How is it to live in Pakistan among tribes that profess Islam? What is the most determining factor about their behaviour: Islamic or tribal? Or is there no difference between the two? Mukhtar Mai, a 33-year old peasant woman, a Gujar by caste, lived in a small village, Meerwala, in southern Punjab, near the border with India. The Gujars in Meerwala were a minority in the village dominated by the powerful Mastoi caste who were a terror. And it showed itself in many ways. They would commit rapes, pillage the homes of the Gujars but nobody dared to arrest them or punish them. The police dared not stand up to the Mastois. Within the tribal system their caste superiority gave them complete freedom to decide who was their enemy and who could be crushed, humiliated and robbed.
The Gujars were in a minority?and were weak. They were frequently the target of Mastoi terror. Mukhtar Mai had a younger brother, Shakur who was hardly 12 years old. On one occasion he was accused by the Mastois of having ?spoken? to Salma, a 20-year old woman of the Mastoi clan. Word went round that this 12-year lad was ?caught? flirting with Salma and, in addition, had stolen sugarcane stalks from a field belonging to a Mastoi. That was enough for the Mastois to wreak revenge. Shakur, all of 12, was accused of raping Salma. Thereafter he was kidnapped, beaten black and blue, sodomised and had the police arrest him and put him in prison. Mukhtar Mai'sfather appealed to the tribal jirga for justice. But the Mastois had fooled the mullah and the councillors of the jirga.
The family was asked to go to the police station where the corrupt cops demanded twelve thousand rupees for the release of the boy. All that was too much for Mukhtar; she wanted to die. She begged of her mother to let her, but motherly love wouldn'tpermit the innocent daughter'ssuicide and Mukhtar admits in her memoirs that she was going ?insane with helplessness?. There was no one she could appeal to. The police forced her to sign documents she could not read, because she was illiterate. It was at that point in time that the media got hold of the story and in due course, the issue was taken to court.
The judge was a considerate man. He told Mukhtar, ?Remember, Mukhtaran Bibi, you are before a judge. Tell me the precise truth, everything that happened. Don'tbe afraid? This is a court of law.? And when the hearing was over, the judge came over, placed a consoling hand on her head and said: ?Don'tgive up. Carry on with courage, all of you!?. That did it. Mukhtar decided that suicide was not the answer to her travails. As she put it: ?This strengthened my determination to keep going, to keep seeking justice and truth in spite of police pressure and a ?tradition? that wants women to suffer in silence while men do as they please.?
By then help had started to pour in. A woman government minister gave her a cheque for half a million rupees! Why was she doing that? To silence her? Mukhtar refuses to take the money. She tells the minister: ?I don'tneed a cheque. I need a school!? A school for girls in her village. The minister presses her, promising that a girls? school will still be established. On July 4, 2002 a demonstration by human rights groups demanded justice. The judiciary criticised the local police for their inaction and refusal to take Mukhtar'scomplaint. Even Pakistan'sMinister of Justice stood by Mukhtar saying that the verdict of the jirga, led by the Mastoi tribe, should be considered as an act of terrorism and the tribal assembly itself was an illegal body. Mukhtar couldn'tbelieve her ears! Human rights organisations, NGOs were rushing to her help. As she put it; ?My entire country is on my side. But I need only justice. Simple justice. Nothing more. That will be my revenge. That will be my vindication.? And she got justice.
On August 31, 2002 the court delivered its judgement. Six men were condemned to death and ordered to pay Rs 50,000 in damages and cost. Thanks to her courage Mukhtar had turned the spotlight on the condition of women in Pakistan. And what did Mukhtar think of it all? To quote her: ?The most important thing I?ve discovered is self-knowledge: The knowledge of oneself as a human being. I have learned to exist and to respect myself as a woman.?
Nicholas D. Krist of in his foreword writes: ?I don'tknow whether people felt this when they were around Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr? but around Mukhtar Mai, I can feel, true greatness?
Obscenities are practiced in India too but we do not hear of any Indian Mukhtar to fight for womanhood. This book deserves to be translated in several Indian languages and widely distributed to give courage to women to fight for their rights and, above all, their honour. The school for girls that Mukhtar established in her village is doing well, thanks also to western contribution. India deserves several Mukhtars. This book serves as a reminder to all women that courage, in the long run, counts.
(Virgo Press, An imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Brethenham House, Lancaster Place, London-WC2E7EN; www.virgo.co.uk)