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The question of punishment

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As an increasingly bloodthirsty nation, we are extremely good at proposing punishments for crimes. This happens after every bloody crime committed anywhere in the country and for a few months public anger remains high. Today, following the horrific highway gang rape case, Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke out in favor of publicly hanging the accused once convicted. With Pakistan having GSP Plus status, which does not support hangings, the prime minister said chemical castration would be considered by the government.

The question of the severity of the sanctions has been raised repeatedly over the past week, especially given the conducive environment for hanging in the country and within the government. We really shouldn’t want to move from a country that only a few years ago had a moratorium on capital punishment to a country that turns a matter of life and death into a public spectacle. Rather, we should focus on reforming our investigative and justice systems. It is telling that DNA played such a central role in identifying suspects, as the Council for Islamic Ideology previously opposed in rape cases. What we need is consistent and effective punishment instead of immediately jumping to increasing the severity of the punishment. Our history of prosecuting suspected criminals is far from perfect, which has undermined confidence in the effectiveness of the judiciary. This is the opportunity to show that the system works. Politicians and law enforcement officials should also refrain from performing a lap of honor. The point is that rape is extremely common in Pakistan and the police have often been accused of blaming the victims and not being interested in finding the culprits. This is well reflected in the appallingly low conviction rate in rape cases, below 5%. In such a reality, should we not focus on exposing rape and condemning rapists rather than how to punish them?

In the case of chemical castration, a very important point is that castration assumes that the crime is that of lust and not of power, when in fact rape is a crime of power and not of sex. We hope that these considerations and details, as well as others, will be studied and understood by the government as it considers the issue of punishments. What is hoped, however, is that the government as well as the nation look into what has failed Pakistani women, and that has little to do with the type of punishment a culprit receives. and much more with social and institutional failures. Let’s start at least with the requirement that in rape cases authorities must believe the victim as they do when other crimes like theft are reported. Most victims are afraid to report the crime for fear that their character will be brought to justice. This reversal of justice must now end.

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