In June 2002, journalists throughout the world began to hear of the gang rape of a Pakistani woman from the impoverished village of Meerwala. The rape was ordered by a local clan known as the Mastoi and was arranged as punishment for indiscretions allegedly committed by the woman's brother. While certainly not the first account of a female body being negotiated for honor in a family, and (sadly) not the last, journalists and activists were captivated. This time the survivor had chosen to fight back, and in doing so, single-handedly changed the feminist movement in Pakistan. Her name was Mukhtar Mai, and her decision to stand up to her accusers was an act of bravery unheard of in one of the world's most adverse climates for women.
By July 2002, Mai's case was headline news in Pakistan and under international scrutiny, the government awarded her the equivalent of 8,500 U.S. dollars in compensation money (a historic settlement), and her attackers were sentenced to death. Mukhtar Mai went on to open a school for girls in an effort to ensure that future generations would not suffer, as she had, from illiteracy.
In this rousing account, Mai describes her experience and how she has since become an agent for change and a beacon of hope for oppressed women around the world. Timely and topical, In the Name of Honor is the remarkable and inspirational memoir of a woman who fought and triumphed against exceptional odds.
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October 31, 2006
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Excerpt from In the Name of Honor by Mukhtar Mai
The Long Road Ahead
On the night of June 22, 2002, our family reaches a decision.
I, Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman of the peasant Gujar caste, living in the village of Meerwala, will be the one to confront an influential and aggressive local clan, farmers of the powerful Mastoi caste, on behalf of my family.
My little brother Shakur is accused by the Mastois of having "spoken" to Salma, a young woman of their clan. Shakur is only twelve years old, while Salma is over twenty. We know my brother has done nothing wrong, but if the Mastois have decided otherwise, we Gujars must bow to their demands. This is the way it has always been.
My father and uncle have explained the situation to me.
"Our mullah, Abdul Razzaq, is in despair. The Mastois have the majority in the village council, and they refuse all reconciliation. They are armed. Your maternal uncle and Ramzan Pachar, a friend of the Mastois, have tried everything to calm the members of the council. We have but one last chance: a Gujar woman must appear before their clan. Among all the women of our house, we have chosen you."
"Why me "
"The others are too young to do this. Your husband has granted you a divorce, you have no children, you teach the Koran. You are a respectable woman!"
It's long after sunset, but until now I've been told very little of what caused this serious dispute today. The men of the jirga, our village council, have been meeting for several hours now, and only they know why I must appear before that tribunal.
Shakur has been missing since midday. All we know is that at noon he was in a wheat field near our house, but tonight he is locked up inside the police station, three miles from the village. I hear from my own father's lips that my little brother has been beaten.
"We saw Shakur when the police brought him out of the Mastois' house. He was all bloody, and his clothes were torn. The police took him away in handcuffs without letting me speak to him. I'd been looking for him everywhere, and a man who'd been cutting branches up in a palm tree came to tell me that he'd seen the Mastois kidnap Shakur. In the village, people began reporting to me that the Mastois were accusing him of illicit conduct and theft."
The Mastois are old hands at this kind of retaliation. Their powerful clan leader knows many influential people, and they are violent men, capable of invading anyone's home with their guns to loot, rape, and tear the place apart. The lower-caste Gujars have no right to oppose them, and no one in my family has dared go to their house.
Because of his religious office, the mullah is the only person entitled to intervene in this crisis, but all his efforts have been in vain. So my father went to file a complaint with the police. Outraged that a Gujar peasant has defied them by sending policemen to their very doorstep, the proud Mastois have slightly modified their story: now they accuse Shakur of raping Salma. They claim that my brother has committed zina-bil-jabar, which in Pakistan means the sins of rape, adultery, or sexual relations without the sanctity of marriage. Before handing over my brother, the Mastois demanded that he be locked up, and they insisted that if he were released from jail, he should be returned to the custody of the Mastoi clan. Zina may be punishable by death, according to the Islamic code of sharia, so the police have locked up Shakur not only because he is accused of a serious crime but also to protect him from the violent Mastois, who want to take justice into their own hands. The whole village has known about all this since early this afternoon, and my father has taken the women of my family to our neighbors' houses for safety's sake. We know that the Mastois always take their revenge on a woman of a lower caste. It's the woman's place to humiliate herself, to beg for forgiveness before all the men of the village assembled in a jirga in front of the Mastois' farmhouse.