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EDITORIAL: A parliamentary committee cleared the draft of the anti-rape legislation last week and it is expected the remaining process for this bill to become an act of parliament would soon be completed. Whether or not the country’s criminal laws would be an effective deterrent to the rapists after the passage of the Anti-Rape (Investigation) Bill that has changed the definition of rape and another bill that ensures awarding extraordinary punishment to habitual rapists (including chemical castration) were enough to prevent the crime if implemented properly is now a debate for another time and another place, but for now these bills must be appreciated as the right way forward in dealing with a very, very troubling and offensive crime. The argument that calls for extraordinary, even ‘medieval’ punishment for rapists, especially child rapists, amounted to nothing more than a collective emotional over-reaction because all that was needed was to investigate and arrest rapists, like all other criminals, according to the existing laws of the land and that should be enough of a deterrent going forward, has clearly not been backed by facts, especially in the few years since the horrible Zainab rape-murder cases triggered so much public revulsion and outrage.

It could be argued endlessly of course that it was precisely all the usual loopholes in the investigation process carried out by the police that continue to leave a little something to be desired, but the fact remains that whatever claims were made about the long arms of the law never allowing such crimes to go unaddressed and unpunished in the future just didn’t bring any deterrence value with them. Now, with these new bills, special courts, anti-rape crises cells, and special committees would be set up to hear rape cases as well as registered complaints. At the very least, this should bring a very sudden end to shameful incidents of rape victims not only not getting the ear of the police in time, but also being raped by law enforcement officers themselves to add yet more inconsolable insult to an already very grave injury.

Whatever reservations certain parties in the House, like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), have with regard to ‘duplication of law’ and a possible clash between federal and provincial governments because the bills might encourage a ‘parallel court system’ deserved to be put under the microscope immediately so this matter can move forward in a proper non-partisan manner. It needs to be noted though that these parties’ position that the introduction of steps like chemical castration is inhuman under the law might actually hurt the overall argument, and what everybody is trying to do to deal with the problem, because of the extraordinary circumstances in which whatever laws that do exist, like life imprisonment and the death penalty, do nothing whatsoever to put the fear of God, and of course the law, in would-be rapists. That is why the employment of unconventional and extreme punishments, that too as a last resort and despite all the opposition not just from some political quarters but also from human rights organisations and foreign governments, might just prove to be the missing link that was needed to put criminals on the back foot and investigators on the front foot.

It needs to be acknowledged, regardless of party loyalties and preferred public positions, that the incidence of rape is for some reason higher in the subcontinent than most other parts of the world. That is surprising considering that conservative social norms prevalent in much of the Pak-India landscape prevent families and relations of rape victims from even reporting a very vast majority of such crimes in the first place, yet the numbers are still staggering. India, quite shamefully, has developed the dubious reputation of being the ‘rape capital’ of the world and Pakistan is not too far behind.

It is no doubt very true that the state should never need to resort to extreme punishments, like castration or even public hangings, yet there is also no denying the fact that it is the state’s responsibility to do whatever needs to be done to control all sorts of crime, especially the most repugnant and disgusting ones, and when investigation agencies are just too limp to do the job properly, or pull their socks up in time, then the state must act through legislation. That, after all, is both the spirit and the prime requirement of representative government. It can only be hoped that no more special laws will be needed to address crimes that should not have existed on such an unacceptable level in any case.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021