|Mukhtar Mai meets Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Shaukat Aziz.|
Mukhtaran Mai, a victim of tribal and caste wars in Pakistan has grabbed the attention of leading human rights activists in the US as well as in London. So intense is the voice of human rights activists that the State Department official Christina Roca also expressed her anguish over the decision of the government of Pakistan to restrict Mukhtaran's travel to the U.S.
In 2002 a traditional council in a small village in Pakistan ordered, the 33-year-old Ms. Mai be gang-raped because her younger brother allegedly had relations with a woman of a higher status.
After a public outcry over Ms. Mai's treatment, a provincial court put 12 men on trial for the rape, including the head of the local council, and six were sentenced to death. But earlier this year, another court overturned five of the convictions and reduced the sentence of the sixth man to life in prison. The 12 men were subsequently re-arrested on order of the Islamabad government but were freed in early June 2005.
Ms. Mai meanwhile was placed under house detention and told she could not travel abroad, apparently because officials believe her personal accounts of the ordeal could harm Pakistan's image.
This case exposes an aspect of Pakistan's social reality and must be condemned, but when such cases are selectively exploited by government officials and special interest groups for political purposes, it also exposes a hypocrisy that must also be taken to task.
Three years ago, several Muslim women of Gujarat were gang raped by fanatic supporters of the Bhartiya Janta Party led by Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Even though the evidence was overwhelming, yet neither the human rights activists in the West nor the State Department expressed the much needed outrage. On the contrary, the then BJP leadership was given a heroic welcome in Los Angeles when the Museum of Tolerance invited the then deputy leader of the Party to talk about human rights.
The tragic case of Mukhtaran Mai is one of thousands not only in Pakistan but all over the world. In a world where a rape is committed every 30 seconds and a gang rape is committed every 10 minutes, the cries of the State Department and the human rights activists appear to be questionable.
Why are they raising this issue now?
The answer is not too difficult. It is not their concern for the victims of rape as their commitment to their own agenda that has brought them in the forefront. If they were serious about her case, they would have allowed the judicial process to take its full course before deciding any action specially in a situation when the highest executive authority of the country himself stood by her and assured the nation that justice shall be done.
By bringing her to the US or to the UN, they were not helping Mukhtaran but promoting their own agendas. What was done to her was inhumane and Un-Islamic? The feudal and tribal system that promotes this kind of action must be challenged because who knows how many Mukhtarans have been living in the agony of harm done to them. By exposing her to a society where there is a growing anti-Islamic environment the activists are primarily serving their agenda to humiliate those who stand for Islam or Pakistan.
How many a times, rape offenders in the US have walked free after the jury trial and how many a times the rape victims have to leave their towns and work places to save them selves from humiliation. Yet one hears little from the so called human rights activists about the victims.
If they were really sensitive to the sufferings of rape victims or the despicable practice of honor killing, they would have joined those groups of Pakistani women and men who have been working tirelessly at the grass root level to ensure that criminals are brought to justice. They would have worked with religious institutions demanding that violence against women and weaker segments of the society must be confronted from places of religious guidance.
The real purpose appears to be somewhat different than what is stated. There are groups within Pakistan and outside of Pakistan that are keen to destabilize Pakistan politically. Some have not forgiven Pakistan for going nuclear. Some suspect Pakistan harboring and promoting anti-Israel feelings. Others want to see Pakistan disintegrated rather than become a model of "enlightened moderation". Still some others want to see political chaos in the country to allow outsiders to achieve their political agenda. Within the Bush administration there exists a group that believes that by embarrassing the government of Pakistan on issues such as this, they can twist the arm of President Musharraf to win some key concessions.
Perhaps the best course at present is to persuade the President of Pakistan to personally intervene in this matter and urge the Supreme Court to give its ruling as quickly as possible. However, what is even more important is that a high-powered tribunal consisting of persons with outstanding credentials both in terms of knowledge and integrity, be formed to monitor violence against women in all walks of life and to prosecute those who are responsible for such crimes.
Women's rights in Pakistan or anywhere else cannot be left at the mercy of political agents who use them to serve their own goals and agenda. Rape victims must not be left at the mercy of those whose interest is determined on the basis of their political philosophies or ideologies. Unfortunately there are thousands of Mukhtarans in our world. We must not allow the opportunists to exploit them further; emotionally and politically. It is time that people who sincerely believe in the rights of victims of rape and violence in Pakistan stand up and talk about the real agenda. The government of Pakistan's sincerity in helping the victims will be judged on the level of support it offers to such genuine groups.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the editor of the Muslim Observer, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada and director of the Muslim Electorates Council of America (MECA).
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