Mukhtaran Bibi — Only a few leaders are alchemists who take the worst of human behavior and turn it into the best. Mukhtaran Bibi is a Pakistani woman from the village of Meerwala, in the rural tehsil (county) of Jatoi of the Muzaffargarh District of Pakistan. Mukhtar Mai was the victim of a gang rape as a form of honour revenge, on the orders of a panchayat (tribal council) of the local Mastoi Baloch clan as opposed to her Gujjar clan. By custom, rural women are expected to commit suicide after such an event. Instead, she spoke up, and pursued the case, which was picked up by the international media, creating pressure on the Pakistani government and the police to address the rape. The case eventually went to trial, and her rapists were arrested, charged and convicted, until an appeals court overturned the convictions. The case is still pending with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Mukhtar has been waging a legal battle in Pakistan in the years since, and, as a direct result, her safety has been constantly in jeopardy. Despite this, she started the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization to help support and education Pakistani women and girls, and is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights.
In April 2007, Mukhtar Mai won the North-South Prize from the Council of Europe. In 2005, Glamour Magazine named her “Glamour Woman of the Year”. According to the New York Times, “Her autobiography is the No. 3 best seller in France … movies are being made about her, and she has been praised by dignitaries like Laura Bush and the French foreign minister”. However, on April 8, 2007, the New York Times reported that Mukhtar Mai lives in fear for her life from the Pakistan government and local feudal lords. General Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, has admitted on his personal blog that he placed restrictions on her movement in 2005, as he was fearful that her work, and the publicity it receives, hurt the international image of Pakistan.
According to the New York Times, Mukhtar Mai, her friends, colleagues and their families are at great risk from violence by local feudal lords, and/or the government of Pakistan.
In the following days, the story became headline news in Pakistan, and remained so for months. By 3 July, the BBC had picked up on the story. Time magazine ran a story on the case in mid-July. Major international newspapers and networks reported on developments in the case.
Early in July, 2002, Pakistan’s Chief Justice called Mukhtaran’s rape the most heinous crime of the twenty first century. He summoned senior police officials and castigated them for incompetence in their handling of the case.
The Government of Pakistan awarded Mukhtaran with a sum of 500,000 rupees (8,200 U.S. dollars) on 5 July 2002. Mukhtaran reportedly told Attiya Inayatullah, the Women’s Development Minister who gave her the cheque that she “would have committed suicide if the government had not come to her help.”
On 19 June 2005, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported that as Mai returned from the US embassy in Islamabad, after getting her passport stamped with a US visa, it was “confiscated” by Nilofer Bakhtiar, after Musharraf’s government claiming she was now free to travel to the U.S., and removing her name from the ECL, thus rendering her unable to travel outside the country. A column by Khalid Hasan in Pakistan’s Daily Times called the government’s actions “folly” and “ham-fisted”, and said that it had “failed abjectly” to support the liberal “convictions it claims to have” with actions. Mai has since refused to talk about what happened in Islamabad, when she withdrew her application for a visa to the United States or who had taken her passport.
On 27 June 2005 Mukhtaran’s passport was returned to her.
On 29 June 2005, on his official website, Musharraf wrote that “Mukhtaran Mai is free to go wherever she pleases, meet whoever she wants and say whatever she pleases.”
Mukhtaran has been represented by panels of lawyers. One such team is headed by Pakistan’s Attorney General, Makhdoom Ali Khan. Another panel is led by Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer and politician belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party, who has been representing Mukhtaran pro bono. However, her rapists were found not guilty. Advocate, Malik Muhammad Saleem, won this case against Mukhtaran and the accused were released. The Shariat Court in Pakistan decided to overrule this decision of Punjab High Court and the accused were caught again. The very next day Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that the Shariat Court did not have the authority to overrule the decision and decided to hear this case in the Supreme Court.
Retrial of Rapists
The Lahore high court ruled on 6 June 2005 that the accused men could be released on payment of a 50,000 rupees ($840) bond. However, the men were unable to come up with the money, and remained in jail while the prosecution appealed their acquittal. Just over two weeks later, the Supreme Court intervened and suspended the acquittals of the five men as well as the eight who were acquitted at the original 2002 trial. All 14 would be retried in the Supreme Court.
2009 – Current
On December 11, 2008 Mukhtaran was informed by Sardar Abdul Qayyum, the sitting Federal Minister for Defence Production, to drop the charge against the accused. According to Mukhtaran, the minister called her uncle, Ghulam Hussain, to his place in Jatoi and passed on a message to Mukhtaran that she should drop the charges against the thirteen accused of the Mastoi tribe, who were involved either in the verdict against Mukhtaran, or who gang raped her. The minister said that if she did not comply, he and his associates would not let the Supreme Court’s decision go in favour of Mukhtaran. It is believed that the Mastoi clan have political influence of sufficient weight to bring pressure to bear on the supreme court via establishment and political figures.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan had listed Mukhtaran case for hearing in the second week of February 2009 (hearing was expected on 10 or 11 February).
On June 11, 2009, the Multan Electric Power Company raided the MMWWO (Mukhtar Mai’s Women Welfare Organization) in Meerwala, Pakistan, disconnecting all electricity to the grounds, falsely accusing the organization of stealing electricity despite records proving they have paid all bills in full. MMWWO and hundreds of families in the surrounding area were without power for several days. Today, while the power to the surrounding area has been restored, the MMWWO grounds, which house the Mukhtaran Girls Model School, Women’s Resource Centre, and Shelter Home for battered women (whose premises was raided despite the fact that men are strictly prohibited), are still enduring blistering temperatures. According to MMWWO employees, who were witnesses, the power company officials claimed that the raid was ordered by Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, the Federal Minister for Defense Production. This raid has significantly hindered the ability of Mai’s organization to carry out its’ important human rights work, providing services for vulnerable women, girls and boys.
Hearings for the Supreme Court case have repeatedly been delayed, while her attackers remain imprisoned and her case is pending.
Mukhtaran began to work to educate girls, and to promote education with a view towards raising awareness to prevent future honour crimes. Out of this work grew the organization Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization (MMWWO). The goals of MMWWO are to help the local community, especially women, through education and other projects. The main focus of her work is to educate young girls, and to educate the community about women’s rights and gender issues. Her organization teaches young girls, and tries to make sure they stay in school, rather than work or get married. In Fall 2007, a high school will be started by her group. The MMWWO also provides shelter and legal help for people, often women, who are victims of violence or injustice.