By Aisha Sarwari
August 1, 2017
A 400-year-old Panchayat system is meant to protect only men. Men alone reap benefits from this system that operate out of the formal legal system of Pakistan. This is a system that proliferates male privilege. The same system made up of all-male village or tribe elders who make it up the ranks by their wife beating, philandering and social equity credentials often decides what calamity befalls women of this country. A particularly putrid one in Multan district decreed that a 16-year-old girl child is to be raped as a punishment for the rape her brother carried out.
This 16-year-old’s brother had earlier raped a 12-year-old girl while she was cutting grass in the field. Justice under the Panchayat system is based on a creed that commodifies and undermines women’s human dignity. It is based on a system that takes women’s consent away from them and places it securely in the hands of these tribal elders. It punishes men who transgress by punishing their women. ‘Their’ is the operative word. Women belong. Men own. Women are subservient. Men dominate. Women are victimised. Men victimise. Women have to be the honour of the man. A man can be dishonourable and have no harm fall on his own self. There is impunity for transgressions against women.
This time around though, the women did whimper a bit harder. Some noise was made because there was now a mechanism of noise. There was a Violence against Women Centre in Multan where the families of both these young raped girls registered an FIR. They had a grievance. The right to have a grievance was taken away from women before, and now under a new law, this is given back to women.
Revenge rape should technically mean that the man who raped a mere child should have been raped himself. In a misogynist culture like ours it means his sister, also a minor gets raped.
This tells us that for the Panchayat it is a more cruel punishment to the rapist to see his sister raped. Therefore, having your sister, so-called dishonoured, is worse than your own death.
The idea that women hold their own choices and reputation in their own hands is an alien concept. This is why when the Panchayat was grudged for doing what they did they were flabbergasted and unaware of where they had gone wrong. It is how it is always done: this was their defence. They knew no alternative universe because a woman is either a mother or a whore, with heaven at her feet or a fallen woman unworthy of a pulse. The space between these two extremes is unimaginable for these men.
There were reports suggesting that it was the women who implored the Panchayat to decree that the rapist’s sister is raped by a mass of men. This is painfully troubling on so many levels, if true. Women have been brought down over eons to a place where there is zero sympathy for their collective rights. They have been brought to a point of low self-esteem that they defer to the male code to function. They have outsourced their agency to the men, to their husbands, sons and fathers and to the Panchayat.
How do we unlearn this subjugation? How do we hold up our sense of womanhood and call a violation a violation? How do we recognise that we have a contract with the state and a crime against us is a crime against the state?
The Violence against Women Centres are a start. This is where these two girls are now sheltered. This is where the chief minister of Punjab may visit them. This is where they may receive justice. This is where they will find out that all perpetrators of this crime, including members of the Panchayat, will face up to 25 years of imprisonment or even a death sentence.
Will this be revenge for the rapes of these two girl children? Probably not enough to restore them to their original state psychologically, but it will be a start to send a sure message to this marred country that women are not property, they are equals to men.
This is a revolutionary idea for now — one that Panchayats will have to die to find out.