Saturday, June 18, 2005

Diamond: Mukhtaran Bibi

Out of the farming village of Meerwala Jatoi in Pakistan's Punjab province comes the story of Mukhtaran Bibi.

Although it has been reported that she prefers the name Mukhtaran Bibi, she also is called Mukhtar Mai, which started in the local press, meaning "respected big sister." The news reports and blogs tell of her transformation from victim of a gang rape, ordered by a village council, to hero on the international stage.

Pakistan's farming villages are feudal and tribal. The self-styled village councils, the panchayat, rule. And in Mukhtaran Bibi's case, the tribal elements meant the richer tribe ruled over the poorer one, seeking to precede both Islamic law and the secular law of the land.

After the rape, Mukhtaran Bibi did a surprising thing. She filed a complaint with the police about the gang rape, a punishment for a perceived transgression of her younger brother. Her culture told her not to file a complaint; her culture expected that she would commit suicide for the shame visited upon her.

But she did not follow the rules of her culture.

The court, in its first decision, awarded her money - enough to start a school. In fact she started two schools, one for boys and one for girls. And she made sure the children of her attackers attended. Her case attracted attention from the national and international press, and the donations came flooding in. The latest reports put the total at more than $100,000.

She has expanded her plans to include a shelter for abused women and a van to be used as an ambulance. She was invited to the United States to speak.

But those humanitarian endeavors attracted even more attention. And then came the embarrassment of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who vented his anger upon her. (She-devils live in all cultures.) Authorities placed her under house arrest, silenced her and banned travel.

Through the latest charades, the men who had been convicted and sentenced to death in her case, then freed, are now ordered by Pakistan's high court back to jail.

Pakistan announced to the world the travel ban has been lifted, but as of Saturday (June 18, 2005) the government still holds her passport.

One woman, uncowed, unbowed - in a country where most rape victims have to produce four witnesses to secure a conviction.


"In a region where illiteracy is the norm, Mukhtar had been educated and was herself a teacher of Islam. She understood her rights as arising not only from the esteem in which she was held by others, but also from her own understanding and abilities and from an innate value bestowed by God on all humans and codified in the Koran.

"When the local imam, or Islamic cleric, heard of what had happened to Mai, he used his position at the pulpit to speak out against the injustice that had been done and to call for Mai's condemners and attackers to be brought to trial before a civil court. The balance of political power that had once favored the attackers was slowly beginning to shift. The imam encouraged Mai to file an official complaint with the police."

And from Mukhtaran Bibi:

"I hope to make education more readily available to girls, to teach them that no woman should ever go through what happened to me," she said. "And I eventually hope to open more school branches in this area of Pakistan. I need your support to kill illiteracy and to help make tomorrow's women stronger. This is my goal in life."

Mukhtaran Bibi is a woman of faith. As Pakistan Today noted, her faith is not of the Wahabbi teachings, which are being blamed as a source of a dark, very dark, culture.

Her beliefs, her family, her friends, her community stood with her and for her. The more I read about this case, the more I esteem this woman.

Her story underscores lessons on many levels, only one being what we in America can truly learn about - and from - Islam.

And another: One woman.

E-mails can be sent to:
His Excellency Mr. Jehangir Karamat

Donations, according to Nicholas D. Kristoff in The New York Times, can be sent to:
Mercy Corps, with "Mukhtaran Bibi" in the memo line: 3015 S.W. First, Portland, Ore. 97201.


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This story is so remarkable. There is such shame visited on the victim of rape, regardless of the culture she lives in. To live within a village in which such patriarchy is practiced would make this almost impossible, and yet, not only did she do it, she prevailed.

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