Pakistan: Murder, rape, abduction of Punjabi women frequent, but domestic violence the #1 crime Print E-mail
 Pakistan - Sunday, January 14, 2007, Zill-Haj 23, 1427 A.H.

6. Shehr

All in the family

Incidents of domestic violence are rising and rape cases have increased as police delay registration of FIR and complicate the matter further.
By Ahsan Zia

As more women are out to speak up after government's proclamation of the Women Protection Bill, domestic violence has dramatically got to the top of all crimes in Punjab, particularly the provincial metropolis.

Violence against women varies from family disputes, honour killings, abduction and rape to husbands beating wives on various grounds, particularly under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The victims are abused not only by their husbands and other close relatives; they often receive the same treatment from the persons they turn to for assistance.

As per police record, on January 7, 2007 the relatives of a girl who had eloped with the son of a lady councillor, chopped off the nose and ears of the boy, his brother and the arms of his mother on Eid day. The boy Iqbal, a resident of Inayatpur Mahota, had eloped with a girl of the same vicinity one and a half months back. He returned with the girl to celebrate Eid at his home but the relatives of the girl attacked his house and subjected the entire family to extreme torture.

Incidents of acid throwing are on rise in Southern Punjab where over 80 women received acid burns on their faces or other parts of their bodies last year. Most of these women were sprinkled acid on them when they refused to have sex or develop 'illicit relations' with the perpetrators.

In another incident, a young woman was stabbed to death and then set on fire while her sister was seriously injured by the nephew of their stepfather and his brother-in-law in Quaid-e-Millat Colony, Kot Lakhpat, Lahore in January 2007.

Zaitoon Bibi, the mother of the two victims -- Sajida Bibi, who was killed, and Rizwana Bibi, who got hurt in the incident -- had married Muhammad Niaz after a divorce from her first husband Muhammad Riaz. The two sisters had gone to visit their mother when accused Munir of Sahowari along with his brother-in-law Billo visited the house of his paternal uncle Muhammad Niaz and took them with him.

Zaitoon, the complainant of the case, later told the police that her stepson had been murdered two months back and his family suspected the hand of Rizwana and Sajida in the case.

In another incident that took place on March 14, 2006 in the city, a six-year-old schoolgirl, daughter of a vendor, was found butchered after being subjected to criminal assault by unknown criminals in Sabzazar area.

The deceased, Asiya Asghar, a class-II student, had gone for tuition to a centre which was just 50 yards away from her house in the congested and populated locality of Saidpur and then never returned home. Later, the cops recovered her half-naked body covered in a plastic sheet and then folded in a sack that was lying alongside a park near Bilal Mosque in Sabzazar police vicinity.

Her autopsy revealed that she was gang-raped as there were visible torture marks on her private parts. The investigators disclosed that as they got to the spot, they found the little girl with her hands moving and blood trickling down from her chopped off neck. The ill-fated father later went to the police station and got a case registered but the police concerned recorded the matter as 'mysterious missing'.

A 9-year-old girl, Razia Masih, was beaten and raped on April 26 last year in Faisalabad. She ended up in the hospital with multiple burns, a lacerated left eye, a broken right arm and rope marks around her hands and mouth. She was working as a maid in a house of a local landlord.

Four persons, including 60-year-old Dawood Ahmed, his 50-year-old wife, 15-year-old daughter Rabia and six-year-old niece Khaula, were seriously injured after Zafar Iqbal and his sons threw acid on them in July 2006 in Gujranwala in retaliation. Dawood Ahmed had refused to give his daughter's hand in marriage to Iqbal's son.

The official figures put the number of women killed in the province between January and December 2006 at 982 while at least 340 such incidents occurred in Lahore in the same period. Of 982 murders of women in Punjab 188 were stated in the FIR to be provoked by 'honour'. Of the 340 women killed in Lahore, six were murdered after being raped while 12 were honour victims. Many a victim that belong to the middle or lower middle class lost their lives at the hands of unidentified persons, their husbands, brothers, their brothers-in-law, cousins, sons and other male relatives.

Dr. Mujahid, a psychiatrist, says domestic violence can assume many forms of emotional, verbal, sexual and physical abuse. And often victims are ensnared in a vicious cycle whereby they are abused twice over -- by their spouses and the very people they turn to for help. He says domestic violence is basically caused by how a man looks at a woman. Usually, men consider women as children who do not have the ability to retaliate even if abused. More extreme cases, such as murder, burning or acid-throwing, however, owe more to pathological or mental disorders," she says.

Sumaira Awan, a criminal lawyer, says the police force has a much higher proportion of male officers than female officers who tend to be more conservative and unfalteringly patriarchal. "These traits have turned the police force into one of the most effective tool of discrimination against women, the most vulnerable section of the society that needs the most protection."

Majority of the women, she observes, in police custody are subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Even though the police officers are not authorised to detain women in the police lock-up in the absence of female staff, the illegal detention of women is a common practice both in the Punjab and the provincial metropolis. Things do not stop here as women are also detained for days before being formally charged, she says.

Sumaira goes on to say that the heinous crime of rape has only increased and the police play a critical role by making its reporting complicated. Police reluctance to register rape often results in loss of crucial evidence. "Moreover, the way the reports of rape are encoded when they are registered influences the way in which the entire case is conducted. The police conduct investigations in the most superficial manner. Consequently, evidence goes unreported, the perpetrators find opportunities to flee and a case is registered against the victim," the lawyer concludes.

The only female Superintendent of Lahore Police, Farkhanda Iqbal who has a vast experience of community policing, agrees with the fact that majority of the cases of honour killings go unreported while in the case of domestic violence, the social norms attached to this heinous crime allow it to escape reporting. When family members kill most victims, no one is ready to file complaints against the accused.

Farkhanda puts domestic violence on the top of the list of crimes being perpetrated on women across the province and the provincial metropolis in particular. She says: "Whether someone gives it weightage or not, for my part I consider it as a major crime against women. Heinous crimes against women like murder, rape and abduction, etc may happen twice or thrice a week or in a month but domestic violence never seizes. It is a continuous process which happens on a daily basis and women are the main victims."

She goes on to say, in fact, majority of the women are living in a suffocated environment. Domestic violence has not only had its severe impact on women; it is also taking its toll on the minds of the youth who are silent sufferers. It has led to aggression in youth. "It takes shape of violence on roads, eve-teasing, sexual harassment at workplace. Sometimes rape or kidnapping are directly interlinked with domestic violence. Such violent behaviour is widespread in the country", says Farkhanda Iqbal.

She admits that in case of a domestic violence incident police do not register FIR immediately as that practice can lead to complete separation of the pair. Police first tries to resolve the matter with the help of the family elders from both sides. If both the parties don't agree to come to terms, the case is formally registered.

The SP says it is incumbent upon both the government and the society to provide women with a secure environment both inside and outside their homes, only then they can play an effective role in the country's progress.

Interestingly, even in the presence of a female police superintendent, a male SP heads the police branch at Race Course police station in Lahore that exclusively deals with the issues of women, especially domestic violence against them.