From the Editor: Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui

The Dr Shazia Case

From the remote gas fields of Sui have come a spate of disturbing news in the past few weeks. A valuable energy source for the country, Sui has generated a great deal of anxiety lately.

First came the news of the gang rape of a doctor. In a state of despair she is reported to have sought lodgings, or should one say refuge, in the nurses’ quarters, but in vain. Then followed the retaliatory attacks on the gas plant. And, finally the army speedily descended on the gas fields.

With a fretting and fuming Sardar Akbar Bugti leading his tribe, the Baloch and the Army are pitted against one another. More alarming are the fulminations of other Baloch chieftain, including Sardar Ataullah Mengal and the young Khan of Kalat whose strident tone rings alarm bells. Balochistan is seething with discontentment, a confounding situation in view of the present government’s sustained strivings to give a boost to the province’s development.
The rape of Dr Shazia Khalid is truly a reprehensible act, one that should be dealt with an iron hand irrespective of whether the culprits are adventurers in the khakis or men in the civvies. From domestic violence to the ultimate sin against the fair sex, the wrongdoings of misguided male chauvinists need speedy corrective measures. The culprits should be brought to book without unwarranted delay.

In the United States, even domestic violence is considered a serious crime against women and under new laws perpetrators of this crime can be deported from the country. In the case of Pakistan, where a rape takes place every two hours, the crime takes an ominous dimension with the all-confounding pronouncement of ‘kari’ on hapless women, as happened in the case of the Sui victim - Dr Shazia. Thanks to better wisdom among concerned quarters the main culprits in Dr Shazia’s case have been rounded up.

Their arrest could have a salutary effect. An article ‘Missing evidence in rape cases’ by Mahim Maker in Dawn’s Review Section furnishes interesting facts about the incidence of rape in Pakistan. It begins with the commitment of the crime in the US: A college student in America went to a fraternity party where she became intoxicated and passed out. Some of the boys carried her upstairs and sexually assaulted her during the night. When she came to in the morning, she fled. The ‘joke’ was that in her haste she left behind her red high-heeled shoes. One of the boys belonging to the club, picked them up and arranged them next to the trophies and medals on the mantelpiece in the main lounge.

The unfortunate student was a member of a sorority house located right across from the fraternity house. Later that day, one of the sisters from the sorority house, a quiet young woman, walked straight into the fraternity house, picked the red high-heeled shoes off the mantle piece and walked out the door with them. She then sat on the steps of the sorority house and arranged the shoes by her side in silent protest.

This story is related in Naomi Wolf’s Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood (1997) and speaks of one woman’s act of dissent on behalf of another woman who was assaulted. The young woman could do little to avenge her sorority sister, but she did have a symbolic piece of evidence: the pair of red shoes. Their color was an ironic coincidence, but its poetic significance is not lost on us.

Women in Pakistan rarely get their pair of red shoes as was proved last month by the stories of three women. In Ankora village, Kotli, a young woman was reportedly raped by three men. She decided to commit suicide by self-immolation and died on December 23 in a hospital in Taxila. Before she died police officials managed to get her to name the three alleged rapists. She was so badly burned that no medical checkup could be performed and the actual rape has yet to be confirmed by postmortem. On the day the girl in Ankora died, a woman, who was gang-raped about ten days previously, was shot dead outside a Gujranwala district court where she was about to give testimony. She was 22 years old.

The accused were out on bail, and killed her before she could seek justice. Also in the same month, an additional district and sessions judge in Peshawar acquitted 12 men who had been accused of raping a schoolgirl in 1998. The men went free because the judge said there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction. The girl was not available to give testimony. In early 1998 this case hit headlines because government officials were named as the accused and the scene of the crime was reportedly the building of the NWFP home department.

The girl in Ankora killed herself before evidence could be collected. The young woman in Gujranwala was shot and killed before she could give evidence and in the last incident the evidence in the form of medical reports told conflicting stories: one said she had jumped from the home department’s building, and the other said she was assaulted. Disconcerting as the three cases described by Mahim Maker are, it is some consolation that the rapists in Dr Shazia’s case have been arrested and booked for the crime. Would the case serve as a trendsetter and keep misguided adventurers under check? Only if the law enjoys primacy in all State undertakings in Pakistan.
The government should ensure the wholesome change rather than choose to act selectively under mounting pressure.



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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
© 2004 . All Rights Reserved.