MULTAN: Social media was abuzz on Wednesday with condemnation and calls for severe punishment after news emerged that a teenage girl was subjected to assault on the orders of a panchayat in the Muzaffarabad area of Multan district.

Police arrested 20 members of the panchayat, including four women, on Wednesday for allegedly ordering the rape of the 16-year-old as a punishment for the rape allegedly committed earlier by her brother.

On the directions of City Police Officer Ahsan Younas, the Muzaffarabad police registered an FIR under Sections 310A and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (giving a woman in marriage to settle a criminal liability and abetting a crime) against 27 nominated suspects who had allegedly ordered the rape.

The suspected rapists, however, are yet to be arrested.

According to a handout issued by the Multan CPO, the victim’s mother, Kaneez Mai, a resident of Rajanpur, filed a complaint on July 20, at the Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan, stating that three men had kidnapped and raped her daughter. However, investigations revealed that the rape had been ordered by a panchayat as ‘punishment’ for a rape committed earlier by Kaneez Mai’s son.

20 suspects taken into custody after the incident in Multan

According to another FIR registered under Section 376 of the PPC (pertaining to rape) on the complaint of Kaneez Mai, three men, including Rafique Ahmad and Hameed, forced entry into her house at around 2am on July 18, and took away her daughter. She said that she had begged them to spare her but they threatened to kill her if she tried to stop them. According to the complaint, the men took the girl to an unidentified location and raped her.

During investigation, the police learned that Kaneez Mai’s son had earlier raped the sister of the main suspect and the matter had been brought before the panchayat rather than the police. The panchayat allegedly ordered that the brother of the first girl could rape the sister of the rapist to settle the score.

Begum Mai, mother of the man who raped the second girl, then filed a complaint at the VAWC stating that on July 16, her daughter had gone out into the fields to cut some fodder for cattle when Kaneez Mai’s son raped her. She said that two other men — Rafique Ahmad and Fazal Ahmad — had caught him in the act and brought the rapist to her house. She said that her husband Haq Nawaz was not home at that time so they let the suspect go.

According to the complaint filed by Begum Mai, Haq Nawaz, accompanied by his relative Amin and Rafique Ahmad, later visited Kaneez Mai’s house and they mutually agreed on a settlement that involved watta satta (an exchange marriage). However, she alleged, Amin had decided that the matter would be settled by rape.

She said that Kaneez Mai had filed a complaint against her son after obtaining a medico-legal certificate and demanded that her daughter be examined as well.

Noor Ahmed, Kaneez Mai’s neighbour, told Dawn that the issue of the panchayat was being played up. He claimed that Haq Nawaz had wanted a woman from Kaneez Mai’s family to be married to his son Ishfaq. “However when Kaneez Mai’s family visited Haq Nawaz’s house, they were held at gun point...and his son raped the 16-year-old,” he said.

In 2002, Mukhtaran Mai was also raped in almost the same circumstances in Muzaffargarh near Multan on the orders of a panchayat.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2017