Jirga arrested for ordering ‘revenge rape’

MULTAN - Fourteen members of a jirga have been arrested for ordering the rape of a teenage girl as punishment for a rape committed by her brother in a Multan village, police said Wednesday.

The heinous crime was committed last week in Rajapur village near Muzaffarabad town.

“A jirga (village council) had ordered the rape of a 16-year-old girl as punishment, as her cousin had raped a 12-year-old girl from the same village,” said Allah Baksh, a local police official.

He said the village council was approached by one Ashfaq, who complained that his 12-year-old sister, Shamim, had been raped by their relative, Umar.

The jirga/panchayat comprising Ameen, Saeed Patwari and others then handed over a cousin of Umer, named Azra, to complainant Ashfaq and ordered him to rape Azra in return. The panchayat order was duly carried out, police said.

Sources claimed that both the families had initially agreed on the panchayat verdict, but later they both approached a Women Centre and got registered cases against each other.

The allegations of revenge-rape were confirmed by Rashid Taheem, the police officer heading the investigation.

“Both the parties had filed cases of rape against each other at the local police station after the incident that happened last week,” he said.

“We have arrested 14 people of the village council so far,” he said, adding that the “main accused”, Ashfaq, who raped the 12-year-old was still at large.

SHO Muzaffarabad registered a case against all the accused involved after media highlighted the heinous act.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also took notice of the incident and sought report from police.

City Police Officer Ahsan Younus told media that efforts were being made to catch Ashfaq. He said that the neither of the families had filed any report with the police, they instead went to the panchayat for a settlement.

However, as soon as police came to know about the incident, a quick action was taken to arrest the persons involved in this incident, he claimed.

Some residents of the area also claimed that Umar and Azra liked each other and wanted to marry. But Azra’s family refused to give her hand and accused Umar of raping the girl which led to horrific panchayat order.

Jirgas or panchayats formed of local elders are a traditional means of settling disputes in Pakistan’s rural areas, where courts and lawyers are not always accessible or trusted.

But such councils are illegal and have been under fire for their controversial decisions, especially regarding women.

A jirga was involved in one of South Asia’s most infamous cases of sexual violence against women when, in 2002, it ordered the gang rape of a woman called Mukhtar Mai after her brother was falsely accused of rape.

Mai made the unusual decision to defy her rapists and take them to court. Her attackers walked free but she went on to become a high-profile women rights activist.

Her story inspired an opera, “Thumbprint”, which opened in New York in 2014 and premiered in Los Angeles last month.

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