character assassination. Shah Hussain’s father would have used his influence to have his son freed.

Sadly enough, the judiciary is still not sensitized against gender-biased decisions. The justice system fails to side with the hapless women when they have mud thrown at them. Considering the rampant culture of victim-blaming in Pakistan, it takes a great deal of courage for a woman victim of violence to approach the courts. Because aggrieved women citizens have hardly ever been served justice by the system. The blame always lies with the women when they come forward with complaints of violence, sexual assault or rape. Therefore, Khadija’s fight was not an ordinary one. She was not only up against the flawed system where influential elements are able to escape the law, but also against the society that judges and humiliates the female victims of violence and gives clean chit to the man involved. Most women do not have the strength to resist pressure, and some are discouraged from reporting the crime by their own family on grounds that it would bring them ‘dishonour’.

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So for women who are not strong enough to resist the societal pressure and stand up to abuse of power, our justice system needs to reform itself. Gender-sensitisation of the judiciary is vital for its ability to protect women’s human rights.

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Naya Daur