Four men rape 18-year-old teacher in name of tribal justice - Times, UK
- Four men rape 18-year-old teacher in name of tribal
by Zahid Hussain
Our correspondent reports from Meerwala in southern
Punjab on the horrors of 'honour'
MUKHTAR MAI wept continually as she described how she
had been gang-raped on the orders of an unofficial
tribal jury as a punishment for her brother?s alleged
affair with a woman of a higher caste.
Wrapped in a brown shawl, the 18-year-old village
teacher told how her screams had been drowned by
laughter and jeers from a crowd of 500 people as she
was dragged into a mud house by gunmen. Inside she was
raped in turn by four men ? including one of the
members of the jury or jirga, a local court without
?I begged and pleaded with them, but they were like
animals,? Miss Mai said as she struggled to come to
terms with her suffering. ?One of them put a gun on my
head while the others tore up my clothes.? Her father,
a poor farm worker, and an uncle heard her cries, but
were helpless in the midst of hostile armed tribesmen.
It was around midnight when a battered Miss Mai
emerged, almost naked, from the house. The crowd
started to disperse as she crawled back to her home
few hundred yards away, helped by her father, Ghulam
For more than a week after the attack on June 22,
nobody took any notice of a crime that is seen almost
as routine in Pakistan?s backward tribal regions. Her
small, remote village lies in the feudal southern end
of Punjab province, where women are treated virtually
treated as chattels and often fall victim to tribal
The poor farmer could not dare to challenge the
powerful and politically influential tribal jury.
?They threatened us with dire consequences if we
reported the crime to the police,? Mr Fareed said. ?We
are poor people and cannot think of taking them on.?
Nevertheless, eventually the crime became national
news after a local newspaper reported it on June 30.
The police, who had tried earlier to cover up the
crime, finally acted, but it was too late. The main
accused ? including the members of the tribal jury ?
had already fled. Six people who abetted the crime
were arrested after the Punjab Government sacked the
local police chief.
The ordeal of Mr Fareed?s family, who belong to the
socially low Gujjar tribe, began when his 12-year-old
son, Abdul Shakoor, was accused of having an affair
with a 22-year-old woman of the higher-caste Mastoi
tribe. The boy was brutally beaten and locked up by
his alleged lover?s family, who said that their honour
had been offended and called for revenge.
?Our honour can only be restored after we disgrace one
of the boy?s sisters,? the family reportedly told the
Shakoor denied the allegation of having ?illicit?
relations with Salma Bibi, but his plea was rejected.
The jury, dominated by Mastoi tribesmen, ordered Mr
Fareed to produce one of his daughters. He had no
choice but to comply.
Miss Mai, the eldest of his five daughters who gave
Koran lessons to the village children, had agreed to
go with her father. ?I never thought that they will
give such a ruling,? she said.
?I am like your daughter and a sister. Don?t do this
to me,? she shouted as the jury passed the order. But
they would not listen. An elderly jurist joined two
brothers and a cousin of Salma in carrying out the
verdict. ?My life was destroyed after that
humiliation. I thought of committing suicide,? she
Yet the nationwide protest that has followed news of
the rape and the Pakistani Government?s promise to
take action has given her some ray of hope that she
might receive some justice. ?I want them to be
publicly hanged,? she said.
Tribal jirga, which continue to exist in many remote
and backward regions, do not have any legal sanction
in Pakistan, but they are used by tribal leaders to
maintain their influence.
The military Government has ordered tough action
against the police officers involved in the apparent
cover-up and failed arrests of the culprits. But the
villagers are sceptical that the main accused would
ever be punished.
Despite the Government?s instructions, the police are
reluctant to take action against the influential
feudal and tribal lords who have allegedly provided
shelter to the criminals. It has been reported that
the police are pressurising Mr Fareed and his daughter
to change their statements. ?We are not sure whether
the tribal jury could give such a ruling,? a senior
officer said when asked about the investigation.
While the police denied that any other similar
incident had taken place, the villagers said that the
use of gang-rape as a device to avenge ?the honour?
was quite common in the area. According to a report in
a local newspaper a young girl committed suicide after
she had been gang-raped.
There have also been reports of murder of a large
number of women, particularly in the tribal areas, in
the name of honour. There have been many cases in
which a woman was killed only on suspicion of having
had extramarital sex.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
has expressed concern over the increasing incidents of
crime against women. ?The gang-rape of a young girl as
a form of punishment presents an alarming picture of
the conditions in which so many women live and the
atrocities they face,? Afrasiab Khattak, the
commission chairman, said.
He said it was clear that such a crime could not take
place without the connivance of the local authorities,
especially the police. The commission has demanded the
immediate disbanding of all tribal jirgas.
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