Pakistani graduate raped to punish her low-caste family
Ghazala Shaheen, 24, and her mother Mumtaz were abducted last month by men dressed in police uniforms from their home near Multan in southern Punjab.
Her shocking ordeal mirrors that of Mukhtaran Mai, 29, who became a symbol in the campaign for women’s rights in Pakistan after she was gang-raped because her 12-year-old brother had been seen with a higher-caste woman. Six men were found guilty but five later had their convictions overturned.
That case provoked an international outcry and led to moves to reform Pakistan’s Islamic rape and adultery laws which effectively criminalise rape victims.
Last week human rights campaigners said Shaheen was unlikely to see her attackers brought to justice because President Pervez Musharraf had failed in an attempt to repeal the Hudood Ordinance, which requires four male Muslim witnesses to support a rape charge. If the accused is acquitted, the victim becomes liable to prosecution for adultery.
While Musharraf was out of the country earlier this month, a committee of hardline Islamic scholars neutered his bill to protect women’s rights which would have repealed the Hudood Ordinance. The scholars claimed the bill was un-Islamic because it “encouraged adultery”.
Shaheen’s ordeal began last month when 11 armed men, believed to be security guards employed by one of Musharraf’s ministers, forced their way into her home, attacked her father and brothers and pulled her and her mother into the street.
“They said we were wanted by the police and dragged me and my mother outside. My shirt was torn off in the struggle,” she said last week.
“Outside, I saw about six or seven motorcycles. They put me on one and my mother on another. We were crying and shouting. They threatened to kill us if we kept shouting. They gagged our mouths with sheets. At one point my mother started resisting and she was beaten with guns.”
They were moved between isolated desert houses at first. As night fell on the third day, Shaheen’s mother was taken to another location and she was left alone with one of the gang members.
“This man sat next to me. A moment later he was on to me. He hit me with his gun on my back and on my body and raped me. I was crying and weeping. But he did not listen, and he repeated it,” she said.
“In the morning, I was told to stand up and accompany this man. I was in pain. I could barely walk. Finally we reached a big house with Nazar Mirani (the gang leader) sitting outside. The man who had raped me told Nazar that he had done what he wanted with me and now it was his turn. They took me to a nearby cotton field and Nazar Mirani raped me.”
Shaheen said she knew Mirani’s name because he had filed a case against her uncle, accusing him of eloping with his wife. Mirani had previously threatened and harassed her father, a former soldier who runs a shop from their mud and brick home.
Mirani later told Shaheen he was taking her to Lahore to marry her so that she could not give evidence against him or his men. As the women were being driven from the house, they were stopped at a police roadblock and freed by officers Shaheen’s father had alerted.
According to her relatives, she had been selected as a kidnap target to maximise her family’s humiliation. She had been been the first in her family to gain a degree. This earned her a job as a local schoolteacher, but the offer was withdrawn after officials said they did not want to be associated with someone who had been raped.
Shaheen said she was determined to bring her kidnappers and rapists to justice. “My mission is to get all of them arrested and hanged, so they cannot do this to any other woman,” she said.
The prospects of a successful prosecution appear slim. Only Mirani has been arrested on kidnapping charges, and without the four essential witnesses a rape conviction is unlikely.
Rashid Rehman of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission said that while hospital tests confirmed Shaheen had been raped, the examination was conducted too late to identify the rapists.
“Ghazala Shaheen has no chance of getting justice. The evidence has been destroyed. Doctors confirm she has been raped but she can’t prove that she has been raped by the suspects,” he said. There are hundreds of similar cases in southern Punjab every year, he added.