Foreign Policy Blogs

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.

  • Anjaan

    @ Sahar Said,

    You have completely mixed up two issues.

    1. Lust as the reason for rape, is one thing. 2. Rape due to religious hatred is an entirely different thing.

    Statistics on how many Hindus and Muslims were rape victims of religious hatred, is not available, therefore either side may adopt ” holier than thou” attitude and get away with that.

    However the history of the sub continent is replete with incidents of the women folk the vanquished Hindu kings committing mass suicide to avoid being looted by the Muslim conquerors. A more recent instance of large scale mass rape is the one committed by the supporters of the Pakistani army in 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

    It is interesting that a Pakistani has raised the issue, in the context of the sub-continent. The religious angle of mass rape is an area worth researching.

    • Muhammad Abbass

      Rape is not permitted in Islam, not against ANYBODY! There are false Muslims, people who pretend and maybe even believe they are Muslims but if they commit such sins as rape and murder which are forbidden in the Holy Quran, they have lost their Islam and are vile sinners in the eyes of Allah and other Muslims. What we are actually seeing in your post is your own bigotry and hatred which you support by offering selective history and by pretending criminals from any culture somehow represent the culture with their crimes. I have had ample opportunity to look at the situation on the sub-continent since I travel there for a couple of months every year and my wife is Pakistani. When it comes to rape and disrespect towards women, India is way out in the lead over Pakistan. The chance of an unaccompanied female being raped in Pakistan, especially if she is visiting, is virtually zero. Security here in Perth, Western Australia isn’t even close to as good for women’s safety.
      Meanwhile India has risen to prominence precisely because it would appear to be the most dangerous place on earth for unaccompanied women, or indeed even couples in some instances since gangs of Indians have been shown to be unafraid of attacking a couple and raping the woman and beating the man. In fact given India’s reputation and history of rape and by the way honour killings much more common in India too, that I’m surprised any of you would be so stupid as to dare and try to point the finger at anyone else.

      Now my boy, I will add that I am not for a moment abrogating Pakistani responsibility for a very poor treatment of women. My wife and I had to elope since we married for love and honour killing was not far behind her as we ran. When we did in fact get grabbed before we could get out of the country, Sharia law defended our right to marry, since a girl in Islam can marry whomever she wants even if her guardians do not agree so long as he is a worthy Muslim, able to support her as she is accustomed and her choice. Thus when we faced a situation which is due to shared culture between both sides of the border and which often ends in tragedy especially in India, namely arranged marriages and family “honour” it was our religion which defended us against your shared South Asian bestial attitudes. Being good Muslims, my wife’s family soon got over it and we are very close today. There isn’t much in the HIndu religion (religions since it is really an agglomeration) to protect women from honour killings by comparison.

      • BalramRules

        That’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, no true scotsman would commit rape, no true scotsman would do this, the Scottish people do not allow it.
        Muhammad himself was a rapist, he raped Aisha when she was 6 years old against her father’s wishes. Stop lying to yourself.

        • Muhammad Abbass

          That is a ridiculous attempt to equate two different things. A Scotsman is so because of his birthplace and no law except maybe treason can deny his Scottishness. There is no belief or action he could take which would exclude his right to be a Scotsman. The difference is that Islam is a rigid and well defined religion. Albeit there exist many debatable issues within it’s doctrine, there do yet exist certain basic and undeniable rules of conduct which if breached mean you no longer are actually a Muslim or you simply cannot be in the first place. Of course that is a loose term. If raised in an Islamic culture, and despite being seen as a non practicing Muslim by his peers and thus NOT a Muslim. However he would be seen as a Muslim in another place just because he performed certain basic ablutionary functions and used certain common phrases which though islamic do not make one a Muslim for using them. In the same way any Westerner who visits the East is assumed to be a Chriostian and will be introduced as one and discussed as one in his absence whether or not he ever went in a church in his life or even believes in God. There are certain things that Muslims disagree about, and actually this is permissible, but there are certain other basic things which are not debatable and these define a Muslim. The sad truth is that many who think they are Muslims, are not. As far as rape is concerned, it IS NOT PERMITTED in Islam and a Muslim who does it commits a sin. True he is not rejected as a Muslim by society for it but he is rejected by Allah as a Muslim, which is all that counts.

        • Talha Yousuf

          mind your language, you’re raising false claims on A PERSONALITY well respected.Don’t talk without information.Sacred is every religion and every SACRED should be respected.

        • Abdullah Sajid Jassal

          I’m gonna fuck you so hard. Even your Ram and Krishna or Hanuman wont be able to save you so you better mind your fucking language.

          • BalramRules

            Those are big words coming from a 12 year old.

          • Bwana

            What has “Scotsman got to do with this” If you are trying to impress us that you have read English books and idioms you are failing miserably. And stop shaking your head like a low down puppet.
            You clearly have a deranged and Hindu version of the history. No where in any records is what you stated true. Prophet Muhammed was categorically that no one was to consummate with a girl unless she attained puberty which was at that time accepted as the girl being ready to bear children. Go check your Hindu priests who upto now get girls at 3 years and then use them sexually well before puberty…these poor girls have no choice they consider it their religious duty to get abused and used all in the name of religion.

          • Bwana

            Haha shaking because a 12 year old threatens you….typical…run to mummy…

        • Sbka baap mughal

          Balram chutiya
          Teri behan k no de aur teri beti k i want to fuck

  • Ash

    Bangladesh war is grossly exaggerated see sharmila bose expose on the lies about atrocities and rape etc. as far as slating pakistan and it’s problems, they pale in comparison to the rape capital of the world, india, westeners, Dalits, shudras, Naxalis daily humiliations

  • Kartikeya Chauhan

    Fuck rapists and respect rape victims

    sorry behen