Mukhtaran Mai: Not just another rape victim Print E-mail
Dear Ones,
Read the below item #1 for the importance of Mukhtaran Mai's courageous struggle, and the message which seems to have escaped Nicholas Kristoff, the NYT's self-ordained "feminist" of the third millennium: "If she [Mukhtaran Mai] loses her battle even after so much domestic and international publicity, then no woman in Pakistan can hope to get justice. That is why it is critically important that Mukhtaran Mai wins a fight which is not hers alone any more but has implications for the rights of all Pakistani women"!

With this in mind, Mukhtaran Mai's ultimate victory lies not, as Mr Kristoff seems to believe, in her freedom to tell her horrendous story abroad, but in the ultimate verdict of Pakistan's Supreme Court when it takes up her case on June 27 [see item #2].

Over centuries we can recall the power of one, none more than the brave Mukhtaran Mai herself, but to overlook the millions she, as too past and present brave activists, represents is to ignore her ultimate cause

A luta continua! - Lynette
#1 The News International - Pakistan
Monday June 20 2005-- Jamadi Al Awwal 12, 1426 A.H.

Not just another rape victim

Their patriarchal vision prevents our rulers from seeing how Mukhtaran Mai's visit could have broken the stereotypical images of Pakistani women as passive victims of violence, unaware of their rights and unable to stand up for themselves

Violence against women is nothing new: it happens around the world, including Pakistan. So why such a fuss over one gang rape at Meerwala, near Multan? Have NGOs blown Mukhtaran Mai's case out of proportion to raise funds from donor agencies, as critics contend?

With few organisations taking up the issue of violence against women on a sustained and wide-scale level, the response of non-government or civil society organisations in Pakistan to such incidents is often reactive. The tendency is to strongly take up those few cases that have wider implications, preferably with the survivor willing to fight back.

Mukhtaran Mai's is one such case. It has assumed critical importance for two reasons. Firstly, it raises several structural issues by exposing the gendered nature of our state and community institutions, and secondly, it breaks the myth of women as passive victims of violence.

The case challenges the existence and legitimacy of parallel judicial systems in the country, and highlights their anti-women nature and inability to dispense justice. First, a panchyat ordered that Mukhtaran be gang raped. Then, the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court (LHC) acquitted five out of six who were awarded death sentence by the Anti-Terrorist Court. The Federal Shariat Court took suo moto notice of this verdict on the grounds that it was a Hudood case that the Lahore High Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear. The Supreme Court then issued another suo moto notice.

The LHC's acquittal of five accused out of six due to lack of evidence and the long delay in hearing Mukhtaran's appeal filed in the Supreme Court (despite its suo moto notice three months ago, the proceedings have not even begun yet) raises serious questions about the criminal justice system and the higher courts' ability to dispense justice.

The entire village community witnessed Mukhtaran being dragged off to be raped and her state as she emerged. Yet the accused were set free due to lack of evidence. There is something seriously wrong with a justice system that requires evidence that is impossible for the rape victim to produce, and which shifts the burden of proof on her. There is a need for a complete overhaul of our criminal justice system from a gender perspective.

Thirdly, the case highlights the link between public and private patriarchy and the issue of the family and the state's control over women's lives. Mukhtaran was gang raped for her young brother's supposed transgression -- he was accused of having an affair with a woman from the Mastoi tribe. Since women are considered men's property, and the notion of 'honour' resides in the bodies of women, the panchayat allowed the Mastoi men to reclaim their 'honour' by raping the sister of the "accused" boy.

When Mukhtaran decided to register an FIR, her father begged her not to and her brother threatened to commit suicide. They wanted to silence her, knowing that her search for justice publicise the case and bring 'dishonour' to the family. They were more concerned with protecting their 'honour' than obtaining justice.

In trying to prevent Mukhtaran from travelling to the United States, the government assumed the role of a patriarch and took control of her life. , placing her name on the Exit Control List, restricting her movement, putting her under virtual house arrest and pressurising her to change her mind about travelling abroad.

Their fear that her visit would tarnish the country's reputation and negatively impact their efforts to project a 'moderate' and 'soft' image of Pakistan reflects our rulers' feudal mindset.

They have done more damage to the 'moderate' image by victimising her and disrespecting her right to travel, freedom of movement and expression, than her visit could have done.

Their patriarchal vision prevents our rulers from seeing how Mukhtaran's visit could have broken the stereotypical images of Pakistani women as passive victims of violence, unaware of their rights and unable to stand up for themselves.

In mishandling the case the government also exposed its rhetorical position on public-private partnerships and stated commitment towards providing an enabling environment to enlightened, progressive forces and civil society organisations. Frustrated by the NGOs' commitment to stand by Mukhtaran against the government oppression, President Pervez Musharraf termed them "as bad as extremist groups".

Two ministers, Shahzad Waseem, state minister of Interior and Nilofar Bukhtiar, special adviser on women's development to the Prime Minister, made derogatory remarks against NGOs. The tension between the government and the civil society has taken a new turn; some NGOs have now announced that they will terminate their partnerships with the government if it does not tender a public apology.

Mukhtaran Mai's resolve to get justice has become a rallying point for human and women's right activists. She has become a symbol of resistance and women's agency, and is considered an icon of the struggle for justice of Pakistani women.

If she loses her battle even after so much domestic and international publicity, then no woman in Pakistan can hope to get justice. That is why it is critically important that Mukhtaran Mai win a fight which is not hers alone any more but has implications for the rights of all Pakistani women.

The writer heads the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at the Quaid-e-Azam University
DAWN - Pakistan
Sunday June 19 2005-- Jamadi Al Awwal 11, 1426 A.H.
SC to take up Mukhtaran case on 27th
By Our Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD, June 18: Taking notice of reaction to the rape case of Mukhtaran Mai, the Supreme Court has decided to start sifting the facts on June 27 to reach the truth, sources said.

A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice-designate Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Rana Bhagwandas and Justice Saiyed Saeed Ashhad would take up two appeals and a Supreme Court suo motu notice, pending for more than three months.

Mukhtaran Mai, who attracted international attention when her name was put on the exit control list (ECL) and her passport was seized to discourage her from visiting US on the invitation of Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights (ANAA), had challenged Lahore High Court's acquittal of the accused involved in the famous Meerwala rape case on the orders of a tribal council. Similarly the Punjab government had also appealed before the apex court against the high court's decision.

While on March 14, the Supreme Court intervened to end an inter-court controversy by staying separate orders of the Lahore High Court and the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) by deciding to hold its own hearing.

The SC had to take the matter into its hands when the FSC suspended LHC-Multan Bench order of acquitting convicts involved in the rape by declaring high court's judgment as coram-non-judice (without jurisdiction). Earlier on March 3, LHC-Multan Bench had overturned convictions of five men sentenced to death in 2002 for raping Mukhtaran Mai on the orders of a tribal council for her brother's alleged affair, but commuted to life imprisonment, the death penalty of sixth convict for attacking Mukhtaran Mai.

Taking suo motu notice, Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Nazim Hussain Siddiqui had summoned the entire record of the case from the high court and the FSC, while notices were served on Punjab Advocate-General Aftab Iqbal and Mukhtaran Mai. Bailable arrest warrants were issued against the accused, acquitted by the high court but later rearrested on the direction of the prime minister.