When did rape threats become a necessary technique for extracting confessions?

Early morning, Wednesday, October 28, 2015, will be forever etched on my mind and conscience as the day when my reserves of patience and equanimity were exhausted and emptied. My friend, the human rights activist, Rashid Orakzai uploaded and shared on Facebook a singularly brutal abuse of  force by a functionary of the so-called law-enforcing authorities of Pakistan.

One could see a man in a Pakistani police uniform hitting a hapless burqa-clad woman, 30 to 35-years-old, on her head and face a number of times, hurling abuses and taunts of unprecedented obscenity. A young lad, perhaps eight or 10-years-old, can be seen sitting beside her. All this happens not inside a police station or the Lahore Fort or any other facility where state terror is routinely let loose on suspected criminals and allegedly subversive political elements, but in full and complete public gaze.

The people sitting next to the brute in uniform, we learnt, were the shop owners. The woman is accused of stealing a mobile phone. We hear from the man in uniform that other women too have been shoplifting, but after being caught they confessed their crime when they were sexually abused by him. It is too sickening for me to present the graphic details of this sad incident.

Men, young and old, some sporting beards and looking pious, others casually dressed up, make up together a rather large gathering of spectators. One can imagine that while some derived perverse pleasure and thrill from the humiliation and degradation of that hapless woman, others felt disgust and revulsion, but were too scared and intimidated to protest and stop that ugly abuse of state authority.

However, at least one individual had the integrity and courage to capture that obscene manifestation of state brutality on his mobile. The video clip is now in the public domain and thus a part of incontrovertible evidence of flagrant abuse of state power and authority.

It is time for us to raise our voice and say: enough is enough, no more of this charade of a government under law and constitution.

This is much worse than the Hobbesian state of nature. The modern totalitarian state, whether of the left or right, infamously breaks down its victims behind closed doors, fetching them to the torture cells in a late-night knock on the door. In Pakistan and India, this can happen in broad daylight.

While the shame and disgrace that woman faced can well be imagined, I was particularly concerned about that little boy who sat next to her. Probably, he is her son, or maybe her brother. We see in the video clip the brute saying with absolute candour and callousness that raping women is his typical technique of extracting confessions and she will be subjected to it as well. Somebody tell me, how one feels when one’s mother or sister is so brazenly abused and violated?

Whatever crime the woman has committed is beside the point. The fact is that her son or brother too has been inflicted irreparable psychological trauma.

It was in this background of this horrible incident that some of us started a campaign on Facebook to trace the origins of this incident and to mobilise good and conscientious people to protest this despicable outrage.

It turned out that it referred to a case of alleged shoplifting in one of Karachi’s posh areas: Clifton.

Understandably, a storm of protests has followed in the wake of the video clip being uploaded. We are creatures who are ultimately moral beings.

We learnt that Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, ordered immediate action against the man whose name is apparently Akbar. He has been arrested. He is not even a regular police officer. He is an appendage of the rotten and out-dated police system. He is a qaumi razakar (national volunteer) and belongs to a category of people who take up police-like functions to assist the authorities in the maintenance of law and order.

If such are our national volunteers then I am afraid we are all headed to hell.

In our discussion on Facebook, we concluded that the shop-owners and traders involved in this incident should also be charged as accomplices of the man in uniform. A perceptive friend on Facebook remarked,

“A meagre cell phone that she allegedly tried to steal in a city like Karachi where ‘bhata chits’ (money extortionist chits of paper issued by political mafias and thugs) are rampant, businessmen lose lives, while politicians loot and launder abroad enormous public money, this woman has been humiliated enough. Therefore all charges against her should be dropped and she be sent home with a warning. Our system is such that even if this case continues no harm will come to the policeman.”

I can’t agree with him more.

It often happens that the authorities respond initially and take action because of the public outcry, but then culprits like this police appendage are quietly let off. This should not happen. I therefore propose that we form a special monitoring committee which follows the trial, and public opinion should be mobilised so that the traders are also hauled in and made to explain their conduct.

Having said this, I cannot but sympathise with those friends who say that this case is only the tip of an iceberg and we are too insignificant to make a difference. I think it is high time we, in both Pakistan and India, start discussing if a police force recruited by the British colonial state and regulated by the Police Act of 1861 can ever serve the interests of a free and independent nation.

Karl Marx was quite right in the ultimate indictment of the state: it is not a neutral institution and it upholds the interests of the ruling class. However, there have been positive developments and in European democracies the police are held accountable for their actions. In the United States, shocking cases of police brutality are common but even there public outcry results in punitive action against high-handedness.

We can’t change the social, economic and political system of Pakistan by mobilising public opinion in favour of an effective and proper trial for this man and his accomplices, but if we succeed in this case, it may serve as some restraint on the abuse of state power. He should be handed down the severest sentence that the law permits at present.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30042/when-did-rape-threats-become-a-necessary-technique-for-extracting-confessions/

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