Mukhtar Mai – Defying All Odds

mukhtar.jpgShe was an ordinary village girl, living in the Pakistani village of Meerawala, in the rural tehsil of Jatoi of Muzzaffargarh District. She lead a normal life – as normal as a Pakistani rural woman’s life could be. She cherished her own small dreams and had her modest aspirations until that fateful day when she was punished for her brother’s alleged ‘crime’. How was she to know that from that day onwards, life would never be the same again? How was she to know that her world would be turned upside down, and the incident would send shockwaves so deep that her existence would be rattled, forever?

The gruesome incident took place on June 22, 2002. Mukhtar’s 12-year old brother Shaqoor was accused by the Mastoi tribe of committing rape, rather adultery, with Salma, a girl of the Mastoi tribe.

Rural Pakistan is, till date, held in the clutches of an unjustified tribal hierarchy, and the Mastoi tribe happened to be more powerful than Mukhtar’s own clan, the Tatla. Mukhtar was used by the Mastoi men as a weapon to avenge her brother’s ‘misconduct’.

Several reports have revealed that women in Pakistan have always had to pay with their lives, bodies and souls for the alleged sins of their family or tribes. Honor killing, acid throwing and gang rapes are common occurrences in Pakistan. While most of the perpetrators walk away scot free after devastating the lives of innocent women, the victim usually commits suicide to escape the brunt of the society. According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, during the first seven months of 2004, at least 151 Pakistani women were gang raped and 176 were brutally killed in the name of honour. Mukhtar was another helpless victim of this heinous practice.

Let us go back to the afternoon of June 22. Mukhtar’s brother Shaqoor was abducted by three Mastoi men and was taken to Abdul Khaliq’s (Salma’s brother) residence. The three fiends then sodomised the poor boy in a sugarcane field. Shaqoor’s cries for help, while he was being taken to Khaliq’s house, alerted the women of his house. They were informed of their little boy’s alleged crime. Fearing the worst, these women hastily rushed to Khaliq’s house to beg forgiveness for their boy. However, their plea fell on deaf ears. Mukhtaran’s mother sent her brother to the police station 13 Km away. Meerawala is a small village oblivious of technology of all sorts and, in this absence of telephones, it was not before nightfall that the police could be summoned to rescue these vulnerable people. Later, the three men were found guilty of sexually assaulting the boy.

Mukhtaran’s family proposed to straighten things out by marrying Shaqoor to Salma and Mukhtaran to some Mastoi man. If Shaqoor’s crime was ever established, they even contemplated giving some land to Salma’s family. Initially, Faizan agreed to this proposition but two men of Salma’s family wanted revenge to restore the honor of their tribe. In other words, they wanted to use Mukhtaran as their guinea pig and shred her life into pieces, never to be sewn together.

Ramzan Pachar and G.F Mastoi (both members of the Mastoi clan) came to Mukhtaran’s family and hoodwinked them into thinking that if Mukhtar went with them and apologized personally, then they would accept the settlement tendered by her family.

Oblivious of what the future held in store for her, Mukhtar set out with her father and maternal uncle to put an end to these unpleasant events. The poor girl had never imagined that fate could be so cruel and mirthless.

Immediately afterwards, Abdul Khaliq, armed with a 30-caliber pistol, forcibly took Mukhtaran inside into a dark room and she was gang raped by the heartless fiends.

This was not the end of her misfortune. To set an example to others and to restore the superiority of their clan and vulnerability of women, these men paraded Mukhtar naked in front of innumerable onlookers. Her father covered her with a shawl and walked her home.

These are the events which altered her and her life forever. However, she was not one to be bogged down and forced into silence. Instead of resorting to suicide, which in her case would have been the easier way out, this young, poor and vulnerable woman set out to demand justice. In a world where crime against women is commonplace, where women are treated like dirt and taught to swallow their opinions, this girl who hailed from a small obscure village made up her mind to fight. She wanted justice for what had been done to her; she wanted to bring the guilty to book.

Her fight for justice was, by no means, easy. She was threatened by the power players to recede into silence, but she had already been injured so much and for no fault of hers that she decided to fight on. It is very hard to hold your head up high in a society where being a rape victim is the worst possible curse for a woman and her family. To top that, being paraded naked is the deepest scar on a woman’s tender soul ever. It requires a lot of grit and strength to be able to face the predators in court, to look at the men who played with your body as if it was a toy and to fight those who held power in their hands. It requires exceptional courage to go through the slow and painful process of a trial, where the defense hurls dung bombs on your character. Imagine her plight, but also observe her unshaken resolve to not give up in the male dominated land, to fight on against further threat.

When you look at her photographs, you see immense pain in her eyes. There is bitterness at what the world has done to her, but the resolve and the immutable strength of her character shines through in all her pictures. You see the woman who said that she would rather “die at the hands of such animals than give up her right to justice”. You see the woman who, despite all odds, won. Six men involved in her gang rape have been punished, two of them sentenced to death. The Government also awarded her compensation. She used the compensation money to open a school in her village because she believes that education would empower women and would be a mighty weapon in saving them from the injustices which the ruthless society is capable of inflicting on them. She is also the force behind the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization which aims at empowering women.

This is the story an ordinary village girl, living in the Pakistani village of Meerawala, in the rural tehsil of Jatoi of Muzzaffargarh District who once lead a normal life.

Apurva Joshi

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