That reporting a rape is an arduous ordeal is a truth that resounds globally. When braving for police investigations, enumerating the ordeal in court and damaging stereotypical media representations become a norm then the argument for a pellucid approach becomes preemptory.
In 2006, a much-heated debate on the Hudood Laws revealed the anatomy of rape, conflicting legalities involving misinterpretations of Shariah Laws and the deeply engrained distorted public perceptions. For those who followed the debate, there should be no qualms in admitting that it made the inherent flaws in interpretations of the law and the systematic distortion of a society sensitive to violence and abuse evident.
The women protection bill implemented later that year made it possible for a woman to convict on the basis of forensic and medical evidence. Aimed at encouraging women to report the crime, which was deterred due to the farcical ‘four witness’ rule enforced by the Hudood ordinance, the act has been strongly opposed by Jamaat-i-Islami, whose activists and leaders continue to lobby against the act.
In a recent interview to a local news channel, Munawar Hassan of Jamaat-i-Islaami had the following to say:
Anchor: Why did you vehemently oppose the women protection act? Munawar Hasan: Women protection act was not aimed at protecting women instead it is meant to promote vulgarity and obscenity in the society. Anchor: What is the basis of your allegations? Munawar Hasan: On the basis of which we opposed the act. Anchor: The fundamental purpose of the women protection act was (is) to provide women with the right to file cases on the basis of circumstantial and forensic evidence, making convictions of rape easier. Where is the obscenity in that? Munawar Hasan: This bill has been part of law for years, how has that affected the rights of women in Pakistan? What is the one issue that can be pointed out as a success of this law? Anchor: One blaringly obvious problem with the Hudood law was the need to present four witnesses in order to convict a rapist, failure to do so resulted in the arrest of the woman on charges of confession to adultery, that was the main issue. Munawar Hasan: What is the problem in that? Anchor: The problem is this sir, that according to the 2003 national commission status of women report 80 per cent women were forced to languish in jails because of inability to produce witnesses of their rape. Munawar Hasan: The objective of Islam is to discourage such acts, no one can be shameless enough to commit such an act in the presence of four people. Making it impossible to prove such acts, therefore the whole idea is to discourage bringing such acts into public light. Discouraging it to the extent that the act is never quoted. If such a crime occurs and since there are no witnesses than both men and women are suppose to keep it under wraps and not discuss it in public. Anchor: Sir, are you suggesting that a woman should stay silent after she is raped? That she should not report the crime? Munawar Hasan: I am saying she should keep quite if she has no witnesses. If she has witnesses than she should present them. Anchor: What kind of an argument is that? A woman is raped and she has to look for witnesses to prove the crime? Munawar Hasan: Argue with the Quran and not me. Anchor: I am not questioning the Quran, I am questioning your argument.
As it becomes evident, Munawar Hasan makes up for the lack of substance in his argument by accusing the anchor of speaking against the word of God, he then goes thus far as asking the anchor to read the ‘kalima’ and declare his faith. The anchor concludes the argument by suggesting that Islamic laws pertaining to rape should be respected but in the presence of facilities such as forensic study we should not refrain from conviction.
This for me, defeats the purpose of the entire debate. Firstly because the interpretation of the Shariah law as per Munawar Hasan is neither derived directly from the Quran nor is it widely accepted. The Hudood ordinance is based on interpretations of certain scholars; it is neither a unanimously accepted interpretation nor is it logical.
Rape is a crime and criminals tend to prefer committing the crime without leaving evidence or witnesses. The idea of having four witnesses present at the time of rape is irrational and absurd. Can anyone in their right mind imagine witnessing rape and not doing anything to stop or even report it? If not by law than by conscious, would they not feel complacent? Rape is much more than forceful sex. It is a power game; it is a way to overpower the victim both physically and psychologically and derive pleasure out of it. To discourage rape victims from reporting rape is serving the predatory nature of the rapist.
Similarly, the callously flaunted idea that women use rape as a tool for popularity, fame, and money or simply to attack Islamic principles is devoid of logic. For all we know, taking a rapist to court in Pakistan can put you behind bars, after dealing with the severe moral policing of course.
The arguments and logic provided by Munawar Hasan for a vivid example of rape culture. To elaborate rape culture, it is prevalent practices by which despite the rampant increase in sexual violence, rape (and other forms of violence) is condoned, considered a norm or worse considered tolerable. The most powerful tool to propagate such a culture is through moral policing the victim and by reinforcing the ‘she was asking for it’ mindset. To validate and rationalize rape and (or) sexual violence needs a wide variety of beliefs that stem from an inherent misogynistic approach towards the social fabric.
Inconsistent application of law and moral policing the rape victim makes for a steady case for rape culture. Munawar Hasan isn’t the only practitioner and preacher of this culture, if we look at the way the accuser in Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of IMF, is being treated, one can be sure that rape culture is a globally adopted phenomena for which religion, moral, ethics or culture are mere ploys.
This is made much easier when done at the behest of religion and morals. The four witness rule as clear by all available translations and interpretations of the Quran is to be sought in case a woman is accused of fornication. The impossibility of four people witnessing the act was meant to make it tougher for the society to slander a woman. It is indeed heart wrenching to witness it being used to encourage violence against women and cultivate a culture of silence and shame.
I am not going to refrain from commenting on the interpretations simply because the Quran is meant and believed to be a book for guidance for all-alike — not just the scholars. Islam doesn’t preach a method of dependency, in fact the tone carried throughout the Quran addresses individuals directly, the entire concept is a spiritual and personal connection with God. Scholars are pursued to elaborate on various methods of law, but leaving them to impose their interpretations on us is faulty and damaging and works against the very principle of Islam. A faith that is threatened by introspection and one that is scared of evolution is fickle and convoluted.
Munawar Hasan is no ordinary politician; he is the Ameer of one of the oldest religious political party. For him to advocate the culture of silence and shame in the name of religion is a mockery of our beliefs. When we choose to allow scholars to use rhetoric to avoid questions we inadvertently become complacent If we choose to hold back our questions and remain silent in the face of such rhetoric we must brace ourselves to accept full liability of injustice to the victims of rape, all 2,903 of them.
Sana Saleem is Co-founder, Gawaahi.com and blogs at Global Voices, Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.