Across the border in Pakistan,
Mukthar Mai gang rape case has been rightly making
international headlines. On 22 June 2002, Mukhtaran Mai was
gang raped allegedly on the orders of a Jirga, village
council, in the southern Punjab village of Meerwala in Pakistan.
Controlled by the influential Mastoi, the Jirga ordered
rape of Mukthar Mai as punishment for alleged rape of a Mastoi
girl by Mai's 12-year-old brother Shakoor that had allegedly
brought shame to the Mastoi clan. However, at the trial court,
it was revealed that the 12-year-old boy had in fact been
kidnapped and sodomised by the same men who later made up
his jury. The Mai family had allegedly threatened to report
the matter to the police.
30 June 2002, a case was registered with the Dera Ghazi Khan
(southern Punjab) police against 14 men for the gang rape
of Mukhtar Mai. All were arrested and charged under various
provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code (provisions 109/149)
of 1868, the Anti-Terrorism Act (7c & 21-1) of 1997 and
the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hadd) Ordinance of 1979.
Four of the 14 accused were charged with raping Ms Mai while
the rest were booked for abetment. On 31 August 2002, the
trial court at Dera Ghazi Khan convicted six of the 14 accused
to death, four of these were sentenced for raping her while
two were convicted for being a part of the Jirga that
decreed the rape. The remaining eight were released and subsequently
freed. However, on appeals by the State and the victim, the
Multan bench of the Lahore High Court reversed the trial court's
judgment on the basis of "insufficient evidence"
and "faulty investigations" and acquitted five of
the six accused while the death sentence of the sixth accused
was commuted to life imprisonment. All the five acquitted
were set free.
28 June 2005, a Supreme Court Bench of Pakistan overturned
the Lahore High Court judgement and ordered the immediate
re-arrest of all 13 accused. The accused have been arrested
and sent to judicial custody till their appeals are decided.
The final judgement is awaited.
the name of Gotra, caste
India, Hindu caste panchayats too have been perpetrating injustices
with virtual impunity in the name of gotra, caste.
On 11 October 2004, Rampal and Sonia of Assanda village in
Jhajjar district who have been married for two years were
issued order to dissolve their marriage by the Assanda village
Panchayat and declare themselves brother and sister as they
belonged to the same `gotra' (caste). The panchayat
had even decided that Sonia, who is pregnant with Rampal's
child, would have to abort her child as it was "illegitimate".
The National Human Rights Commission of India intervened in
the matter. On 28 October 2004, the village Panchayat decided
to validate Sonia's marriage to Rampal and accept her back
in the village after Sonia's father swore that he belonged
to the Hooda gotra. But no action was taken against
the Panchayat members.
the Supreme Court of India had to intervene. On 7 December
2004, Supreme Court directed the Haryana Police to provide
adequate protection to Hari Om from a lower caste of Badshahpur
village and Manju belonging to an upper caste from Gurgaon.
They belong to different castes and got married in a temple
at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on 21 July 2004. However,
the village Panchayat declared their marriage illegal. Both
of them had left their home as they were sure that their parents
and village panchayat would not approve of their marriage.
Manju's parents filed a case of abduction against Hari Om
and the police brought the girl back and restored to her parents.
Her parents forced her into second marriage on 18 August 2004.
But she fled the house of her second husband and returned
to Hari Om at Muzaffarnagar. Meanwhile, the village panchayats
at Badshahpur (Gurgaon) and Ladhpur (Jhajjar) refused to recognize
the marriage and ordered that the girl should be produced
before them and sent back to her second husband Pradeep of
Ladhpur. Feeling threatened by the diktats of panchayats,
Manju and Hari Om moved the Supreme Court.
the name of tribal traditions
Mizoram State of India, the condition of the indigenous Mizo
women is no better. They continue to suffer from injustices
awarded by the Village Defence Party, Joint Action Committee
and the Village Council Court established under various customary
laws of the State.
are reports that those caught in conflict with the law are
put into wooden cages by these organizations as a part of
traditional justice. The accused are not handed over to the
police. The complaints, which are sometimes criminal in nature,
are decided by the so-called Joint Action Committees or Village
Defence Party. They also impose monetary penalty. The hairs
of the accused are shaved off. The community leader and other
individuals can order dismantling or ransacking of the houses
and force them out of their house for allegedly not conforming
to certain norms set by the traditional bodies.
Sangkhumi, a divorcee and virtual homeless was allegedly found
to be in possession of 1 litre country liquor in the late
evening of 22 August 2004. She was taken into custody by the
Village Council President of Vaivakawn, Mr. Rotluanga. She
was brutally beaten. They also extorted her money amounting
to Rs 2,600. In addition, the Village Council President and
his accomplice shaved off her hair. If she were to be found
guilty under the Mizoram Total Prohibition Act, 1995, she
could be fined but no corporal punishment could be awarded.
the governments must recognise the cultural rights, religious
freedoms and practices. But these rights are neither absolute
nor be justified to commit crimes and injustices against man
or women, individuals or groups.
initiative undertaken by the Guwahati High Court to codify
the tribal customary laws in the North East India is instructive
as to how to deal with other personal/customary laws of different
religious and ethnic groups. The codification of personal
laws must not be construed as drafting Uniform Civil Code.
But it is essential to ensure that those cultural and religious
practices which are derogatory to the dignity of human being
especially women are renounced and personal/customary laws
must respect the inalienable and inherent equality in dignity
and rights of all members of human family, the individual
rights and freedoms, and conform to the mandate of the Constitution
and States' obligations under international human rights law.
In addition, it is essential to ensure that customary laws
do not interfere with criminal offences. The codification
of personal/customary laws will also help to determine who
or which bodies could issue orders on customary matters. The
government must raise awareness on these customary laws and
provide training to these practitioners of customary laws
to impart judicious decision.
the governments take measures to codify and reform personal/customary
laws with full, effective and equal participation of women,
medieval practices that condemn the victims will continue
unabated. Until then the fatwas of self-styled judges
of the "Cultural Courts" must be banned and such
judges be brought to justice if there is any violation of
the rights of the victims because of their decrees.