A lot of men in conservative societies often say feminist social media movements are not suitable. They say societies like Pakistan cannot live out these online movements because they propel foreign notions of gender equality. That these #metoo-esque efforts are for women who are unhinged, and here, thankfully women are not that out of control. They also say if women have grievances against men, take them to court.
It baffles me how Pakistan’s justice system is quoted as a go-to solution for women – the same one that acquitted 4 out of 5 of Mukhtara Mai’s rapists in 2011. Mukhtaran Mai’s 2002 case shook not just the country but also the world, in its callous disregard for women’s rights. Mai was gang raped then paraded naked on the orders of a local justice system called a Jirga to avenge her brother’s misdemeanor. What can one do to call out an outdated and backward system ruled practically on a 1,500-year-old ethos, that treats women as cattle? Nothing. One can, however, expect a different course from a system armed with Ivy-League-educated judges and their expansive law credentials.
When rapists walk away with a victory sign on their fingers, one can expect that murderers will too. Yes.
Shah Hussain, the alleged culprit in an attempted murder of a woman named Khadija put it very succinctly after the Lahore high court ruled that he is innocent. He said the case against him was on the premise: I am dead, I destroyed and I am mugged. In other words, he said that women like her have no proof in court except their fragile sense of victimhood. Thankfully, he said the law of Pakistan doesn’t work that way.
Frankly who has time to entertain the victimization of women violated by men? Not the go-to judiciary, because there is almost always, insufficient evidence. Courts will always find a way to overlook facts for the law.
There was insufficient evidence from the hundreds of people who were at the scene of the crime; who saw the alleged murderer flee the scene on a bike after stabbing Khadija 23 times; from the sister of Khadija who had a witness testimony; from her driver who actually fought off the alleged murderer and took off his helmet to reveal his identity and from Khadija herself who lived to tell. Insufficient evidence? Insufficient power?
It’s hard to tell.
The courts that acquitted Shah Hussain, the son of a powerful Lahore lawyer, didn’t fail to clarify that it’s hard to tell. They said that Khadija had several male friends; therefore anyone could have committed a crime of passion against her. They said she had written a letter to Shah Hussain asking him to marry her, therefore he had no motive to attack her; when the FIR was lodged, his name was not mentioned; the number of stabs on her remains disputed and most importantly, in the face of no independent corroboration, the benefit of doubt must go to the defendant.
Justice must be done in Khadija’s case. Shah Hussain behind bars or him schooling women on law and justice and fairness outside of court. His punishment doesn’t matter as much as the need for a fair resolution. The person who attacked her must be punished. All DNA evidence on his helmet points to him but still, if the law feels the evidence is insufficient be it. Bring the real perpetrator to justice, instead. Let Khajija’s case be among that rare one percent that finds justice. According to Aurat Foundation, that is the actual dismal conviction rate in Pakistan when it comes to violence against women ranging from stove burnings to gang rape. The courts must add her to that glowing tribute to the country’s legal justice system.
Thankfully that one place the men didn’t want Khadija to go – she went. The online justice courts are certainly fairer than the Jirga and sadly swifter than the formal courts. #JusticeforKhadija trended for days in on Twitter in Pakistan. Not just Khadija’s supporters, men and women, but also those who understand that the powerless need to find their voice first. Before they can be believed. The Internet gives that adage its power: “Until the Lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.”
Armed with healing battle scars of 60 stitches around her neck, arms and back Khadija said about the online support for her: “Society will no longer let a criminal roam free.” It is this that led her to file an appeal in the Supreme Court before Asif Saeed Khosa. This is good news.
Provided the legal counsel available to her is competent and knows how to present how the law failed a victim, this should, by all means, turn out to be a landmark in women’s rights cases in the country. It will give thousands of other women courage to seek justice, both from the voice of the Internet and the formal courts. In due time, perhaps as a result of this case going the way of truth, women will be believed in court too. In due time, maybe being a victim will no longer be a shameful thing for the victim, but for the society and the perpetrators.