Languishing in lockups By Hina Shahid | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Languishing in lockups By Hina Shahid

Women prisoners are often held in custody indefinitely by male police officers without the knowledge of the courts. Most incidents of sexual abuse occur during this period of illegal detention.

It was a typical after­noon in the courts of law. The British-built red­brick building called the City Court was echoing with noise, and presented a scene of chaos. Sitting in the premises of these huge buildings that cater to justice, one muses on what goes on here.

Suspects, witnesses, relatives and friends of the accused try to provide assistance and support in their own ways. Under-trial prisoners are brought hand­cuffed and chained in front of magistrates whose chairs generally remain empty. Every week, they get a new date, hoping to get a hearing, if not the judgment, on their next visit, but each time they return empty-handed to their dingy barracks.

Things are even more atrocious for the, female prisoners. Frightened, threatened and sulking women inmates are put in the City Court lockups like cattle, and wait for their turn to be brought in front of the jury. Lawyers put up their own terms and conditions to plead their cases. Poor women prisoners from different rural areas cannot even understand the meaning of the conversation of their lawyers, who are ready to exploit them at every juncture.

What to talk of just the International Women’s Day, this frenzy is ever the same in law courts. It’s a remorseless engine of oppression that goes on unabated. To watch these hapless women stand in the courtyard, heads down, thinking sullenly, doesn’t encourage you to talk about subjects like the importance of Women’s Day. It irks the women who spend their lives fighting such criminal apathy.

“Women’s Day? What the hell are you talking about,” young and intense Sughra burst out caustically. “I don’t even know what this Women’s Day means! There isn’t a single day for women to even think of their rights. We do not dare to dream of ever achieving our full rights in this society, or raise voices against the injustices, as our lives are dark, suppressed and weighed down by shame, for no rhyme or reason.”

This 20-year-old desperate girl, Sughra, has an advanced second pregnancy, and she is being held in the lockup for allegedly kidnapping a three-year-old girl of her neighbours. She is charged under sections 363/342/375. “My husband and I were arrested even after the girl was recovered. Police have no ears for the complaints of the poor. Denial of rights is what they can hand out to us,” she said ruefully.

Pakistani police habitually deny women basic protection and often refuse to register rape complaints by women. Officers often illegally imprison women in police lockups for days at a time without officially registering any charge against them or producing them before the magistrate within the prescribed 24-hour period. Women prisoners are often held in custody indefinitely by male police officers without the knowledge of the courts.

Most incidents of sexual abuse of female captives occur in this period of illegal detention. Female detainees are imprisoned under the Zina Ordinance, for kidnapping, theft, murder, dacoity, drug trafficking and causing hurt with a weapon etc. Poverty drags these under­privileged women behind the bars.

The World Bank has published a revealing new study of the causes and effects of global poverty. Over 60,000 men and women in 60 countries are living under the bone-crushing stress of poverty. The report says that 56 per cent of the world’s population lives in slums, without ever getting any where near getting the basic rights. Among 1.3 billion people living in poverty, almost half of them are living in South Asia, and 75 per cent of the poor are females. The underlying cause of poverty, both for men and women in South Asia, is the unshakable traditional social structure.
Source: Dawn
Date:3/7/2004