LAHORE: “It was one of the most saddening experiences when I saw her lying on the hospital bed, most of her body burnt,” says Mukhtaran Mai, in an interview with Dawn. Her voice thickens with tears but she swallows them back.
‘A’ was a student of first year and a resident of Meerwala as is Mukhtaran. After she had filed the FIR, she found out that one of her ‘rapists’ were set free on bail. Mukhtaran alleges the investigating officer was bought for Rs70,000.
“She first came to me two days after the incident, asking for help. I offered her shelter at my home for survivors of sexual harassment but she refused the offer, saying she wanted to stay with her family.
My team and I were with her throughout but after learning what the police had done, she was shocked.”
Mukhtaran said her team’s psychologist kept explaining to her not to lose heart because these things took time and that the case was yet to go to court. But like many other young women who are left confused, depressed and angry, ‘A’ was impatient.
And when she went to the police station again, the officer involved hid himself in his room, not appearing and she doused herself with a bottle of petrol and set herself on fire.
The Nishtar Hospital in Multan where she was admitted announced her to be in a precarious condition with 80pc burns and she succumbed to the burns on Friday. But was it really burn injuries that killed her or it was the level of injustice that women in the country have to face everyday?
Even the Punjab government seems to have taken its time to respond.
On Friday, women’s rights activists protested in front of the Punjab Assembly to show their anger at the Muzaffargarh police and insisted that the Punjab government should itself take action and do some research as to why number of crimes against women was on the rise in the province. They demanded that the accused, including police officer involved, must be dealt with strictly.
In a press statement, Zohra Yousuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was common knowledge that only the courageous rape survivors in the country took the matter to police or court.
“It leads to only one conclusion: she had become convinced that she would not get justice. It is sad and ironic that only a week after celebrating the International Women’s Day with such fanfare the state and its justice system have let a woman down so brazenly.”
Meanwhile, Mukhtaran Mai, who herself is a rape survivor, says that problems are deep rooted and many.
“The problem starts with the government and police and ends with the judiciary but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The concept of sexual harassment does not seem to exist in Pakistani society. Men look at women as mere commodities.”
Referring to her own case, she says: “It takes a lot of consistent courage to face the men who have assaulted you.
Sometimes when I get out of the school, I see those men in front of it, sitting under a tree and when I go past them, they comment and whistle at me. But women cannot go on living in fear.”
Psychiatrist Dr Nazia says rape leaves a feeling of hopelessness and paranoia which is exacerbated with the lack of justice in the country’s judicial and police systems.
“The mentality of the rapist is not normal. He yearns to exert his power and male dominance sexually. This mentality cannot be changed in an individual but only through collective change.”
Incidents of rape in the country are far from falling. Statistics presented to the Senate in October 2013 showed that about 10,703 rape cases were registered in Pakistan since 2009.
These were only the ones which were reported. Most cases occurred in Punjab and experts believed that this might be only because of a higher population.
However, Mukhtaran Mai is of the opinion that huge supporters of the “rape-friendly” culture in Pakistan are the ‘Biradari’ and feudal systems.