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Justice for Mukhtaran Mai

PAKISTAN: Mukhtaran Mai and the miscarriage of justice

Daily Times: Dr Haider Shah

In Pakistan, our social norms are of tribal and feudal times but our laws are based on the British legal system. No attempt has been made by our jurists and legislators to address the discord between the laws and social reality.

The Supreme Court (SC) judgment in the world famous Mukhtaran Mai case has come as a shock to all those who had conveniently believed that the restoration of the judiciary alone would result in the supremacy of law in Pakistan. Unlike many others, I do not, however, cast any aspersion on the judiciary for acquitting the accused. The honourable SC decided the case on the basis of the evidence made available to it. We are disappointed with the outcome but it would be equally disturbing if we expect the courts to decide cases on the basis of popular perceptions alone. Let us admit that the court’s verdict was not about an insignificant woman from rural Punjab. In reality, it was an indictment of the whole society. While the accused walk free, all of Pakistani society, with its norms and values, stands embarrassingly naked in the full glare of the international community.

For me, the Mukhtaran Mai case is yet another case of ‘miscarriage of justice’. This phrase is ordinarily used to refer to cases where the accused are wrongfully punished. It is, however, also used to mean the reverse, i.e. ‘errors of impunity’ situations in which victims fail to get justice and perpetrators of the crime go scot-free. In published literature, miscarriage is often attributed to the systemic bias in the judicial system. For instance, in many miscarriage cases involving black people, the racist bias of white judges has been cited as the influential factor. Recently, some feminist scholars in the UK have opined that the gender makeup of the judiciary is also a potential source of bias. To me, this is a very restricted notion of miscarriage as bias creeps into the judicial system from socio-religious channels as well. In Pakistan, we have many examples where the miscarriage of justice has occurred due to the religious views of the judges or the external pressure on them.

When societies are faced with extraordinary situations they respond by both legislative and capacity building measures. For instance, when the US and the UK were hit by terrorist attacks they responded by special anti-terrorism laws that, besides other things, also enhanced the detention powers of police. They also came up with a new doctrine, i.e. ‘high policing’, where the police are actively engaged in intelligence gathering and dismantling operations against prospective terrorists. In Pakistan, our social norms are of tribal and feudal times but our laws are based on the British legal system. No attempt has been made by our jurists and legislators to address the discord between the laws and social reality. The panchayat and other tribal and feudal modes of parallel justice systems exist and operate in our country in violation of our constitution. Except paying lip service, what have we done to dismantle them so far?

Our laws are made for a society that is based on the rule of law and where individualism reigns supreme. Since that society is non-existent, our whole legal edifice is working on a fictitious basis with disturbing consequences. The law declares that sanctity of life is guaranteed under Article 9 of the constitution. Mr Israrullah Zehri, however, thunders on the floor of the Senate that killing women in family honour cases is part of their tribal culture. He is then rewarded with a ministry by the government that champions equal rights for women. When a lady doctor is raped in Balochistan, the whole establishment gears up to silence the murmuring voices of anguish. In such a society, why do we expect that the courts will fight the battle for us on all fronts while we complacently sit idle? When a foreign murderer walked free under the law of diyat, we spouted all anger over the court and government. We have developed a habit of remaining inert and accepting a legal structure and then fuming when the inadequacies of the system become apparent.

The Mukhtaran Mai case may prove to be a blessing in disguise if it arouses our slumbering national conscience. In India, the Jessica Lall case shocked the nation when a young barmaid was shot dead at a party and the killer walked free as nobody came forward with evidence. Indian civil society rose to the occasion and galvanised a strong public opinion, which resulted in the conviction of the murderer. The Mukhtaran Mai case emphasises the need for revamping our criminal justice system. Laws addressing the ground realities, an informed community, a capable police system and a sound independent judiciary are the four pillars of a good justice system. On the legislation side, new evidence laws need to be framed in cases of crimes against women and terrorist activities. The anti-terrorism laws need further strengthening via consultation with field officers. The police need to enhance their capacity by making advances in the field of forensic investigation.

The role of the media in cases like Mukhtaran Mai leaves much to be desired. In the western media, investigative reporters often carry out sting operations exposing perpetrators of crime and fraud. Our media persons devote most of their time and energy on easily acquired juicy stories about politicians. They could have helped the case of Mukhtaran Mai if they had professionally conducted an investigative operation and unearthed the whole facts. They only burst into national hysteria if the accused happens to be a foreigner. They need to realise that society suffers more if the rule of law is breached by locals with impunity.

In the famous Indian movie ‘Damini’, a macho hero, Sunny Deol, rescues the hapless woman who challenged the tyranny of a rotten evidence based criminal justice system. In the real world, unfortunately no such heroes would appear. Our Daminis, Mukhtarans and Shazias will have to wait till society itself turns heroic and decides to rescue them.

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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Pakistan: Silence has become the mother of all blasphemies

Mohammed Hanif, Guardian

Two months ago, after Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder and the jubilant support for the policeman who killed him, religious scholars in Pakistan told us that since common people don’t know enough about religion they should leave it to those who do – basically anyone with a beard.

Everyone thought it made a cruel kind of sense. So everyone decided to shut up: the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP) government because it wanted to cling to power, liberals in the media because they didn’t want to be the next Taseer. The move to amend the blasphemy law was shelved.

It was an unprecedented victory for Pakistan’s mullah minority. They had told a very noisy and diverse people to shut up and they heard back nothing but silence. After Pakistan’s only Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti – the bravest man in Islamabad – was murdered on Tuesday, they were back on TV, this time condemning the killing, claiming it was a conspiracy against them, against Islam and against Pakistan. The same folk who had celebrated one murder and told us how not to get murdered were wallowing in self pity.

