As always, public opinion is divided on the subject of Mukhtar Mai’s verdict, as it is on many contentious issues.
While many are saying that the release of the five accused is a huge let down and that the Supreme Court should have at least set a better precedent, others are saying the court takes into account only evidence and law, not public opinion.
Rule of law, due process, and lack of evidence seem to be considerations in some cases, but not in others. In Mukhtar Mai’s case, everything right down to the fine nitty gritties has been taken into account lest innocent people be sentenced: e.g. the court concluded that insufficient light in the room in which the heinous crime was committed makes Mukhtar Mai’s identification of the rapists unreliable. But what kind of evidence was taken into account when Aasiya Bibi was handed a death sentence? Are we going to begin the separation again: the latter has to do with religion while the former does not, even though both were tried in the court of law. Should we understand that certain cases are tried one way, while others are done to another standard in a court of law? Are there no standard practices and procedures, but rather a system of picking and choosing rules according to subject, context and issue?
Those reprimanding the people outraged by the acquittal must understand that this rage is directed at Pakistan’s criminal justice system, which has clearly failed. The outrage is at the glaring (and deliberate) loopholes in the laws and procedures in place to deal with rape that allow criminals to get away. The frustration exists because, once again, those with political clout have trumped the weak, because they have been able to work the failure of the system to their advantage. And the resentment and hurt stems from the fact that Mukhtar Mai stands wronged still.
It is baffling that while there is sympathy and understanding for ‘innocent men being sent to jail’ – and this is among those from the media and the citizenry – there seems to be little sympathy for the woman against whom the crime was committed, the damage for which is irreversible. The fact that her rapists – for the sake of argument, whoever they may be – are on the loose, angers few. That they live as free men and can pose a threat to her life seems to be an even lesser issue.
And so, while the legal issues of this matter must be left to those from the legal fraternity, the dismissive attitude towards Mukhtar Mai once again highlights what the popular trend in our society is: to trivialise the crime and batter the victim.