A few days ago in Pakistan, a mother was driving with her children on the highway near the metropolitan city of Lahore after midnight when her car ran out of petrol. She immediately called for help, first a relative and then the motorway police. The motorway police did not respond claiming that the location was outside their jurisdiction. While the woman waited for her relative with her car doors locked, two men appeared and broke a window before dragging her and raping her in front of her terrified children. They then robbed her and quickly left.
Unlike their neighbour India where gang rape is such a frequent occurrence that it has earned the country the dubious distinction of being the ‘rape capital of the world’ gang rapes in Pakistan are relatively rare. What is a frequent occurrence is the violence against women particularly in tribal areas where ‘honour’ punishments are often carried out to maintain tribal honour. Hundreds of women are victimised annually as a result of sexual harassment or abuse in the hands of their relatives or guardians.
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The incident drew a wave of condemnation across the country and people took to the streets in protest of what they perceived to be a lukewarm reaction to the grotesque event. The protesters were particularly incensed by the remarks of the police chief in Lahore who questioned why a mother of three travelling alone at night did not choose a “safer” road, and said: “If she had decided to travel via motorway, she should have checked her fuel tank because there were no petrol pumps on that route.” Lahore Police Chief Umar Sheikh then added that “no one in Pakistani society would allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late”, and that the victim who was a resident of France “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe”.
Shahbaz Sharif, a Pakistani politician who is the current Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of Pakistan and the brother of the former PM Nawaz Sharif rather than taking the opportunity to vent anger against the crime used it to highlight the fact that it was his brother Nawaz who built the highway.
Fortunately, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was not so gentle and expressed his anger towards the perpetrators by calling for a change in the country’s laws towards rape. In an interview on public TV Khan stated “I think he (the rapist) should be hanged publicly. Rapists and child molesters should have public hanging. You do not know the real statistics as well, because it’s underreported. People do not report it due to being scared or ashamed, women are ashamed, no one wants to tell.” But because public hanging would not be internationally acceptable, he suggested instead that rapists and child molesters “undergo chemical castration, or surgery be performed so they cannot do anything in the future.”
Rape is a crime that lingers long after the actual incident. The unwanted violation of a human body by another has long been condemned by civilised society and should not be taken as a light-hearted matter. The physical scars heal, but the mental ones may never be the same. To complicate matters sometimes rapes result in unwanted pregnancies which then tug at religious beliefs and abortions. It is a conundrum that no woman should ever have to face.
The victims who are often targeted as the instigators sometimes do not bother to report the crime for fear of public censure or of bringing dishonour to the family.
Jurist Mais Haddad reports that ‘some Arab societies call for a marriage to her rapist as a solution to this problem. This way her family needs not to feel dishonoured or, in many cases, the need to seek vengeance. Therefore, better than leaving girls shamed, unmarriageable and dishonoured or to be killed by their families or relatives the law protects the girls by forcing attackers to marry them. As a result, such a legal system legitimises rape if it was followed by marriage, rewards the rapist, and, in fact, allows him to continue his act.’
In Saudi Arabia, if a rape occurs and the perpetrator is found guilty without a shadow of a doubt by the courts, then he could be subject to capital punishment. Rape is not taken lightly here, and should not be taken lightly anywhere else.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena