How Zia ul Haq Demonised Rape Survivors Instead Of Punishing Rapists
Whether it is a former president of Islamic Republic of Pakistan or the current CCPO of the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, the mindset of our male dominated society hasn’t changed in the last four decades.
In 2005, President Musharraf made comments in the context of a question about the treatment of a rape survivor Mukhtar Mai whose case gained international attention.
“You must understand the environment in Pakistan … This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
The president said that the newspaper had misinterpreted what he had said and that he was misquoted. But co-author of the Washington Post article, said: “The president’s comments were tape recorded and they were quoted verbatim and in context.”
On September 9, 2020, a woman was gang raped in front of her children during a robbery bid in Gujjarpura along the recently inaugurated Lahore-Sialkot Motorway.
Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh blamed the victim of gang-rape incident instead, for taking the route that she had chosen and said that she should have checked her petrol tank before getting on the said route. Umar Sheikh added that the woman had left Lahore’s Defence area at 12:30am for Gujranwala.
“I am surprised that a mother of three, a lone driver after leaving Defence should have taken the straight route from GT Road — a generally well-populated area.”
Did public hangings in Zia era stop rapes?
A false and deceptive claim has been circulating on social media by many accounts since the rape incident last week to justify public hanging of rapists: “During 1981 — in late Gen Ziaul Haq’s tenure — the public hanging of a killer and rapist of a young boy, had effectively worked as a deterrent for the next 10 years.
“The abductors and killers were arrested and executed in public and their bodies remained hanging till the sunset. This stern punishment served as an effective deterrent as no child was reportedly molested and murdered in the next decade or so. And Islam closes the door to the criminal who wants to commit this deleterious and truculent crime. The laws of Islam came to protect women’s honour,” they say.
On February 10, 1979, General Zia ul Haq promulgated four ordinances, collectively referred to as the Hudood Ordinance. The intent of the ordinances, as stated by him was to bring Pakistan’s legal system closer to the precepts of Islam.
Four years after the Zina Ordinance was adopted, a law of evidence was promulgated that did not allow women to testify at all in certain cases and in others considered a woman’s testimony irrelevant, unless corroborated by that of another woman. This essentially gave men and women different legal rights, underscoring that the state did not regard women and men as equal actors.
In 1983 Asma Jahangir and other women rights activists from the Women’s Action Forum organized a protest against Zia’s proposed law of evidence stipulating that the value of a woman’s testimony was half that of a man. This was the first time Zia’s laws and his regime was publicly challenged. In 1987, she co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the only independent watchdog for human rights with a nationwide presence.
Following are the few examples of rape victims who suffered for years because of the Hudood Ordinance:
Rafaqat Bibi applied to the martial law authorities to instruct the police to file an FIR against influential people in her village who raped her. She was arrested by the police and in 1984 the court convicted her of Zina for being pregnant without proper explanation.
Safia Bibi, a blind girl, was convicted of Zina by a court in Sahiwal. Her confession was her unexplained pregnancy. The alleged rapists were given the benefit of the doubt and acquitted.
Tasleem Bibi was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment and awarded 30 lashes in public by the Federal Shariat Court in 1985.
Jehan Mina, who gave birth to a still-born child, suffered the rigours of imprisonment and went mute with the shock of her experience. Her uncle had filed a report with the police, alleging that his orphaned niece had been raped by his brother-in-law and nephew. The trial court convicted Jehan of Zina, as she was pregnant. She was awarded 100 stripes in public. Later the Federal Sharia Court reduced her sentence to three years of rigorous imprisonment and an infliction of 10 lashes in public.
In 2002, Zafran Bibi went to the police to register a case of rape, but she herself was instead charged with having an adulterous affair. A court sentenced her to stoning by death under Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances, which effectively equate rape with adultery. Despite Bibi’s repeated charges that her brother-in-law had raped her on multiple occasions, the presiding judge convicted her of Zina. She gave birth to a son. She remained in jail with her seven-month-old baby until 2005, when a judge in Peshawar suspended the sentence and allowed her appeal to be heard by a full bench of the Sharia court in Islamabad.
In 1996 Benazir Bhutto’s government brought the Abolition of Whipping Act, forbade sentences/punishments of whipping offenders except when imposed as a Hadd punishment. Those aligned with the clerics argued that the Hudood are God’s law and term any tampering of them un-Islamic.
On 15 November 2006, National Assembly of Pakistan passed Women Protection Bill to amend the heavily criticised 1979 Hudood Ordinance laws. Under the new bill, death penalty for extramarital sex and the need for victims to produce four witnesses to prove rape cases were removed. Death penalty and flogging for people convicted of having consensual sex outside marriage was removed. However, consensual sex outside marriage was still treated as a criminal offense with a punishment of five years in prison or a fine. The punishment for rape under 2006 Women Protection Bill is either death or imprisonment of between ten and twenty-five years. For cases related to gang rape, the punishment is either death penalty or life imprisonment.
On 7 October 2016, Pakistan’s parliament unanimously passed new anti-rape and anti-honour killing bills. According to the new anti-rape bill, DNA testing was made mandatory in rape cases. According to the new law, anyone who rapes a minor or a mentally or physically disabled person will be liable for the death penalty or life imprisonment. Recording of statement of the female survivor of rape or sexual harassment shall be done by an Investigating Officer, in the presence of a female police officer, or a female family member of the survivor.
Despite the revisions of laws over the period of time, we are not getting anywhere because of non-implementation of laws. Until and unless there are serious reforms in Police and judiciary, nothing is going to change. Pakistan’s social structure is not accommodating women as equal citizens. Women in Pakistan live within an environment of retrogressive cultural practices that are often viewed as religious mandates. Progressive voices are often labelled as radical because of Pakistan’s legacy of conscious Islamisation. From Benazir Bhutto to Asma Jahangir to Mukhtar Mai and thousands of unnamed women made it possible to force the successive parliaments to make changes in Hudood Ordinance. Whatever rights they have now, because of their own struggle. There are no contributions of men I am afraid.
Let me quote Asma Jahangir to close the long timeline of women’s struggle in Pakistan:
“You cannot have human rights in a society if you do not have women rights”
The writer is a traveller and freelance writer based in UK. He has previously written for @the_nation @Dawn_com @DunyaNews @TheAsians He can be contacted on Twitter @SyedIHusain