What would Mukhtar Mai be thinking right now? That's one question my mind is still asking me after around ten hours of the 'landmark' verdict made by the Superior Court of Pakistan in Mukhtar's case.
It was probably January this year when I got a message from Farzana Bari, a veteran human rights activist, to come to the Supreme Court for Mukhtar's moral support at the case hearing. Such was the environment of hostility that sitting there for more than ten minutes seemed the worst possible punishment. I saluted Mukhtar Mai for her resilience, patience, strength and forbearance. She had been facing it for almost a decade!
After the legal proceedings that span over a period of three years, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the earlier decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) whereby five of the accused were acquitted for lack of evidence while convicting one of them.
Gang raped in 2002 by local influentials after a decision by the village Panchayat, Mukhtar did not succumb to conventional conformity expected of a victim, especially a rape victim, in Pakistan. She made a hard choice: fight for justice, come what may. She did it despite all odds for the last nine years during which her case snaked through many crests and troughs.
The Anti Terrorist Court in Dera Ghazi Khan convicted six of the 14 men accused by Mukhtar of the gang rape, while acquitting eight of them in 2002. The conviction was challenged in a review petition before the LHC, which acquitted five of these six convicted men while upholding acquittal of other eight.
This was the time when the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) took it upon itself to assert its parallel authority over the judicial machinery of Pakistan, like it has routinely done whenever it came to the cases of violations of women's rights.
The most recent example was in December 2010 when it issued the judgment about four sections of the Women Protection Act which were brought under its jurisdiction from that of the Supreme Court. This tussle of jurisdiction between the two parallel systems of justice exacerbated itself in this case too, when in 2002 the FSC took suo moto action and in 2005, it overturned the LHC verdict whereby five men accused in Mukhtar's case were acquitted. The Supreme Court immediately took suo moto action in its own discretion against the convictions the same year.
This musical chair by the courts belonging to parallel justice systems turned out to be more than just the quest for justice. Those who have been witnessing the proceedings of the case over the years in court rooms of the apex court would bear me out on how derogatory and insulting an attitude Mukhtar Mai had to bear at the hands of not only defence counsel but of the Lordships too.
At every hearing, human rights activists would come out of the courtroom with heavy hearts and battered hopes for justice. All through these years, we have been sure of one fact, Mukhtar is going to be the loser in a justice system where worst of the terrorists get acquitted while elected prime ministers could get death sentence on scanty evidence and unproven charges. But a weak hope, in whatever shaky justice we could have in this case, kept us going.
Those who were present in the courtroom on the day of final verdict, another day of sheer embarrassment to Pakistanis – April 21, were shocked to see people (including a section of media) clapping after this horrible verdict. It is more than the complete breakdown of moral ethos in a society that overlooks heinous crimes against humanity while trumpeting its inflated sense of 'honour' when it comes to selective political issues.
Mukhtar Mai, a woman with an unusual character and determination, remains my hero forever. But there is something extremely grave to worry about. It's a complete erosion of faith in us as society, in our state as sovereign authority to prevent crime against my specie and in our judiciary as an institution that would dispense nothing but justice.
Just to remind you readers, we are a society that creates around 3,000 Mukhtars a year. A recent HRCP report informs, we raped 2,903 Mukhtaras in 2010 alone. We very successfully murdered 791 women in the name of honour. Where is the honour in raping and killing women? And where are those flowing beards and intimidating black robes that came out on streets in thousands for a murderer who assassinated Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer early this year?
Every woman of these 2,903 was not Mukhtar. Neither in terms of strength nor in terms of getting international lime light (which only helped Mukhtar in "speeding up" the process of "justice"). This year's balance sheet on Supreme Court's website tells some 1,443 criminal petitions were still pending at the Principal Seat, out of total 3,964 instituted. Of the disposed off petitions (2,521) only eight were human rights cases including rape and gang rape. Not a Pythagoras theorem to make out the number of rape cases that would be still pending before the courts of law. The number of Mukhtars we create but do not report in police-stations, could be even astounding had it been survey- able.
I wonder how anyone associated with this case would be sleeping after this "landmark" verdict. Would there be an internal review of our shaky justice system by the authors of ambitious National Judicial Policy? What would Mukhtar be like right now? What column would come out of that ghairat-infested columnist who reasoned our defeat in the recent World Cup Cricket semi-final as the result of our collective sins? Does this shameless show of insensitivity and moral impoverishment raise some eye-brows?
Well, only if our Ray-ed justice and Davis-ed honour could allow!
The writer is a right's activist and political commentator based in Islamabad.