MUZAFFARGARH: The beasts nurtured in the name of prompt justice were seen to be on the loose again after the surfacing on Thursday of an incident in which a panchayat was accused of ordering gang-rape of a 40-year-old woman in revenge for her brother’s alleged affair.
Witnesses said the woman, a divorcee, was stripped on the orders of a panchayat in Radiwala, a hamlet of some 30 houses located near Ihsanpur town about 80km from Muzaffargarh.
Amid public outrage following the reporting of the incident, six men were arrested out of a total of nine who had been accused.
The entire episode took place a week ago, on Jan 24. A villager, Majeed, sought the formulation of a panchayat after he accused a relative of his, Ajmal, of having an affair with his wife. The accusers cried revenge and forced Ajmal to bring his sister (F Bibi) to the site where the panchayat was held the same day.
Police and witnesses said the panchayat hearing lasted for 10 minutes. The panchayat leader, identified as Nawaz, sentenced F Bibi to be raped by the men from the aggrieved party. F Bibi was taken to a room where a man belonging to the complainant’s side stripped and hit her.
The case was as good as settled, says Ajmal, whose alleged affair had brought it all upon his sister, and he had around him men ready to second him.
“The dispute ended peacefully,” a villager, who gave his name as Akram, told Dawn in Radiwala on Thursday.
“Both the parties are from the same family and nobody felt the need to go to the police.”
If this wasn’t a strong enough display of family bonding in the face of a probe, F Bibi herself was there to deny ‘rape’ and show her concern for her relatives who were now on the run just because the incident had come to light.
Silence ruled Radiwala on Thursday afternoon. Most of the houses, small ones and two-room units, were locked. Only a few villagers, all men, and dozens of media reporters were around.
One of the men accused of the assault admitted F Bibi’s clothes were torn and she was slapped. But this to his mind did not construe rape. “There was no rape,” he maintained.
The reluctance of the ‘affected’ party and the villagers in Radiwala was in sharp contrast to the protests all over Pakistan against the public humiliation of a woman. Voices were raised against the state’s and the society’s failure to come up with an effective system against the occurrence of the inhuman panchayat practices in the name of instant justice.
The incident brought back memories of the Mukhtar Mai gang-rape order passed and carried out in the same Muzaffargarh district in the year 2002.
Mukhtar was there to condemn the Radiwala incident on Thursday, telling a news channel this could have been avoided had justice been done in her case.
The incident occurred in the jurisdiction of Daira Din Panah police, who arrested six of the nine accused by Thursday evening. Cases were registered under sections 354-1, 365B, 376, 511 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice soon after the incident was reported on the electronic media and District Coordination Officer Farasat Iqbal and District Police Officer Usman Akram Gondal were on the spot to investigate.
The DCO confirmed to Dawn a local panchayat had been held and F Bibi had been ordered thrashed and stripped.
Station House Officer Daira Din Panah Mohammad Ramzan Shahid said the affected party did not appear interested in pursuing the case, even though he gave no reason for their reluctance.
The SHO said the police had arrested six men while another three were at large.
Dr Nusrat Rehman, who conducted the medical examination on F Bibi, told Dawn the woman “was not raped”, apparently following a definition which requires something ‘more grievous’ than stripping and physical assault for it to be called ‘rape’.