Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Rape as Punishment

The gang rape case in Pakistan is reopened:

Pakistan's Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to reopen an inquiry into the high-profile case of Mukthar Mai, an unlettered laborer's daughter from southern Punjab province who allegedly was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council in 2002.

The court decision overturned a judgment by the Lahore High Court, issued in March, that threw out the convictions of five of the men accused of involvement in the rape and commuted the death sentence of a sixth.

The Supreme Court also ordered the re-arrest of 13 of the original suspects in the case. The high court's decision, following two days of hearings, was a victory for Mai, 32, whose case has prompted an outpouring of international sympathy and also become a focal point for concern about violence against women in Pakistan.
The court began hearing arguments Monday on Mai's appeal to reopen the case. In March, a lower court overturned the convictions of five of the six men charged in connection with the rape on the basis of insufficient evidence. The men had been sentenced to death. The sixth man charged had his death sentence converted to life in prison.
In an episode that has become a focal point for concerns about violence against women in Pakistan, Mai was attacked in Meerwala, her village in southern Punjab province. The council allegedly ordered the rape to settle a score with Mai's brother, 13, who had been accused of an improper relationship with the sister of one of those accused

I have written about this case many times before, most recently in the context of the Pakistan government trying to stop Ms. Mukhtar (or Ms. Mai or Ms. Bibi; her names appear to vary) from traveling abroad. But the article I link to here reminded me of something that is central in this case: the way rape is used as a form of violence here, as a form of societal punishment. In this particular case it is a quasi-official form of punishment, and one decreed for the crimes of someone else (her brother). But it's still punishment. The debates about whether rape is sex or violence or both seldom address the possibility that there might be a touch of punitiveness about rape, a desire to remind the victim of the limits that she or he has crossed by going out/dressing a certain way/being in a certain place.
A postscript: Heretik has good coverage of all this.