Thousands of poor women are raped every year in this country. They are raped in their homes and in the fields; they are raped in prisons, asylums and in hospitals. These women are the brutalized victims of political feuds, tribal vendettas, communal frenzy, ethnic savagery and ‘peacekeeping operations’ by security agencies.
Notions of shame and family honour or lack of resources force most women to bear their trauma in silence. Some commit suicide. Those wretched few who scream out must reckon with the political and social clout of the transgressors. As for the law, in particular that damning version which parades under the cloak of Shariah, it is designed to thwart the ends of justice: women who confess to rape but cannot legally ‘prove’ it can be arrested and tried for fornication and adultery.
The agony of this miserable half of our population is sustained by a crushing conspiracy of silence among our ruling classes. Even for Miss Raheela Tiwana or Khurshed Begum, both middle-class, both savaged by the CIA recently, there were no thunderous editorials calling for the sack of Jam Sadiq and Irfanullah Marwat; nor were there any hunger strikes by grieving upper-class women or angry demonstrations by opposition politicians. Yet, when Miss Veena Hyat is raped, there is public outrage and newspapers are blackened with disgust and despair and demands for immediate retribution echo everywhere. Why is this so?
First, because Miss Hyat belongs to a most distinguished, Punjabi ruling family. When members of the ruling classes are violated, or their rights are trampled upon, they are bound to be outraged. They are also bound to exact justice or revenge.
Second, there is uproar because the highest echelons of government are implicated in this crime. When the Home and Chief Ministers of Sindh are accused of transgressing the law they are deputed to uphold, when they are believed to have dishonoured the very class they are supposed to especially protect, it becomes more than just a crime. It becomes a matter of serious public concern. The fact that Mr Irfanullah Marwat is the President’s son-in-law compounds the offense to public sensibility and reinforces the demand for accountability.
Third, this incident is grist to the mill of a desperate political opposition confronted with an increasingly authoritarian government. The politicians of the ruling classes in opposition would find it difficult even to contrive a more damning incident than this to indict the politicians of the ruling classes in power.
Mr Marwat and Jam Sadiq have broken more laws in Sindh than anyone else in recent history. Yet many amongst us have shrugged away their crimes. President Ghulam Ishaq has been patently unjust for months, yet many amongst us have continued to excuse him. Now, after their transparent implication in the Hyat case, they have been shorn of all credibility and shown to have eroded the legitimacy of the state. It is our nation’s tragedy that the collective guilt and shame of our ruling classes should only have been provoked by the nightmare of a personal tragedy.
In any democratic system, the proper course would be for Mr Marwat and Jam Sadiq to resign and allow the judicial process to prove their innocence or guilt. Failing that, the President would be expected to put the interests of the state before his own and fire them both. But it appears that President Ghulam Ishaq lacks the uprightness, wisdom and foresight to do just that. He has chosen to lay down one set of rules for the PPP and quite another for the IJI.
Unfortunately, if it were simply a question of having to live with a stubborn personality in the Presidency, we might have been able to muddle along. But that is not the case. As the constitution now stands, the President is the repository of the dignity and well-being of the state and the chief executive of all its powers. When the state comes to be viewed as prejudiced and highly personalised, it loses its legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and provokes the sort of tribal revenge Sardar Shaukat Hyat now wants to exact. In the event, a legal system which lacks conviction and a political system which lacks consensus is doomed to fail. Instead of shoring up the law and giving the opposition a stake in the democratic system, the President seems bent upon sheltering his political favourites from the law and excluding the opposition from politics. His pathological aversion to the PPP can only lead to a culde-sac — a one-party, authoritarian system which, as we know from past history, is unworkable in a pluralistic society such as ours.
Miss Hyat’s ordeal has rightly served to focus on the plight of women, the inadequacy of law and the hypocrisy of the ruling elites. But it must also draw careful attention to the flawed logic of the President which is eroding the legitimacy of the very state he represents.