Written by Hamza Khan
With the news of Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists being acquitted, Pakistan’s burgeoning news media have come down hard on the outrageous Supreme Court decision in what can only be described as the fulfillment of their role as the fourth estate in Pakistan’s political system. Every major news station and periodical dedicated their prime-time show and editorial section last weekend to openly flay the Pakistani justice system, and particularly the Supreme Court, for tossing out the conviction of five of Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists, and commuting the sentence of a sixth.
The oldest media venture in the country, the Dawn News television channel featured an all-female panel on its prime time show Reporter, following a political poetry reading referring to the injustice of Mukhtaran Mai’s case. Dawn followed the panel with a five minute video montage that related the Mukhtaran Mai’s outcome to the disappearance of thousands of political dissidents under the Musharraf regime, the deeply unpopular Raymond Davis case, and the hanging of Pakistani Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto by the military in 1971. In the background of the montage plays the 1983 Bollywood single “Yeh Andhaa Qanoon Hain” (This law is blind/idiotic), illustrating the degree to which the producers of the show were outraged by the Supreme Court’s 2-1 decision in the case.
Dunya News, which has largely branded itself on being the absolute voice of criticism against all things Establishment in Pakistan, interviewed a defiant Mukhtaran Mai, who bluntly said she had no faith in Pakistan’s governing institutions, and now placed her hopes in the “Government of God.” She went on to say that with her assailants free, her life and those of her family are likely forfeit, and that she will hold the Pakistani government responsible should anything happen to her or them.
In the Express Tribune, a leading English daily, Rubina Saigol plainly puts the blame for the Supreme Court’s bizarre acquittal of gang-rapists in the face of overwhelming evidence on the socio-economic inequality that is rampant in Pakistan. “A large number of our parliamentarians are drawn from social structures that regard women as property that can be exchanged for dispute settlement,” Saigol writes.
In evidence of Saigol’s point, Jamshed Dasti (the Parliament member representing the district where Mukhtaran Mai lives and was gang-raped), said to Dawn News reporters, “The Supreme Court decision was a very good one. This case was a conspiratorial disgrace against Islam…and no one would stand up to [Mukhtaran Mai] so this was a good decision.”
With tribal elders handing out sweets in the village of Meerwala where Mukhtaran Mai was raped, sitting members of Parliament jubilantly announcing their satisfaction with the acquittal of Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists, the President nowhere to be found, and the Supreme Court washing its hands of responsibility, it is the media alone that has kept the spirit and story of Mukhtaran Mai alive. When Mai was first assaulted, Pakistan’s activist media refused to let the furor of her rape die down, and forced the hand of then-President Pervez Musharraf to act. Now, the country’s media stands behind her again while the justice system ignores its responsibilities.
Let us hope that the country’s newly found tradition of freedom and quality of the press continues onward to give Mukhtaran Mai and all women of Pakistan the justice and humanity they have been denied for over sixty years.