“I’m so happy, I feel really pleased. I hope that those who humiliated me will be punished. I will await the verdict at Supreme Court, which will deliver justice here on earth.” (28 June 2005)
“I often say that if the justice of men doesn’t punish those who did ‘that’ to me, God will take care of it sooner or later. But I would like that justice be given to me officially. In front of the entire world…” (October 2005)
“I did not receive justice today; hence I have left my fate in the hand of God.” (21 April 2011)
It was on 28 June 2005 that the Supreme Court of Islamabad agreed to reopen the case of Mukhtar Bibi who by then had been transformed as Mukhtaran Mai. It was a ray of hope for her after the disheartening verdict of the Lahore High Court on the 3rd of March in the very same year. Mukhtaran was hopeful that the Supreme Court would deliver justice to her here on earth. But the tone of her optimism slightly changes when she is narrating her story to Marie-Therese Cuny in October of the same year. Probably, while re-living, as and when she is narrating, the journey for justice, some element of skepticism has seeped in. Not surprising because “There is a certain fatigue in chasing the idea of justice.” But after six years there is only silence in the words of Mukhataran Mai.
Silence of silenced? In the year 2002 Mukhtaran was a lady of lesser words. But one unfortunate night did make her speak. Not speak just for herself but for many like her. This power of speech was passed on to many, who saw hope in her and who saw a ‘Mai’- respected big sister in her. Today is it only Mukhtaran who has been silenced? Or is it also all those who got their strength and voice with the help of Mukhataran Mai?
Around a dozen of women would visit Mukhtaran on a daily basis to seek help from her to fight for justice for themselves. They all saw hope in the fight of Mukhtaran. Today when Mukhtaran herself has “lost faith in legal system” what is the state of those who saw hope in her? All these women would sleep on the floor with Mukhtaran at her place, during their visit. Today will they all be buried? They all slept on the floor because Mukhataran had given the only bed in her room to the Prinicipal of the school which she runs. In the year 2005 when the accused were released from the jail following the verdict by the Lahore High Court, the scene in the school run by Mukhataran has changed. Fear was in the air. Now again, the Supreme Court verdict will affect the running of the school. Many young girls now will go back to silence and many, who will not attend school, will not even get an idea that girls too have a voice.
The idea of a school came to Mukhtaran Mai when a lady minister came to her small village to offer a cheque of half a million to her. Mukhtaran who by then had seen the ugliest sides of the ‘human’ world feared that the cheque was a trap. She crumpled it and dropped it on the floor before saying, “I don’t need this,” and spontaneously said, “I don’t need a cheque I need a School.” The minister asked “A school?” to which Mukhtaran answered, “Yes, a school for the girls in my village. We don’t have one.” The Minister agreed but insisted that Mukhataran received the cheque to meet the lawyer expences. Mukhtaran received it and by the end of the year 2002 Mukhtaran Mai, an illiterate, was running a school. The State helped a bit, there were foreign funds for the School. But that wasn’t sufficient. Mukhataran Mai soled some ornaments and started rearing goats and sheeps to meet the needs of the school.
The request for the school though came spontaneously it came out of experience. Bitter experience. The experience of having been made to sign on a blank sheet of paper by the police and of having been interrupted by a police while she giving her testimony to the district prefect. The police had said, “Let me explain it to you! She doesn’t know how to say things.” Though Mukhtaran had decided to fight, fight legally, she had realized that her illiteracy was a hurdle in her path. This she had realized and its out of this realization that the demand/ request for a school came up.
It was not easy to bring kids to the school for Mukhtaran Mai. Doors were not slammed on her face when she went to every house requesting the fathers to send their daughter to the school. Mukhtaran would be explaining it to her that the girls are made for the house and not for studies.
In the village of Meerwala in southern Punjab of Pakistan, where Mukhtaran Mai lives, are actually made for the house. Mukhtaran is an example, who was made to ask for forgiveness on behalf of her family to the Mastois (a dominant caste intolerant of Gujars, a caste to which Mukhtaran belongs which is belived to be lower in status relatively) for a false allegation made against her brother Shakur (then aged 12) saying he had raped a Mastoi girl named Salma (then aged 20). To balance the act, Mukhtaran who was a divorced lady then was asked to go to the Mastois and ask for forgiveness. This was decided by the jirga. This was decided as an ‘honour justice.’ But the Mastois gang raped Mukhtaran, when she went to their area to ask for forgiveness, in the presence of the villagers on that unfortunate night of 22 June 2002, in the name of ‘honour justice.’
When Mukhtaran was asked to go ask for forgiveness she was not aware as to what was the crime committed by her brother and she did not even know that the Mastois had planned to gang-rape her. It was only in the following days after her rape that she overheard the story of Shakur and Salma. She also overheard things like she herself was responsible for what had happened to her. This was because there was a rumor in the village that the Mastois demanded for the marriage of Shakur and Salma and asked to get Mukhataran married to one of their caste members. The rumor said Mukhtaran refused to this offer and hence was gang-raped. This refusal of offer, in the minds of the people, made Mukhataran “deserve” what she got.
Thanks to a local reporter who reported this “daily” news which not only made national but also international media take up the matter making it an issue of international importance and bringing international support for Mukhtaran Mai. The initial success at the special court in Dera Ghazi Khan (31 August 2002) was followed by injustice at the Lahore High Court and now at the Supreme Court. Both the courts said “lack of evidence.” There is a need for four eyewitnesses for a rape to be proved!!! “I wanted justice… I was fighting not only for myself, but also for every women scorned or abandoned by a law that requires four male eyewitnesses to prove a rape,” said Mukhtaran Mai after the verdict of Lahore High Court.
Now Mukhtaran Mai says she has lost her faith in legal system. Understandable. “There is a certain fatigue in chasing the idea of justice.” She leaves it to the God. When young, she was always told by her mother, “Mukhtaran watch out. God sees everything that you do.” Wasn’t God- if any- watching what was being done to her on 22 June 2002? Wasn’t God watching what was being done to her after that unfortunate night? If God saw it all and yet is silent then, I ask, what is the difference between the God that Mukhtaran believes and the legal system of Pakistan? On that unfortunate night Mukhtaran while walking to the Mastoi area, to ask for forgiveness, had carried the holy Koran with her, holding it tight to her chest.
It was only after four days after the gang-rape that Mukhataran Mai cried. She says that was the second time in her life that she cried. The first time was at the age of ten when a chick, by mistake, dashed into the fire over which she was cooking chapattis. Though she had thrown water on the fire, it was too late. Mukhatarn cried because she felt it was her fault for she was late in throwing water. In an accidental tragedy Mukhtaran saw the role she could have played to save a life and felt guilty for she failed to perform that role, though she made an attempt.
Will the legal system of Pakistan ever feel guilty for not having performed its role? What is the role that we all can play, now, to ensure justice for Mukhtaran Mai?