Dawn Editorial 17 December 2020

Chemical castration

CHEMICAL castration is no remedy for curbing sexual violence, any more than is public hanging, which an enraged citizenry has been increasingly demanding as punishment for rapists. The procedure does, however, give the impression of being proactive. It could silence those who believe the government is not doing enough to tackle a crime that seems to have assumed alarming proportions.
On Tuesday, President Arif Alvi signed off on the Anti-Rape Ordinance, 2020, that allows for chemical castration of those convicted of rape. Contrary to the earlier draft however, the perpetrator’s consent will not be required for the procedure to be carried out; rather it will be at the discretion of the judge to impose the punishment for a period ranging from six months to life.
This is not to say that the legislation has no redeeming features. For instance, it mandates the setting up of special courts for speedy trials of rape cases, which would spare victims the distress caused by long-drawn-out legal proceedings; and making their identification a punishable offence may encourage more victims to come forward. The ordinance also stipulates that anti-rape crisis cells will ensure medico-legal examination of victims within six hours, which would improve the chances of putting together a prosecutable case. However, the ordinance falls short in several significant respects.
For one, the punishment of chemical castration is impractical in Pakistan’s context and raises serious ethical concerns. Secondly, it demonstrates a lack of understanding about the crime of rape. While studies show that chemical castration can drastically cut recidivism rates, it is no quick fix. The treatment must be continuous to remain effective. Is our criminal justice system so efficient that it can keep track of these individuals and bring them in for their injections at regular intervals? If they are to be imprisoned and also subjected to chemical castration, the latter course is redundant. It compounds the fact that chemical castration is a cruel and unusual punishment. Adopting this path puts us on the wrong side of international law that holds that invasive medical treatments require explicit consent of the individual.
Moreover, rape is a crime of power; to reduce it to a crime of lust disregards the social context with which it is inextricably linked. Pakistan’s patriarchal culture denies women agency over their bodies while outmoded notions cast them as repositories of family ‘honour’. That, coupled with a culture of machismo, means women are always potential ‘prey’. Rape is an instrument with which to demonstrate power, to retaliate against another man, or simply, to put a woman ‘in her place’. Children of course, are the most vulnerable in this hierarchy of power. What is needed is better criminal investigation resulting in higher certainty of punishment, and a sea change in social attitudes. That is the longer but far more certain route to reducing sexual crimes.



Biden’s victory

MORE than a month after a historic election yielded a change for the United States, the electoral college vote count is in. With this, Joe Biden has officially been affirmed as the winner of the 2020 presidential race after comfortably crossing the threshold of 270 electoral college votes. While this official confirmation of a Biden presidency gave members of the Republican party an opportunity to congratulate the incoming president, there are some — and foremost among them President Donald Trump — who are still in a deep state of denial. From the moment a Biden victory started looking possible, Mr Trump and his supporters threw every toy out of the proverbial pram to halt the vote count with the hope of changing the result. From legal challenges to incessant tweets, Mr Trump has dedicated a remarkable amount of energy and time to creating an ‘alternative reality’ for the consumption of his support base. Chaos has been the ruling theme of Mr Trump’s efforts to discredit the election and the fact that he lost. Mr Trump has still not conceded, as is customary for runners-up in American politics, and the days ahead will see the Republican Party digging its heels in on the electoral fraud claims. On Wednesday, a Wisconsin Republican senator held a hearing to probe the 2020 election by inviting two Trump campaign lawyers who tried to overturn the election results in Nevada and Wisconsin.
While there is little doubt that this voter fraud allegation is nothing but a fishing expedition, it can have serious consequences. Mr Trump will have to accept the truth eventually, but the period before he leaves the White House has seen him promote damaging election conspiracy theories that have largely been debunked. That a US president is disseminating falsehoods is troubling. Fortunately, the incoming president responded to Mr Trump by reiterating his conciliatory message from the early days of his projected victory. “I will be a president for all Americans. I will work just as hard for those of you who didn’t vote for me as I will for those who did.” He also reminded Mr Trump that in America, “politicians don’t take power — the people grant it to them”, and repeated his firm belief in an indestructible democracy. The days ahead promise to be challenging for Mr Biden, who not only has the gargantuan task of running the American government but also carrying an unprecedented burden of a trust deficit among millions of Republican voters.



Karachi insecurity

TWO incidents in Karachi illustrate the fact that the port city is still very much vulnerable to acts of terrorism, and that security forces need to stay ahead of militants trying to destabilise the metropolis. The first, an attempted attack, targeted a Chinese restaurateur, though luckily the bomb attached to his vehicle failed to detonate. Later in the day, a vehicle of the paramilitary Rangers was hit by a cracker near Karachi University’s Sheikh Zayed Centre. At least four persons were injured in that incident. The banned Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army has claimed responsibility for both, while police investigators also say nationalist groups are most likely involved. Karachi over the decades has seen waves of religious, sectarian and ethnic militancy, though over the last few years there has been a rise in incidents involving Baloch and Sindhi separatist groups. Earlier this year, the outlawed BLA attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange in the Sindh capital while in 2018 the same group was involved in targeting the Chinese consulate in Karachi.
As for the choice of targets, security men have been attacked by separatists because they represent the state, while Chinese nationals and institutions are chosen as targets to damage the strong relations between Islamabad and Beijing. The administration, due mainly to the efforts of the police, Rangers and other security institutions, has done a good job of bringing peace to Karachi, especially where countering violent Islamist and sectarian groups is concerned. Similar efforts must be made to check the growth of separatist militant networks in the city before they can do further harm. Intelligence-based operations can help bust cells before they can carry out acts of terrorism, while security of sensitive installations and individuals must be beefed up. Whatever the grievances of the separatists, Sindh enjoys a vibrant political culture and these plaints must be raised in the provincial assembly and through other democratic means. There is absolutely no room to express differences with state policies through terrorism and targeting innocent people.


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