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A young victim of gang rape has threatened to set herself on fire in front of Pakistan’s parliament if her attackers are not brought to justice. Nazish Bhatti, 17, told journalists in Islamabad that she escaped from her abductors and fled to a police station but was raped again — by two officers.
“I prefer death over the life I’m enduring after being dishonoured,” she said.
Thousands of women are raped each year in Pakistan and many commit suicide out of shame. But some are now daring to speak out, inspired by the example of Mukhtaran Mai, a teacher who was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council but took her case to the courts and won.
Miss Bhatti, a student and the daughter of a factory worker in the city of Sialkot in central Punjab, said she was abducted by three men as she walked to college. She said she was kept in a house for more than a month where she was repeatedly gang-raped.
The rapists also tried to kill her by forcing her to drink insecticide. She survived. But when she went to the police she was raped by two policemen. She was threatened with dire consequences if she reported the incident, but eventually went to hospital and was treated for ten days. Instead of charging the rapists, the police threatened to register a case of adultery against her.
Miss Bhatti said that she and her parents would commit suicide by setting themselves on fire if her attackers were not brought to justice within 48 hours. The deadline was postponed until today after the authorities promised to investigate her case.
She alleged that Sialkot police were protecting her rapists because they were “influential men”. Osama Raja, the local police chief, denied this but said investigations were continuing. He said three of the five accused have been arrested, but denied that Miss Bhatti was raped by the police.
Miss Bhatti was studying English literature and economics and wanted to become a teacher. But, she says, the incident has dashed her ambition.
Human rights groups said crime against women in Pakistan has increased largely because of the virtual collapse of law enforcement and the judicial system, particularly in backward rural areas. The Pakistani parliament was told on Tuesday that more than 16,000 women had been raped since 1998. But women’s rights groups said around 10,000 women a year are raped in Pakistan. Most cases involve girls from poor families and go unreported. The rape of minors in particular is on the rise.
According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the involvement of policemen in rape and gang-rape cases is alarming. Most of the cases occur in Punjab, the country’s largest and most populous province.
It is rare for the victims to go public because of the social stigma. But Miss Mai’s victory has encouraged women to fight back.
(Posted on April 29, 2005)