Sunday, 1 May 2011

Pakistan's Dirty Linen: Mukhtar Mai

Internationally known gang-rape victim Mukhtaran Bibi, recognized as Mukhtar Mai, which means ‘respected big sister’, is a Pakistani woman who was sentenced by a tribal council to be gang-raped for an alleged offense of her younger brother. Several of her neighbors brutally raped her and forced her to walk naked through her village. She was meant to be so dishonored that she would commit suicide, instead she found the courage to conquer her disgrace and demand justice.

Her Story

In June, 2002, Mukhtaran’s adolescent brother Shaqoor was suspected and accused by Mastoi, a rich and influential tribe, of committing fornication with a Mastoi woman, Salma.

Shaqoor, later, testified that he had been abducted by three Mastoi men, each of whom sodomized him in a sugarcane field.

Early in the afternoon of Saturday, June 22, 2002, Shaqoor was abducted by three Mastoi men and taken to the residence of Abdul Khaliq, Salma's brother.

Shaqoor shouted for help on the way and his relatives heard his cries. Mukhtaran, her mother, and other women of the house rushed outside, where several Mastoi men claimed that Shaqoor had fornicated with Salma. The women went immediately to Abdul Khaliq's house to demand his release, but Abdul Khaliq refused. Mukhtaran's mother then sent her brother to the police station which is 18 km to the north across dirt roads.

The police arrived before sunset, freed Shaqoor from the Mastoi, and took him to a police station and held him, pending a possible sex crime charge against him.

Mukhtaran's family proposed to settle the matter with the Mastoi by marrying Shakoor to Salma, and marrying Mukhtaran to one of the Mastoi men, and - if Shakoor was found guilty- to give some land to Salma's family as compensation.

But the men of Salma's family refused and insisted that illicit sex must be settled with illicit sex according to the principle of an eye-for-an-eye.

Later, some Mastoi men went to Mukhtaran's family, and told them that the Mastoi would accept the marriage proposal as settlement, if she would personally come and apologize to Salma's family. She went to the Mastoi gathering, of about 70 people, with her father and maternal uncle. The Mastoi tribe stated that the dispute was settled and Mukhtaran's family should be "forgiven".

Immediately afterward and less than a hundred meters away, Abdul Khaliq, armed with a 30-caliber pistol, forcibly took Mukhtaran into a stable where she was gang raped. After about an hour inside, she was pushed outside wearing only a torn qameez (long shirt). To make an example of her so as not to defy the local authorities, she was paraded naked in front of hundreds of onlookers on the orders of the village jurors. Her father covered her up with a shawl and took her home.

That same night, the police were informed that the two clans had settled their dispute, and that Salma's family was withdrawing its complaint against Shaqoor. His uncle retrieved him from the police station around 3 a.m.

Mukhtaran and her family went to the police station on June 30, 2002 to file charges.

Injustice Served

Mukhtaran's attackers, and the Mastoi of the village jurors that conspired in her rape, were sentenced to death by the Dera Ghazi Khan Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in 2002. The court convicted six men (4 rapists and 2 of the village jurors) and sentenced them to death on 1 September 2002. Eight other accused men were released.

On 10 June 2005, the then President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf, put Mukhtaran on Pakistan's Exit Control List (ECL), a list of people, usually criminal suspects or political figures, prohibited from traveling abroad because he did not "want to project a bad image of Pakistan".

Musharraf was asked about the Mukhtar Mai case while on one of his many overseas trips. He advised the victim not to air the country’s dirty linen in public as it tarnished Pakistan’s image abroad. He also suggested that in his experience, “Some women got raped in order to gain asylum in the West”.

On 13 June, the police took her from her village, and no word was heard from her. Her cell phone remained unanswered too.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights lawyer confirmed that Mukhtaran had been taken to Islamabad, furiously berated and told that Musharraf was very angry with her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location and barred from contacting anyone, including her lawyer.

On 3 March 2006, the Lahore High Court reversed the judgment by the trial court on the basis of "insufficient evidence" and five of the six men sentenced to death were acquitted.

The Lahore high court ruled on 6 June 2005 that the accused men could be released on payment of a 50,000 rupees ($840) bond. However, the men were unable to come up with the money, and remained in jail while the prosecution appealed their acquittal.

Just over two weeks later, the Supreme Court intervened and suspended the acquittals of the five men as well as the eight who were acquitted at the original 2002 trial. All 14 were retried in the Supreme Court.

On December 11, 2008 Mukhtaran was informed by the sitting Federal Minister for Defense Production, to drop the charge against the accused threatening her that if she did not comply, he and his associates would not let the Supreme Court’s decision go in her favor.

On June 11, 2009, the Multan Electric Power Company raided the MMWWO (Mukhtar Mai's Women Welfare Organization to support and education Pakistani women) in Meerwala, Pakistan, disconnecting all electricity to the grounds, falsely accusing the organization of stealing electricity despite records proving they have paid all bills in full. To this date, they are still without electricity suffering in the blistering temperatures.

And on April 21, 2011 the Supreme Court upheld the Lahore High Court verdict, announcing that five have been acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan while the sixth suspect, Abdul Khalique had his life sentence upheld.

Now, with the release of these suspects, Mukhtaran Mai and her family are continuously threatened by them and the government. While, these rapists are set free she is under house-arrest. Is this the justice she has been waiting for since the last nine years? Is this how she is repaid for having a voice and taking a stand against the inhumane acts done on innocent women?

This woman is not someone our people and the government should be ashamed of or shut her up. She has given hope and courage to women across the world. In 2005, the US magazine Glamour named Mukhtaran as their ‘Woman Of The Year’. She received the 2006 North-South Prize of the Council of Europe for her contribution to human rights. She has met countless renowned people such as the French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor, Laura Bush etc. Books about her ordeal have been published in French ("Déshonorée"), German ("Die Schuld, eine Frau zu sein"), English ("In the Name of Honor: A Memoir.") and 23 other languages.

Sadly, she is not alone in her suffering. This story of heartbreak is typical of innumerable stories of women and girls in poor countries around the world. The exploitation of women, mainly in poor countries, is the most serious abuse of human rights in the world today. I pray for the health, welfare and dignity of our sisters.

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