By Rafia Zakaria
Karachi, May 11 (Dawn): “You can’t clap with one hand,” one of the rapists in the notorious Delhi gang rape case had famously said after being convicted of rape and murder. This man, along with five others, had been found guilty of taking a young woman to the back of a Delhi bus one night in December 2012. The men raped the young woman inflicting injuries that were so terrible that the doctors, including those in Singapore, where she was sent for treatment, could not save her. A few weeks after the incident — after she had identified her assailants and given her statement — she succumbed to her injuries.
Last week, the Supreme Court of India upheld the death sentence handed out by a lower court to five of the men who had raped her. (One escaped the sentence as he was a juvenile at the time of the crime. He spent three years in a correctional facility.)
It was an unusual move, according to experts; lower courts in India routinely hand out death sentences but many if not most are overturned on appeal based on some technicality such as shoddy investigation by the law-enforcement authorities. So it was expected it would be the same in this case, some detail or procedural provision invoked to show ‘mercy’ to the men. The fact that this did not happen signifies that the highest court in India saw it necessary to uphold the worst possible punishment in a case so grotesque that it saw hundreds of protests across India and headlines around the world.
Across the border in Pakistan, little attention has been paid to the issue. Unlike the Indian Supreme Court, the higher judiciary in Pakistan has seen it fit to sentence convicts to death, even those who are mentally ill. In many cases, defendants have been executed even when there are problems with investigations and prosecutions. It is rape, and not the death penalty, however, that is the issue here. While India has imposed the highest punishment on these gang rapists, Pakistan has yet to take similar action in rape cases.
One relevant example is the 2002 case of the gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai. Like the woman in the Delhi rape case, Mukhtaran saw her assailants and was able to identify them and chose to do so. It wasn’t enough. As happens with so many cases in Pakistan, the case was pushed around on appeal from one court to another, in the mess of parallel jurisdictions that is the Pakistani judicial system. Initially, six men — the alleged rapists and those who were part of the panchayat that ordered her rape —were found guilty. Justice, it seemed, would be served, to a woman who had undergone the most horrific ordeal possible.
It was not, however, the end of the story. In 2005, five of the six men, who had been found guilty and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court, were acquitted by the Lahore High Court and the sentence of the sixth was commuted to life imprisonment. In 2011, an appeal to the Supreme Court against the high court verdict was rejected.
In an interview she gave to the BBC when the decision was announced, Mukhtaran said that the police had not recorded her statements properly. She said that she had lost faith in all Pakistani courts.
Most Pakistani women, particularly those who have had some encounter with the justice system, would likely agree. Like the convicted Indian rapist who alleged that the woman he raped and killed had only herself to blame because she was out at nine o’clock at night, most men here are used to blaming women for the abuse and harassment they suffer at the hands of Pakistani men. If a man beats his wife, it’s because she ‘made’ him, by refusing to acquiesce fast enough, or with enough submission and servitude, to his demands.
If a male professor harasses a female student, it’s because she dressed or looked or smiled in a certain way and so ‘deserved’ the treatment. If a boss harasses an employee, well, you ‘can’t clap with one hand’; it’s her fault for being in his employ, for working outside the home, for being present in a place where he can prey on her.
A border may divide India and Pakistan but this logic of ‘you can’t clap with one hand’ unites its men.
In the initial days after the Delhi rape incident, several newspapers commented on the fact that the men were not particularly big or burly and looked rather ordinary. It is an important and thought-provoking comment because it draws attention to the rapist in every South Asian man, sitting dormant and eager to grab an opportunity. In Delhi, that opportunity came when six men jointly decided to prey on an innocent female for the crime of being out at nine in the evening.
For others, it may come in other places, in empty offices or darkened corridors or silent streets. In a society where men are so unquestionably dominant and women grow up internalising this hatred towards them, the woman is always believed to be at fault; the number of rape cases and the lack of punishment for rapists simply prove the point.
In all other instances, military might or athletic achievement, rhetoric or regional influence, Pakistan and India try to outdo each other. In this instance, however, there will be no attempt to do that. India may have imposed the worst punishment possible on five of the rapists, but Pakistan will continue to ensure that its rapists go free. All the ordinary men, the ones who believe that women are asking for it simply by existing in the ambit of their predatory and sinister intentions, need not worry; in Pakistan no one will stop them, no one will get in their way.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.