Silk Road: Gang rape, by court order
By ANWAR IQBAL, UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst
WASHINGTON, July 11 (UPI) -- Mukhtaran Bibi, 18, was at home, cleaning, when they came for her.
As a member of a weak ethnic group living amid a powerful Baluch tribe, Bibi knew that a call from a tribal council or jirga, particularly for a woman, means trouble. So she was not expecting her appearance before the council to be pleasant. Yet she could not have guessed the tragedy that was to befall her.
Bibi lives in the southern part of Pakistan's Punjab province, which is home to several Baluch tribes and borders the country's tribal belt.
The Mastois, who had summoned her to the council, are Baluch. Other residents of the area -- including Bibi's Gujjar caste of milkmen and herders -- are subservient to them. Gujjars, being the weakest in the area, are particularly vulnerable.
They are used to being insulted and ridiculed and are considered cowards by the warrior Baluch who only respect the equally ferocious Pashtun tribes that share the vast arid lands of northwestern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan with them.
It is a tradition in these areas that when a Baluch insults or harms a Gujjar, he does not even have to say sorry. But when a Gujjar makes the same mistake, he has to be punished. And more often than not, it is the female relative of an erring Gujjar who has to pay for his mistakes. The Baluch enjoy being pleaded to for mercy. But nothing strokes their ego better than a helpless woman throwing herself at their feet to seek forgiveness for her father, her brother or her husband.
Sending a woman to seek mercy is the ultimate humiliation for a family. It amounts to a public admission that they cannot protect their dignity and honor, as a woman is the ultimate symbol of honor for the family. And that's why a woman is dragged through the all-male tribal courts. The intention never is to do justice but to use her vulnerable position to disgrace her family.
Since the Gujjars and low status ethnic groups living with powerful tribes are not accorded the same status as, for instance, the more warlike Baluch or Pashtun, their women -- like their men -- are used to such insults.
So when Bibi left home on June 22, she took an oversize chador with her to cover her well before the all-male Mastoi tribal jirga. A big chador also comes in handy for throwing at the feet of the powerful tribal chieftains, a sign of seeking mercy. It wraps well around their feet and makes them feel good.
She also knew that she would have to plead hard if she wanted to save the life of her 12-year old brother, Shakoor Tattla. Shakoor, 12, was seen in the fields with a Mastoi woman.
"Probably, it was the woman who made the 12-year-old boy come to the field," says provincial Law Minister Rana Ijaz. He, and many others who later visited the area and spoke with the people, say the boy was simply sitting with the Mastoi woman when her relatives saw them. They were not doing anything that could have been considered objectionable.
But the sight of a Mastoi woman sitting close to a Gujjar boy in the fields hurt the egos of the Mastoi men. They shooed their woman away and took the boy to a room. And their egos did not feel good until they had sodomized him. Then they gave him a good beating, took him to the local police station and got him arrested for sitting close to one of their women.
But now that they were aroused, they wanted more. So they called the jirga where Bibi arrived wrapped in an oversize chador, doubtless hoping that this religious symbol would protect her.
It did not.
There were some people in the jirga who suggested that the Mastois had done enough. They had beaten up the boy, sodomized him, got him arrested and made his father pay $200 (a huge sum in rural Pakistan) for his release. And now that his sister had come and thrown her chador at their feet, they felt the family should be forgiven.
But forgiveness does not satisfy the aroused egos of the tribal chieftains. So by a simple majority, the jirga decided that justice would only be done if the girl were gang-raped by the Mastoi warriors.
"I kept pleading to them, saying that they had done enough. They have sodomized my boy, beaten him up and even got him arrested. They should not disgrace his sister now," says Bibi's father, Ghulam Farid, 54.
"I also told them that my son was too young to have sex, so he could not have done anything to their woman but nobody listened to me."
The jirga had other considerations. They had to demonstrate their tribal justice. So they ignored his pleas took the hapless girl to an adjacent room where four men took turns in raping Bibi while the jirga waited in the courtroom to ensure that their verdict is implemented in letter and spirit.
"I could not understand how it could happen to me in my own village where I grew up and lived all my life, where I had relatives and friends, even among the Mastois. But no one came to rescue me," says Bibi.
"I touched their feet. I wept. I cried. I pleaded them not to punish me for a crime I had not committed. But they tore my clothes and raped me one by one,"
It went on for two hours while Bibi's father and other relatives waited quietly in the courtroom for this ordeal to be over.
Once the Mastois had satisfied their egos, the girl was returned to her father and allowed to go home. Like many similar stories, this would have also ended there.
But Bibi was educated. She taught the Koran and the Urdu language to the children of the village, including many Mastoi children.
"I knew that our holy book does not allow such injustice. I knew that no religion and no law in the world could condone what had been done to me," she said.
So Bibi forced her father, who had accepted the punishment as the fate of a weak individual living among the powerful, to go to the nearby Multan city and contact journalists.
For once, the newspapers did a responsible job. Within hours, scores of newspapers across the country had the news on their front pages. The next day most of them also published editorials and commentaries on the tragedy, urging the government to catch the culprits and help the victim.
This caught the attention of the country's two most powerful men, President Pervez Musharraf and Chief Justice Sheikh Riaz Ahmad. Ahmad acted first and using his discretion ordered police to arrest the culprits and the police officers who, instead of arresting the culprits, had detained Bibi's brother, Shakoor.
He also ordered a trial in the federal capital, Islamabad, so that the powerful local tribes do not influence the proceedings. Musharraf sent one of his ministers to the area to help Bibi and her family. The minister gave her mother $8,000 and announced the establishment of a girls school in the village named after Bibi.
Musharraf also ordered the law ministry to send the case to an anti-terrorism court, which has the power to impose heavy sentences, up to and including the death penalty.
Meanwhile, international and Pakistani human rights groups formed a panel of prominent lawyers to help Bibi. They also urged the government to introduce reforms aimed at protecting women from such horrible tragedies in the future and let the people know that tribal councils had no legal jurisdiction and their verdicts cannot be implemented.
Responding to the government's pressure, police have arrested all the jurors who ordered the rape and all but one of the four rapists.
Copyright 2002 by United Press International.
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