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Four men rape 18-year-old teacher in name of tribal justice - Times, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Four men rape 18-year-old teacher in name of tribal justice by Zahid Hussain http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-346000,00.html Our correspondent reports
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2002
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      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
      official status.

      ?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
      tribal jury.

      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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