Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue...
William Gaddis, the novelist said : “Justice? - You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” But what did Mukhtar Mai get in this world and what did she get from the law? But first things first, who is Mukhtar Mai and what is her story?
From her own website, the summary of the story is: "In June 2002, 30-year-old Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped on the orders of a council of tribal elders from her village of Meerwala, Pakistan. Mai herself was not charged with any wrongdoing, but a rumour had spread through the village that her 14-year-old brother had been seen in public with a girl from a rival tribe. In remote areas of Pakistan, tribal codes often take precedence over both Islamic law and the secular law of the land. Understanding the power of the tribal councils, when Mai heard that the rival clan was going to put her brother on trial she rushed before the self-appointed councillors to plead for mercy on his behalf. The elders heard her plea. With the logic of wanton cruelty, they spared Mai's brother and ordered that she should be raped, explaining that the rape would shame her family and thus restore the offended tribe's honour. Four volunteers carried out the sentence in the presence of a cheering mob, taking turns, and Mai was thrown into the street, where her father covered her beaten body with a shawl and walked her home through a village of staring eyes.”
The local imam heard about her ordeal and condemned it during prayers at the neighbourhood mosque. He acknowledged revenge is a tradition in the area, but said, "Something like this had never happened, this is cruelty." At least one man who has not lost all sense of shame nor of his own religion. If it wasn’t for the imam and her friends’ encouragement Mukhtar Mai said that she wouldn't have come forward because she received threats that she would be harmed.
So Mukhtar Mai reported the rape a week later to the police. The rape was ordered by a tribal "panchyat" or village council in the village of Meerwala, where there is no electricity, running water - or even law! How can a tribal council order something like that and get away with it? "Pakistan is a patriarchal society, where the power of feudal lords and tribal leaders has ugly manifestations in controlling women, such as cutting off their noses or simply shooting them to protect the honour of the family or the tribe," says Farzana Bari, director of the Women's Study Center at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. The controversial Hudood Ordinance and Blasphemy Law were first promulgated in the name of Islam by former military dictator General Ziaul Haq in 1979. Many Pakistani politicians, including President Pervez Musharraf, say the laws should be reviewed, some more courageous ones go as far as to say they need to be repealed, since they have a disproportionate effect on women, specially the poor. But in the past 26 years, the laws seem to have become as unalterable as the Koran itself, and activists say the only way to bring equal justice to Pakistani society will be through a sustained campaign of pressure and resistance. So kudos to Mukhtar Mai.
But leaving these laws aside for now, what about tribal decisions such as the one taken by that panchyat court? Are they in any way even remotely Islamic? Since when was rape Islamic? Since when was indignity Islamic? Since when was cruelty Islamic? Islam asks men to lower their gazes and behave modestly and kindly towards women : [24.30] "Say to the believing men that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts; that is purer for them; surely Allah is Aware of what they do." Islam asks men to treat their women kindly :[4.19] “O you who believe! it is not lawful for you that you should take women as heritage against (their) will, and do not straiten them m order that you may take part of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of manifest indecency, and treat them kindly; then if you hate them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it.”
Islam asks for no punishment without witnesses: [4.15] “And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them.”
Islam asks for kindness and mercy: [2.263] “Kind speech and forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury; and Allah is Self-sufficient, Forbearing.”
But Mukhtar Mai was punished for a crime she didn’t commit. Not only that, but she was punished for a crime her own brother didn’t even commit. It was later revealed in a conventional court that the victim, whom her brother had allegedly assaulted, had in fact been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by the same men who later made up his jury and later carried out the sentence on Mukhtar Mai. So poor Mukhtar Mai was raped in revenge for her brother's supposed crime, a crime he didn’t commit, a crime she didn’t commit.
What about Islam’s call for justice? Didn’t the tribal elders in that panchyat ever read: [4.58] “Surely Allah commands you to make over trusts to their owners and that when you judge between people you judge with justice; surely Allah admonishes you with what is excellent; surely Allah is Seeing, Hearing.”
Didn’t they ever read: [9.71] “And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Apostle; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.”
And what about : [24.23] “Surely those who accuse chaste believing women, unaware (of the evil), are cursed in this world and the hereafter, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.”
Now they didn’t just accuse poor Mukhtar Mai. Of that they are innocent indeed. They didn’t accuse her, but instead sentenced her and punished her for a crime that never was committed, neither by her nor by her brother. So what about them? To steal a woman's virginity in Pakistan is in many cases to steal her future and her dignity. They didn’t only steal it, they heaped indignity after indignity over the poor innocent girl. After the gang rape, Mukhtar Mai was forced to walk home, half-naked, in front of the entire village. It was another degrading punishment because she would now be seen not as a victim, but as an outcast.
How can one ever heal the wounds inflicted on Mukhtar Mai? President Musharraf ordered that bodyguards protect her 24 hours a day, and awarded her more than $8,000 to help her rebuild her life. $8.000? Admittedly it is a princely sum in Pakistan, where the average annual income is $2.000. What can this sum do? Can it ever buy back her honour? Can she ever buy it back in that kind of cruel tribal society? A society that allowed these men to rape her for no reason in front of the entire village? What can $8.000 do for Mukhtar Mai?
“In a region where illiteracy is the norm, Mukhtar had been educated and was herself a teacher of Islam. She understood her rights as arising not only from the esteem in which she was held by others, but also from her own understanding and abilities and from an innate value bestowed by God on all humans and codified in the Koran.”
She used the money given to her not to try and buy back her lost honour or destroyed reputation, but to build schools to try and make sure that her fate will never be visited on another person in her village again. In her own words: "I hope to make education more readily available to girls, to teach them that no woman should ever go through what happened to me, and I eventually hope to open more school branches in this area of Pakistan. I need your support to kill illiteracy and to help make tomorrow's women stronger. This is my goal in life."
But what happened to those who ordered this most heinous crime? What happened to those who carried it out? Now after their acquittal in the court, they are currently able to escape punishment and that shows the total failure of the Pakistani justice system and its impotence to ensure justice as well as its double standards and hypocrisy. But yes, enforce Hudood laws and Blasphemy Laws indeed!
To them I can only quote: [9.68] “Allah has promised the hypocritical men and the hypocritical women and the unbelievers the fire of hell to abide therein; it is enough for them; and Allah has cursed them and they shall have lasting punishment.”