|Gang-rape victim Mukhtaran Mai reads the Quran along with her students at her home village of Meerwala near Multan in Pakistan|
In June 2002, a woman from Meerwala, a village 350 miles away from Islamabad, would experience a grievous violation of her rights as a woman. There was a rumor that her 14 year old brother had been seen with a girl from the high ranking Mastoi clan. Under the Panchiat system, a set of tribal laws upheld in some rural Pakistani villages, the Mastoi elders claimed he had shamed the girl's honor and the honor of their tribe. Mukhtaran Mai, upon hearing this accusation, stood before the tribal elders to defend her brother's innocence. The elders chose to let him go but they decided that in order for their "honor" to be restored, Mukhtaran Mai had to be punished in his place. Four men took turns gang-raping her before a cheering crowd of witnesses. After her painful ordeal, she was thrown out into the street, with only a shawl to cover her as she walked back to her village.
In June 2004, over 150 women were raped under the Panchiat system. A rape victim in rural Pakistan has no marriage prospects, credible reputation or justice for the abuse. Mukhtaran Mai had given up hope. Many times she had contemplated suicide but it was her friends, family and the village imam that convinced her not to give up. The imam used his position in the community to speak out against her rapists. He called for her attackers to be tried before civil court and convinced her to file a complaint with the police. She also alerted the attention of the local and international media so that women like her could garner the justice they deserve.
Mukhtaran Mai is an Islamic teacher, well versed in the Qur'an and Sunnah, and she knew that her rights as a Muslim woman had been violated. Often these cases go ignored or unreported. The Panchiat system is a violation of Pakistan's secular laws and the divine laws of Islam. The government stepped in and charged the four rapists and eight tribal leaders. They were subject to hang and Mukhtaran Mai was awarded $8,000 in compensation, money which she has used to build schools to promote literacy among the children of her village. Instead of execution, the men were sent to jail for life but in March 2005, due to an appeal, the rapists were released from prison. Within the same month, the Islamic Shari'a court stepped in and overturned the appeal and ordered that that her attackers be tried for their crime and had them rearrested. She had been offered a house and protection within the capital city of Islamabad but she chose to remain with her people in Meerwala. She even allowed the children of her rapists to attend her school.
On June 10th, 2005, the Lahore High Court went against the Shari'a court and released her rapists from prison. Her case has been appealed and is going to the Pakistani Supreme Court but she is in tremendous danger from people who want to restore the "honor" of the men who attacked her. She was set to do an international tour speaking about her experience and the abuse that women like her endure because they are female, poor or come from a "lower social caste." The Pakistani government initially prevented her from leaving the country but now they are allowing her to leave. It was reported that the police assigned to protect her in her village home were, in fact, harassing her. So the question remains. When will Mukhtaran Mai and others like her receive justice?
When the Prophet Muhammad came to the people of Makkah with the message of Islam, he had to deal with a society that had no respect and dignity for its women. Burying baby girls alive was common. Women had no marital rights, no right to inherit property or receive an education. They could not function as individuals within their society without their father or husband's permission. Now, many years later, we are still struggling to purify our societies of these pre-Islamic practices. We know that Islam gave women a multitude of rights that other women did not enjoy until the advent of modernism and secularism. But it's not enough to say, "Islam liberated women." We as believing people must establish this deen in order to create just and peaceful societies so that rape and other forms of abuse are forbidden and punished accordingly.
The members of the International Muslima Rights Association have started an e-mail campaign. We are encouraging Muslims to write e-mails to the Pakistani Embassy of the United States in support of justice for Mukhtaran Mai and other women punished under the oppressive tribal laws of the Panchiat. All e-mails to the embassy must go to [email protected] or [email protected]. We encourage all emails to written in a polite but firm manner. The current Pakistani ambassador is the Honorable Jahengir Karamat.
EMBASSY OF PAKISTAN-WASHINGTON DC
3517 International Court, NW
Washington DC, 20008
If you are reading this article from a country other than USA, we encourage you to find a Pakistani representative in your country.
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