THE alleged gang rape of a young girl, reported to be a minor, in Lahore in late December has drawn the usual — and for some still the most shocking — reactions.

In more recent days, a relative of the victim claimed that the girl had attempted suicide because of the pressures that she had come under during the police investigation of her complaint.

On the other hand, lawyers of the accused — who include a man said to have held office in the PML-N youth wing — have called for a fair trial.

There have been some reports doing the rounds in the media that either do not tally with the facts confirmed by police or that are one-sided. Apparently, some of the stories in the media amount to an attempt at influencing the probe. We are, sadly, once more hearing painful remarks about how the powerful can — and will — escape the clutches of the law.

One again we are witnessing society’s tendency of subjecting a rape complainant to the cruellest of inquiries. These are genuine concerns and cry out for the imposition of the unwritten code dictated by a most basic principle: respect for human dignity.

This critique of the role of the media, of the influential politicians trying to absolve their party of blame, and of society in general has drawn the usual round of vows about the dire need for corrective measures.

But the danger is that all these promises of restraint are going to lose out to a hard-to-suppress urge to protect, report and comment.

There is as yet not sufficient evidence around to inspire hope that the demands for fairness by all parties will not go unheeded.

There is surely a need for civil society to counter the urge to resort to the sensational through debate and popular censure. The government still has a bigger role. This is as good a time as any for the government to display its commitment to investigate without fear or favour.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2016

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