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The History of Rape in Pakistan

The History of Rape in Pakistan

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Growing up in the Indian Sub-Continent, we are taught that British India was partitioned on the basis of differing religious ideologies. Hindus didn’t want to be governed by Muslims and Muslims by Hindus, and the Sikhs, well, they weren’t given too much importance, but they were somewhere in the middle too. As is still the case in most areas of what now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, women were treated as war booty or cattle to claim rights over at the time of the war of independence. Reports vary, but it is said that approximately a hundred thousand women were raped during the time of partition. Sikh’s and Hindu’s raped Muslim women and Muslim men raped Hindu and Sikh women – all in a show of power.

Right before partition took place in August 1947, there were what we now know as the “Rape of Rawalpindi,” where Sikh and Hindu women killed their baby girls and then threw themselves into wells to avoid further “dishonor” or being raped. Women were bartered for the safety of families and some were killed by their kin, again, to protect the ‘honor’ of the family. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, more than two hundred thousand Bengali women and girls were sexually assaulted by the Pakistan Army and the religious militias.

In present day Pakistan, rape is still taboo and the feudal system still expects families to kill their daughters if they have been dishonored by rape. Stories, such as that of Kianat Soomro, will make the news and then whither away, much like the lives of those raped and their families. Kianat was brave enough to file a case against her rapist; but there are others who aren’t as brave. In 2012, out of the 2,713 reported cases of violence against women, some 302 were rape cases.

Cases such as that of Mukhtaran Mai in 2002, have brought the requisite attention to the lack of women’s rights in Pakistan. The Hadood Ordinance covered the law of rape and adultery in the same manner. Supposedly framed in accordance with Shariah (Islamic Law), the law stated that zina (unlawful sexual intercourse) would be punished with stoning to death or 100 lashes. The problem lay in proving rape – the a rape victim was required to bring four adult male eye-witnesses to the crime, barring which they would be liable under the law of qazf (slander), and be imprisoned – where they would likely be repeatedly raped by the police.

After years of struggle in Parliament, 2006 saw the advent of the Women’s Protection Act. This law brought the punishment of rape within the jurisdiction of the (supposedly secular) Pakistan Penal Code, and removed the requirement of four eye-witnesses. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan described the Act, in its 2007 report, as “farcical,” saying that it didn’t address discrimination against women, that it creates confusion between Islamic and civil laws, and that it gives “leeway to the judiciary to interpret the law in the most orthodox way.” However, it was a step in the face of ardent opposition in Parliament, coupled with the staunch disapproval of the Council of Islamic Ideology (a government body, responsible for advising the legislature on whether laws enacted or proposed are within the injunctions of Islam).

The Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) recently showed disapproval for another proposed legislative measure – use of DNA tests as evidence in a rape case. The CII wishes to revert to the requirement of four witnesses in proving rape, stating that such proof may only be used as primary evidence in a rape case. The delusion the CII suffers that leads it to believe that four witnesses are required to prove rape under Islamic jurisprudence, is a discussion for another day. Although the CII’s recommendations are not binding, they often hold sway in the legislature, and sadly, public perception. In the meantime, prominent politician Ms. Sharmila Farooqui, moved legislation in the Sind Provincial Assembly to make DNA testing mandatory in all rape cases, and the resolution was unanimously approved last week — again, a step.

But there are many such steps still lacking in the protection of women and their rights in Pakistan, where women and their “honor” are treated as the property of men – theft of which is punished by killing the women whose honor they were out to defend. These concepts have for long received falsified religious and cultural mandate, allowing them to not only exist, but flourish in places like Pakistan. Pakistan: the country that was formed amidst violence against women, but formed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who once said: “[n]o nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”

Jinnah also said, “[t]here are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.” It is this power that Pakistani women show each day, in the face of unmentionable violence against them, in the protection of the “honor” of their men.



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.