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‘Hudood Ordinance hangover plagues society’

‘Hudood Ordinance hangover plagues society’

  • Rape, right to privacy are not laughing matters: WAR

By Urooj Zia (Pakistan Today, 24 December 2010)

KARACHI: The insensitive handling of the coverage of a recent gang-rape case in Karachi has been condemned by several quarters concerned, including War Against Rape (WAR) and the Hurmat network, an alliance of organisations working for advancing, promoting and strengthening the ethical dimensions of work with survivor of violence.

“Unfortunately despite the increase in reporting of such cases, which show that the media and the state are beginning to recognise and acknowledge the gravity of the situation, the manner in which such cases are reported and handled still highlights the sadly patriarchal and misogynistic mindset of these groups,” members of the Hurmat network said. “It highlights the need for the code of ethics for media reporting, particularly with regards to gender-based violence.”

Instead of presenting news objectively, many media organisations that reported the case persistently referred to the survivor’s ‘character’, thus blatantly trying to imply that the women driving ‘so late’ at night from a location which they would ‘not divulge’ despite repeated questioning, were to blame or were at least in part involved in the crime that was perpetuated against them, they said. “This represents the age-old view that rape cannot happen without the consent of the woman and all women invite rape by their actions or behaviour,” members maintained. “The fact that their car was visibly damaged because of the forcible stopping by the other party and that one of the women needed 17 stitches, should allay any doubts that force was not involved. This, however, did not stop the media or government representative from hinting that the ‘facts’ of the case were still hidden.”

Senior police officers even went on to comment on where and how the women lived, members of the Hurmat network said, adding that how this had any bearing on the case was unclear. “All it did was insinuate that the women’s character was in question. We believe that how she lives and what she does have no importance or connection with the incident. Highlighting such details not only invades the private life of the women survivor but also undermines the criminality of the incident that took place; where, instead of the focus being on the accused or the crime, it is turned towards the survivor,” they said. “Moreover, there was complete insensitivity in the way the survivor was treated. When a government representation stated that the reason the woman did not want to speak to the media was that she ‘did not want budnami’ (infamy), several reporters laughed and said, ‘Mashallah’, as if a survivor’s right to privacy or dignity was a joke.”

Attitudes such as these place rape survivors in a very vulnerable position, they said, adding that in this vulnerable position, if state structures which are responsible for providing protection and justice are insensitive and biased, the chances of real punitive action against the perpetrators become negligible, leaving the burden of proving the crime on the survivor alone.

This statement was endorsed by WAR, whose director, Sarah Zaman added that even though laws on rape had changed in Pakistan, the police, legal fraternity and society in general seem to be “suffering from a Hudood Ordinance ‘hangover’ with every segment of society paying undue attention to details that have absolutely no bearing on the veracity of a case.” This, in effect, lays blame where it does not belong: on the survivor. “Blame-shifting, a legacy of the Hudood Ordinance, still looms large (although this is a world-wide phenomenon and not limited to our society),” she said.

This attitude, however, is not limited to government functionaries or the police or the medico-legal sector. “It also sadly permeates the civil society that is wary of cases that might present evidence contrary to what we consider to be moral or ‘fitting’ behaviour for the ‘second sex’,” Zaman said.

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