In the first week of May 2017, ‘I’, a 12-year-old housemaid hailing from Kandh Kot was allegedly gang raped in Malir, Karachi by seven men including the employer, his two sons and nephews after she was given some intoxicating substance. Forced by the extreme poverty, the girl had been working as a maid for a few months at the Karachi residence of Rahib Sorhiani. On May 5,immediately after the incident occurred, the employer had informed the victim’s family that she was not well and that she should be taken to her home for treatment. However, the child recounted her ordeal at her employer’s house only after it transpired during her medical examination in a local hospital that she was subjected to gang rape.
The dispensation of justice to the victim seems a distant dream as the accused rapists are the influential landlords of their area. They manipulate police stations situated in their areas and police seem to be helpless in administering justice to common people. To give undue favour to the alleged offenders, the police has been creating legal complications and manoeuvrings in the case. Though the incident of I’s gang rape occurred in Malir, yet Karachi police allegedly refused to lodge FIR of the incident. The victim’s parents after failing to get justice despite running from pillar to post-returned to Kandh Kot. After the civil society activists raised their voice for the arrest of the suspects, IGP Sindh, AD Khawaja took notice of the incident, and a FIR was registered at their native place station, instead of Karachi where the incident happened. This refusal of Karachi police to register the case against an influential landowning family highlights the deep ties between feudalism and justice in Pakistani society.
In Pakistan, the powerful group of feudal politicians, a creation of both the dictatorial dispensations and democratic failures, dominates the provincial and national assemblies. Presently, of the overall legislators, at least 75 percent are landlords who not only control public offices, funds and huge properties but also use their authority and feudalistic power to suppress the voice and emotions of the citizens. Most of the local police officials and bureaucrats work for their interests. Last year in July, a 10-year-old girl was gang-raped in Shikarpur, Sindh. An influential feudal politician of the area providing undue support to his voters had pressurised and threatened the victim’s family to withdraw the case and not to take any further action against the alleged culprits. Inevitably, the family couldn’t defy the pressure.
In rural Pakistan’s feudal social order, the established belief is that “girls are inferior and undesirable when compared to boys. Girls are made to believe that they are disposable throwaways, but, in reality, they are commodities. From their childhood, they are put to use as cheap labour in their own families to do menial work assisting their mothers or to work on a farm and rear cattle. Or, they’re employed in landlords’ houses, as I was, or on the streets to beg.
Though the incident of ‘I’s gang-rape occurred in Malir — the Karachi police allegedly refused to lodge an FIR under pressure from the feudal elite
This detrimental practice of child domestic labour continues to abuse children. However, ‘I’ is not the first and only such case. A large number of child domestic female workers have been tortured, enslaved, sexually assaulted and exploited by their employers. According to Amnesty International, 35 percent of children in domestic employment in Pakistan are subjected to violence. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported that despite several legislative developments to strengthen the women protection system, no significant decline was seen in the number of cases of violence against women. In 2016, there were more than 2500 victims of violence against women. The nature of violence included sexual, domestic, burning and kidnappings.
Pakistan’s feudal system is responsible, to a great extent, for honour killings, rapes, underage and forced marriages, low female literacy ratio, violence and other injustices faced by women. Feudal lords and chieftains believe that women’s education can lead to women’s empowerment, which is harmful to their interests and poses a great threat to their monopoly in the society. Although the increasing urban middle class is trying to dismantle the feudal system, the grip of a narrow-minded and authoritative feudal class is getting stronger day by day.
Shockingly, in Pakistan, a majority of female victims of violence have not been able to receive justice. All procedures and measures should be followed by registering the FIR in Karachi where the incident of gang-rape occurred.
The writer is an academic, and can be reached on Twitter @ARShykh