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A Panchayat (village arbitration council) in central Punjab, in Pakistan, is being investigated after enacting the biblical tenet of an “eye for eye, a tooth for tooth” in almost literal fashion. A reported 29 arrests were made after a council ordered the “revenge rape” of a 16-year-old-girl for a similar act her brother allegedly perpetrated on his cousin, a girl of 13. The revenge act was carried out by the latter’s brother.

This shocking form of “justice” was enacted earlier this month but only came to light this week after a Freedom of Information Request (FIR) was registered with police at the Violence Against Women Center (VAWC) in Multan, the first such center set up under a new provincial law designed to enhance protections for women. Those arrested included four women, while all were related to either the victims or suspects in the case.

One heart-rending aspect of the saga is that the mother of the original perpetrator initially offered her two married daughters as “compensation” for the offense committed by her son but the council insisted that her younger, unmarried daughter must be raped by the brother of the original victim. This detail was confirmed to Asia Times by a Deputy Superintendent at the VAWC, Shahida Nasreen. Some reports indicate the “revenge” rape may have been committed in front of the council, with no-one daring to oppose it.

Unauthorized arbitration tribunals and councils enact “justice” in Pakistan with impunity, and the state seldom takes action any against such bodies – except when it is forced to when a serious case causes an uproar. The unlawful decisions taken by village conclaves wreak havoc with the lives of innocent people, however.

Unauthorized arbitration tribunals and councils enact “justice” in Pakistan with impunity, and the state seldom takes action any against such bodies

One example is the case of Mukhtar Mai, who was gang-raped in 2002 on the order of a Panchayat. She was then 28 and her 12-year-old brother had been accused of a having an affair with an older woman. Mai was courageous enough to brave the social stigma and take her rapists to court. They were eventually acquitted by the country’s Supreme Court but she set a living example for others to follow. She still lives in her home village and runs a girls’ school in the vicinity of where she was raped.

Last year another 16-year-old girl was strangled and set on fire in Galyat’s Makol village, Abbottabad, on the orders of a 15-member local Panchayat. The girl, Ambreen, was killed for helping her friend escape the village to marry according to her free will. After a six-hour deliberation, the council took Ambreen from her home, drugged and killed her, then placed her body in the back seat of a parked van doused with petrol and set fire to it.

The Multan case has “once again” irked the chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, who expressed displeasure at the “criminal delay” shown by the police in taking action against the culprits. Inevitably, he suspended all police officials in the area and set up a three-member committee to investigate the incident and submit a report within 72 hours. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, meanwhile, ordered the inspector general of Punjab’s police department to submit a report.  

The same ritual orders were issued last year when Ambreen was killed and reduced to ashes. Her killers have not been brought to justice, however, just as Mukhtar Mai’s rapists continue to roam free. The likelihood is that this case of “revenge rape” will also be forgotten and unlawful arbitration councils will be allowed to continue stigmatizing humanity and handing down their barbarous sanctions.

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