Gujjarpura gang-rape case: How can women be protected in Pakistan?

The woman, a resident of Gujranwala, was ganged raped at the motorway on Tuesday night. Some people are demanding public hangings for the rapists. GVS News Analysis features experts’ opinions on how to end violence/crimes against women in Pakistan.

motorway incident

Law enforcement authorities have launched an extensive investigation into the Gujjarpura gang rape case with at least 20 teams led by the DIG Investigation Lahore probing the matter to ensure the culprits are brought to justice sooner rather than later.

A police official on Thursday afternoon relayed that investigators have collected important evidence, including DNA samples, from the crime site. CCTV footage of the area has also been obtained with geo-fencing conducted, he added.

Public intellectuals and academics are discussing some fundamental questions related to the harassment of women and increasing rape cases in Pakistan. Some are demanding public hanging for rapists, and others suggest a comprehensive socio-legal mechanism to counter-violence.

Meanwhile, IG Punjab Inam Ghani said in a statement that the police will not sit idle until the culprits are arrested. Undertaking measures to avert incidents of sexual abuse of women and children is one of the police’s foremost priority, he added.

Woman raped in Lahore

An unidentified woman, a resident of Gujranwala, was traveling on the motorway near Lahore when her car ran out of petrol in the Gujjarpura area on Tuesday night. She waited for her husband and called the Motorway Police’s emergency helpline 130 for help.

While she was stranded on the road, two unidentified persons from the nearby area approached the car and forcefully brought the woman out of the vehicle and allegedly raped her in the nearby fields. She said she was also deprived of Rs1000,000 cash, and other valuables by the culprits.

How to end violence against women?

It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan has passed several laws to protect women across the country. But data shows that rape cases are increasing with the passage of time despite the presence of a legal mechanism of protection. Experts now suggest looking into Pakistan’s social order to evaluate if it would welcome any law which heavily negatives some social values and cultural beliefs.

Although in the province of Punjab, a law, The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2015, has been passed, yet there are numerous cases of violence against women in the province.

According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the number of honor killings in the country between June 2017 and August 2018 stood at 737. The total number of such murders since the organization started keeping records in 2016 stands at 15,222. Honor killing has become almost a norm in many parts of Pakistan where women are treated as a commodity and whose sole responsibility is to be submissive guardians of men’s honor and ego.

Rafia Zakria, prominent academic and columnist, observed in this regard that “the truth of the matter, whether any wrongdoing was actually done, is almost irrelevant; the power of the community, exercised through the ruling of jirgas and panchayats (which are tribal councils made up of community elders and other strongmen) is front and center. A community that can police its own, those who have invited questions or controversy, is a strong community, the thinking goes. In this battle, the laws passed by the federal government criminalizing such murders go up against the traditional and communal mores of a village or clan or tribal group.”

Read more: Mahwish Arshad’s case: Violence against women is a demonstration of power

‘Rape is a demonstration of strength’

Experts and researchers suggest that in Pakistan’s social setting, like many other developing polities, is a complex and rigid concept of power. Violence against women, like rape, is a demonstration of power and strength. It should, therefore, be considered from a sociological perspective which helps to understand the context in which these incidents take place. If a girl, for example, refuses a marriage proposal of a man or any other demand for any stated or unstated reasons she, by doing so, insults the man and hurts his ego.

Dr. Zakria, while proposing the solution, argues that “the answer, perhaps, lies in changing the debate and acknowledging that trickle-down feminism is not working to end honor crimes. If communities are clinging to these horrific practices as a means of highlighting their continued power against a modernizing world, then the way ahead may hinge on change at the community level, involving the very people who are now wielding power in tribal jirgas and other grassroots justice mechanisms”.

Analysts believe that by developing a comprehensive mechanism of conflict resolution may help Pakistan to get rid of it. Prominent TV anchor and columnist Dr. Moeed Pirzada offered an interesting solution in an article he wrote almost two years ago.

Read more: Has Asma’s case exposed patriarchal predominance?

“Police, local political elite and lower judiciary – most of whom themselves are convinced of the value of ‘honor’ — need to be trained to understand these conflicts in the context of modernity and to be able to help institutions like Dar-ul-Amman, local councils and government approved local bodies to find solutions. In most cases, these negotiations to find acceptability for situations that are locally unpalatable can take weeks or months and intervening layers of institutions have to be trained for that. This is what their capacity building is about. And perhaps most importantly media and educational institutions need to change the narrative; with the help of celluloid and books we need to spread the message around that young adults have the right to make their choices in love – and this includes the right to make painful blunders. And there is no family ‘dishonor’ in matters of the heart,” he argues.

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