Hello, world! Or, What Really Happened in the Mukhtar Mai Case

28 Apr

HI everyone. Rather than getting bogged down in an introductory post telling you all about myself, I would like to plunge right in. (Besides, you can read about me here.)

Last weekend, the Supreme Court in Pakistan upheld the ruling of the Lahore High Court and acquitted five of the six men previously convicted of gang raping Mukhtaran Mai. With this judgment, they took away hope from all the women in Pakistan who have been raped—and there are many—that one day their rapists will face justice.

The facts of the case are complex and go back several years. The rape itself occurred on June 22, 2002. But there is a backstory that must be told first and a cast of characters explained.

Mukhtaran Mai—also known as Mukhtar Mai or Mukhtar Bibi—is the elder sister of Abdul Shakoor and the daughter of Ghulam Fareed, a woodcutter of the humble Gujjar clan in Meerwala village, Muzzafargarh district, Pakistan. Nine years ago, the then 12-year-old Shakoor was accused of having an affair with Salma, a woman six years older to him who belonged to the powerful Mastoi clan. In retaliation, her brother Abdul Khaliq abducted Shakoor and imprisoned him in his house and sodomized him. Despite the pleas of Ghulam Fareed, Shakoor’s father, the Mastoi family refused to release the boy. Even the police could not release Shakoor; it was only upon the intervention of the head of the household, Faiz Mastoi, that Shakoor was handed over to police custody. The police continued to hold Shakoor, and his family realized that they would not release him until the matter was settled through direct compromise with the Mastois.

To negotiate his release, two panchayats, or meetings of village elders, were held by the two clans to offer their terms of settlement. One was held by the Gujjar community in the local mosque, and was attended by roughly 15 to 20 clan members. They recommended that two marriages be made to resolve the matter: between Shakoor and Salma, and Mukhtar Mai and Abdul Khaliq. The Mastois rejected this finding.

In turn, they held their own panchayat, attended by more than 200 Mastoi clan members, in which they decided that a compromise could not be reached without badla or revenge. To avenge Salma’s honor and the honor of the entire tribe, they demanded that a woman of Shakoor’s family be subjected to zina (sex without the benefit of marriage). The Gujjar representatives could not agree to this, and the meeting dispersed.

Later, three Mastoi clan members approached Shakoor’s family with a solution from the clan’s head, Faiz Mastoi: the matter would be resolved if Mukhtar Mai would beg for forgiveness from the Mastoi clan. It was late at night, but Mai duly went to the panchayat accompanied by her maternal uncle, Sabir Hussain, and her father, Ghulam Fareed. There, with the complicity of the assembled Mastois, who lifted not a finger to help her, Abdul Khaliq dragged her into his house, which was nearby. He was armed with a pistol and helped by his brother Allah Ditta, and two others: Ghulam Fareed (no relation to Mai’s father) and Muhammed Fayyaz. The four men gang raped Mai in a dark room lit by moonlight. Her father and uncle stood by, unable to save her in the face of the tremendous, intimidating presence of the Mastois.

An hour later, Mai was released, and she walked out of the house bruised and half-naked, holding her torn clothes in her hand. She was weeping, as were her father and uncle. She had an audience of hundreds. The Mastois subsequently withdrew their objections to the continued detention of Shakoor, and with their consent, the police released the boy to his family.

On June 28, six days after the brutal attack, the local imam, Abdul Razzaq, mentioned the rape in his Friday prayers. He met with Ghulam Fareed and obtained his permission to report the rape. He also arranged for local journalists to meet with the family. Two days later, despite pressure to remain silent, Mai filed a First Information Report—a police complaint that must be entered before any further action can be taken—with the local police. She was examined by a doctor who determined that sexual intercourse had taken place and that there were healing bruises on her back and buttocks that were consistent with the date of the rape.

These are the salient facts of the case. And on April 21, 2011, nine years after the four men gang raped Mai, three were released by order of the Pakistani Supreme Court. To read about the history of the legal judgment, click here.

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