In a very short span of time, Pakistan’s mullahs and muftis have managed to blur the line between what God says and what they say. The blasphemy law debate was about how to prosecute people who have committed blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. Since repeating a blasphemy, even if it is to prove the crime in a court of law, is blasphemous, no Pakistani has a clear idea what constitutes blasphemy. Taseer had called the blasphemy law “a black law” and was declared a blasphemer. The line between maligning the Holy Prophet and questioning a law made by a bunch of mullahs was done away with. What would come next?

During the last two months sar tan se juda (off with their heads) has become as familiar a slogan as all the corporate songs about the Cricket World Cup. Banners appeared all over Karachi and Islamabad last week demanding death for a Pakistani writer. The only problem is that nobody quite knows what she has written. Her last book came out more than eight years ago and, if it wasn’t so scary, it would be ironic that it is called Blasphemy. It was a potboiler set mostly in religious and spiritual leaders’ bedrooms. The banners condemning her say that not only she has insulted the prophet, she has insulted religious scholars.

So now disagreeing with anyone who has a beard and armed bodyguards can get you killed. The PPP government has tried to appease this lot by silencing the one-and-a-half liberal voices it had. What it didn’t realise is that you can’t really appease people who insist their word is God’s word, their honour as sacred as the Holy Prophet’s. In Pakistan, silence is the mother of all blasphemies. Most Pakistanis are committing that blasphemy and being punished for it.

Mohammed Hanif is a journalist and author of the novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes

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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Protests by religious clerics

Asia Bibi, in their view, has committed a crime-blasphemy- which cannot be forgiven. And because in this country they are running the show and we are forced to believe that their judgment is right. Holy Prophet (PBUH) is a name big enough that does not need these defenders, and also sacred enough that even no blasphemy, if ever committed, can do any harm to it.

Let’s have a look at these pictures..

Pakistan's Muslim community protest against changes to the Blasphemy Law for insulting the Prophet Muhammed. Hyderabad, Pakistan. 24/12/2010.


Pakistan's Muslim community protest against changes to the Blasphemy Law for insulting the Prophet Muhammed. Hyderabad, Pakistan. 24/12/2010.


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Posted by on December 25, 2010 in Uncategorized


Power of women: Wise project

Human beings are blessed with immense potential and abilities to achieve impossible. But life teaches us that path to success through pain, suffering, hardships and hard work. Time leaves scars, but heals the wounds. There has been a rise in violence against women, and rape is the most heinous crime that not only cripples their life but also shatters their confidence. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are not just common in all over the world, but poison the lives of thousands of women. There are two approaches to deal with such problems: firstly, the societies should take such measures to stop such crimes; secondly, if they take place then what should be done for those victims? Following story is based on ideas how to help such women in restoring their confidence.

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: The WISE women of Karachi

WISE — Women’s International Shared Experience Project – travelled
to Karachi, to work with women from throughout the Sindh area who have
been raped, sexually assaulted or domestically abused.

9 women spent 14 days living together and receiving training in video
production. Some of the women could not read or write and their
confidence had been stripped away from them as a result of the abuse
they had faced.
Through participatory learning activities — a practice based on the
writings of Paulo Friere <>
— and the use of symbols and touch, the women were able to make a
documentary, which tells the story of the women of Pakistan. The women
not only planned and filmed the documentary, but also edited it — not
a small task for those in the group who had never touched a computer

The resulting documentary is a unique look at the issues addressed
through the eyes of women who have faced or who are still facing human
rights abuses against them each day.

The video has been split into two parts, so that we could upload them
in Pakistan — due to ISP restrictions. Please take a look at them

The WISE project will now travel to Jakarta to work with women who
have been infected with HIV – either through drug use or through

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Posted by on August 3, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Why we have Children of a Lesser God

I dedicate this blog to all those voices unheard anywhere in the world. To begin my journey of hearing the pathos, I choose to let my eyes see what most people loath to see; to feel what they are ashamed of admitting even in the darkest of the nights; and to fight against what stands so apt and right for them. Hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis have been sacrificed in the interest of keeping the popular religion alive with a clear imagination of who could own this country– not all for sure.

The tales of persecution of minorities in Pakistan could not grab the fancy of fairy tales, but leave a horror to recall. Let alone Christians, Hindus, but people from other sects are witnessing discrimination, hatred, and all sorts of violations that have left them with a strong sense of alienation.

Article 27 of” International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” says:

“In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Pakistan has recently signed the instrument of ratification and awaiting the approval from the cabinet.

Not only this, Pakistan is a signatory of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which binds all states to respect basic human rights of citizens.

Article 2 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Despite of all these international declarations, Pakistan could not commit anything to its citizens and all the governments hide behind the shield of religion and succumb to the pressure the religious political parties exert.

No one gives anyone this right to judge any citizen on the basis of creed and beliefs. Who are we to decide what people from other beliefs deserve as the citizens. Secular was the foundation of this country, which could not be maintained throughout these years.

I believe, to some extend, we all fall in the same category—minority—either religious in front of a majority group, or social stung by classes. It may appear a small effort to hear those feeble and unheard voices but it is a reply to the unjust and insensitive attitude of this society towards the groups with dissenting voices and beliefs.

Lets all make a conscientious effort towards having a tolerant society above all religious, cultural and social prejudices.

I believe, to some extend, we all fall in the same category—minority—either religious in front of a majority group, or social stung by classes. It may appear a small effort to hear those feeble and unheard voices but it is a reply to the unjust and insensitive attitude of this society towards the groups with dissenting voices and beliefs.

Posted by on June 19, 2010 in Uncategorized


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