Pakistan: An appeal on behalf of Mukhtar Mai
In 2002, Mukhtaran Mai, a Pakistani seamstress from a small village in the Punjab province was gang-raped by men from a neighbouring clan. Several men from the dominant Mastoi tribe in Meeranwalla had volunteered to rape Ms Mai as a way to settle a score after her 12-year-old brother Abdul Shakoor was seen walking with a Mastoi girl. The decision had been taken by a village court to preserve tribal honour. The jirga, or council of village elders, summoned Ms Mai to apologise for her brother's sexual misdeed. When she apologised, they gang-raped her anyway. In April 2011, the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the Lahore high court and ordered the release of the five acquitted men. In February, 2009, WLUML issued a call for action: Pakistan: Interference in the case of Mukhtar Mai demanding that the Pakistani authorities ensured the trial of those accused of attacking Ms. Mai went ahead without interference. Unfortunately, there continued to be political influence in her case and regular serious threats to her life and the lives of family members in an attempt to pressure her to drop the charges against the perpetrators. Sanaz Raji explains the genesis of a petition to be sent to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, below. Please consider signing it.
It was on Friday, April 22, when a friend on Facebook posted the latest ruling on the Mukhtar Mai case. I have followed Mukhtar Mai’s story since she began her courageous fight to bring justice against the men who took part in the gruesome gang rape. I have also admired Mai’s spirit in establishing her own welfare organisation to teach young women about women’s rights and gender issues. She has shown women around the world the true meaning of the word, survivor. I was utterly outraged to learn of the recent decision of her case; it felt like a stinging slap on the face of anyone who has fought for women’s rights. On my Facebook wall, I reposted a link about the court decision. Without any effort, a conversation started among my friends, a fellow colleague at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds, Divya Maharajh and, filmmaker and psychiatrist Dr. Khaldoon Ahmed.
Me: “I am really upset about this. I hope a petition or something goes around to put pressure on Pakistan … [to] reconsider this decision.”
Divya: “I was reading about this yesterday and [feel] so frustrated for her … Sanaz, do you want to collaborate and do something for her? Perhaps circulate a petition if there isn’t one already out there?”
Me: “A petition is an excellent idea Divya. Khaldoon…would you like to join us on this?”
It did not take long for Divya to draft the initial petition. With a few edits and conversations back and forth, we finally launched the petition formally on the April 25, 2011. All it took were laptops united in a triumvirate with Divya and I in Leeds, United Kingdom and Khaldoon in Berlin, Germany. This is not a fancy multimillion-dollar charity venture a la Madonna or Bono. It is a sincere effort guided by our conviction to not stand idle to flagrant gender discrimination.
As an Iranian woman, I found many similarities of Mai’s case to the men and women in my homeland. As it has been reported in numerous articles, many Iranians have been arrested since the 2009 Iranian presidential elections which heralded a controversial second term for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The brave women and men who took to the streets to protest the election results have been subjected to the most humiliating and vile acts while incarcerated, including brutal sexual assault and violation in the name of religion and state. Many of the women who are currently in prison post-2009 election protests, have fought valiantly against gender apartheid laws in Iran that render women to an inferior position. These horrific sexual assaults that continue to be committed in Iran’s prisons are designed, much like Mai’s case, to humiliate and silence any dissent against the regime.
When strong women like Mai speak out against misogyny, they are routinely harassed and abused whether in public or in the media. This must stop.
This is why supporting our cause is important. Like Mukhtar Mai, we will not be silenced and accept what can only be described as a degrading and unfair decision. By joining in our fight, we are sending a clear message that the world will no longer stand by idly and ignore this act of gender discrimination. We petition the Pakistan Supreme Court to “overturn the Lahore High Court decision and uphold the original verdict for the five men who were found guilty of raping Mukhtar Mai.”
Please join Divya, Khaldoon, and I along with the many others who have signed our petition. Let us all be united and support Mukhtar Mai as she continues her battle for justice.
You can follow our activism by joining our Facebook page, Bring Justice for Mukhtar Mai’s Case.
Sanaz Raji is an Institute of Communications Studies (ICS), PhD Scholar, University of Leeds, who is researching gender, sexuality and satire in the Iranian diaspora online. She previously worked for a two year European Union funded project on Arab transnational media at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She blogs for the Guardian and Iranian.com.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Bring Justice to Mukhtaran Mai's Case
By Divya Maharajh (Contact)
In doing so, you send a clear signal to the Pakistani government to end its blatant gender apartheid laws that stigmatize brave women like Mukhtaran Mai from coming forward to bring justice on their abusers.”
On the 22nd of June, 2002, Mukhtaran Mai, a Pakistani seamstress from a small village in the Punjab province was gang raped by allegedly 4 men from a neighbouring clan. It was ordered by the village counsel, as a form of honour revenge, as her 12 year old brother was falsely accused of offending the honour of a powerful clan by having illicit sex with one of their women.
Immediately following the rape, she was forced to parade naked through the village. According to tradition, she was expected to then commit suicide but instead has spent the last 9 years fighting for justice. Initially, her case showed a great deal of promise. Fourteen men were originally arrested and charged for their involvement in the rape of Mai (four were charged with rape, and the rest with abetment).
Since this time however, charges have gradually been lifted or reduced. Eight of the fourteen men were acquitted, and six were sentenced to death in August of 2002. In March 2005, this judgement was reversed by the Lahore high court, and five of the six were acquitted, while the sixth was sentenced to life imprisonment. In June 2005, Mai’s name was added to an Exit Control List which prevented her from travelling abroad – a measure many believe was taken to prevent Mai’s case from generating negative global publicity for Pakistan. Though her name was eventually lifted from the ECL, her passport remained confiscated by authorities.
However, despite some improvements, Mai’s situation has unfortunately taken another turn for the worse. On Thursday, April 21st, 2011, the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the Lahore high court and ordered the release of the five acquitted men. Mai and her family now fear for their lives and safety.
It’s time we show the government of Pakistan that efforts to conceal ongoing violence against women in Pakistan have failed. Mukhtaran Mai’s story is just one of thousands demonstrating the injustice that women, religious minorities, and those who are among the lower classes face on a daily basis, and the corrupt legal system which continues to allow for shocking inequality to occur. The world will not remain passive onlookers to this violation of human rights.
Dr. Khaldoon Ahmed, Psychiatrist, London
Divya C. Maharajh, PhD Student, University of Leeds
Sanaz Raji, ICS PhD Scholar, University of Leeds