Mukhtar Mai Wins The Fight To Tell Her Story
Mukhtar Mai, a poor village woman, suffered at the hands of her rapists, at a court system that freed them, and at a President who virtually imprisoned her. She fought back and won.
By Zahed Amanullah, June 23, 2005
The mother of all PR disasters had just begun earlier this month when a local Pakistani court ordered the release of 12 men accused of gang raping 35-year old Mukthar Mai, a Pakistani woman from a rural village, in a well known incident that prompted global concern. Soon after, as Mai prepared for a visit to the US at the invitation of a human rights group (a South Asian one), she found her own government - one that had quietly supported her struggle in the past - turned on her, placing her under house arrest and barring her from international travel. In a New York Times opinion piece, Nicholas Kristof raged against the “harassing, detaining - and now kidnapping” of Mai. Kristof helped publlicize the case of Mukthar Mai when her rapists were originally convicted (and his readers chipped in $130,000 to Mai’s village schools). Since Musharraf was away on a state visit to New Zealand, some hoped the incident was due to zealous underlings. However, Musharraf later admitted to ordering the travel ban himself, alleging that foreign NGOs wanted “to bad-mouth Pakistan” over the “terrible state” of the nation’s women (whoops, it happened again). He said NGOs are “Westernised fringe elements” which “are as bad as the Islamic extremists”. Somewhat expectedly, the treatment of Mai (and the release of her convicted rapists) turned out to be more bad-mouthing than Pakistan could handle. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice personally ntervened to assure Mai’s access to the US (you ain’t seen bad-mouthing yet!). At first, the travel ban lifted, though her passport was confiscated (and Pakistani authorities alleged it was held by her bodyguard). Finally, a government advisor admitted to holding the passport and informed Mai that it would be returned. “She called me (and) said ‘I am sending your passport,”’ said Mai from her home village of Meerwala in the Punjab region. Pakistan’s embassy in Washington tried its best at damage control, stating Mai had not traveled to the United States because of “the illness of her mother,” but would make the trip soon. Calling Mai “a woman of great courage,” the embassy asserted (unconvincingly) that the “misstatement of facts in her case” had caused her “great mental agony.” Beyond that, Pakistan’s Supreme Court then agreed to hear the rape case after the local court’s failure to resolve it, something Mai had begun to fight for despite the complexities. Mai will attend the first hearing on the case June 27 in the capital, Islamabad, where she will be allowed to pick up her passport, wasting no time afterwards. Said Mai, “I will go abroad after that.”
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of alt.muslim. He is based in London, England.
Originally published on the Alt Muslim website at http://www.altmuslim.com/print.php?id=1475_0_24_0_M and reprinted in TAM with permission.