The Republic should come of age when the nation celebrates its fifty-eighth Republic Day.  As much as one would be proud to see the country lived over half a century of its constitutional age, one must raise some important points necessary for a Republic to address.

A country becomes a Republic when it adopts and promulgates a constitution that allows its public at large to exercise power over the affairs of the state rather than being accommodated through divine mandate and inheritance under a monarchy or oligarchic dictatorship. We accomplished it on March 23, 1956. This put certain responsibilities on the state to safeguard citizens’ interests and rights beyond the considerations of caste, creed, ethnicity, religion, sect or gender. More so, when the Republic labels itself as ‘Islamic’ and claims to ensure equality and rights to all (including women, sectarian as well as religious minorities) by way of sticking itself to one particular religion. The heftier the claim, the heavier the responsibility!

Looking at the news items in mainstream media for the last few years, especially the past couple of weeks, is a painful observation on the way the Islamic Republic and a Shariah-obsessed society have been conducting themselves. Seems important to refresh our memories looking at some of these cases and review the Islamic Republic’s performance thereon.

Not very long ago, the country rocked with the horrific news of a five year old girl raped in Lahore. The news fell in the mainstream media like a bombshell and for right reason. After a few days of the media playing with the girl’s family in dozens of interviews revealing their identity as well as the girl’s, the news vanished in oblivion. No one is asking any questions about what happened to the girl and if the culprits have yet been apprehended.

Seeing the short-lived media frenzy over this case, one must not think that this was the first case of its kind. In 2011, a three-year old girl child was found dead in a trash drum; killed after multiple rapes. In 2012, a six year old Hindu girl from a scheduled caste in Thar was raped but survived after timely medical help. The state ensured that the culprits remain at large. These are just a couple of cases that were reported. Uncountable cases that remain unreported in mainstream media or even unregistered with the law enforcing agencies keep passing our sensibilities surreptitiously.

While talking of rape, whenever a case emerges, the state and society tries tooth and nail to trivialize it and the blame is ultimately put on the victim. The cases of Mukhtaran Mai and Amna Bibi are cases in point. The gang raped Mukhtaran Mai could not prove the crime with the right kind of evidence that a misogynist court was looking for. The result: only one culprit got the death sentence; two got life sentence and the media was quick to run a campaign against Mukhtaran for ‘concocting her rape for personal agenda’.

In the comparatively recent case of Amna Bibi who immolated herself in front of the police station in Muzaffargarh last week when her rapist was let go, the same trend was seen not only from the local media and politicians, but also from the law Minister of that province who was heard saying on the floor of the Provincial Assembly that the dead victim was not raped and was ‘only’ threatened with rape. The provincial government immediately came to action after, I repeat – after – the victim had committed suicide for not getting justice. Two days ago, a newspaper reported the death of a 25 year old girl who was fleeing to save herself from rape by an influential landlord, and got hit by a train. Justice dies with the victim here.

Days after Amna Bibi got the provincial government’s attention after her suicide, another woman attempted self-immolation in front of the residence of the Punjab Chief Minister, again, for justice denied. This case of attempted self-immolation came as a result of domestic violence. Her brothers severely beat up the victim; a married woman for a domestic dispute. While talking of domestic violence a few weeks ago, the electronic media ran an appalling video of a man beating and dragging his wife by her hair. After a few hours of coverage, all that was accomplished was the arrest of the husband who got bail quickly on the pretext that his wife was mentally unstable. This is the extent to which domestic violence is tolerated here, and not criminalized in Pakistan’s statute anywhere. The law on domestic violence stands pending in federal parliament for years. An inadequate law has been passed by the Balochistan Assembly which is the first provincial assembly to pass one.

From last week’s newspapers, one got to know about a Jirga that ordered the killing of two girls for marrying out of choice. The men who allegedly married them off were reportedly fined Rs 2.4 million while the police were given Rs. 0.4 million in lieu of their services to dispose off the case in favor of the Jirga. The Jirga was, pertinent to mention here, headed by an influential politician and sitting member of the federal parliament whose choice of political parties to get tickets for elections tells us he must be quite dear to the establishment – the real ruler of this country and true representative of the ‘state’.

Not to mention the umpteen cases of women’s nose cutting, acid throwing, beating, stripping naked, giving away to settle disputes, killing to save ‘honor’ etc, that keep coming and going in the media. According to the website of the Punjab Police, around 2,576 cases of rape and 193 cases of gang rape were registered in 2013 alone. Only 255 of these cases are under investigation. The courts’ record suggests no convictions were made. For a nation passionately demanding justice for the ‘nation’s daughter’ Dr. Afia Siddiqui, the gross injustice and apathy for these thousands of lesser daughters is a case of maliciously callous and selective rage.

While talking of selective rage, mention must be made of religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities. Shias and Ahmadis are being target killed, Hazara Shias are undergoing systematic genocide, Christians and Hindus are being harassed, burnt, killed and assaulted through discriminatory laws and social attitudes, the Baloch are presented with the mutilated dead bodies of their loved ones on an almost daily basis, the Sindhi nationalists are killed off (recent case of JSQM leaders), and these are all but a routine matter for this land of the pure.

That the other nations and countries of the world are also infested with similar crimes is not an argument. The argument is, how does a state – a Republic – choose to handle these crimes. India, despite being termed the ‘rape capital’ of the world, still manages to apprehend, convict and punish rapists. In our case, thousands of cases of rape, forced marriages and the conversions of minority women do not even figure in media.

After 74 years of the Lahore Resolution that became the basis of Pakistan, 67 years of its independent existence and 58 years of its becoming a sovereign Republic, this status of women and minorities remains a big question mark for Jinnah’s Pakistan and for the ‘Islamic’ Republic.

The writer is an Islamabad based campaigner for human rights and works on parliamentary strengthening and democratic governance.

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