Bibi is known as Mukhtaran Mai, which means big sister. Fareeha
Khan, of Islamica
Magazine, where this interview originally appeared,
discusses with Mukhtaran Mai the challenges she has faced since
her brutal rape in 2002.
June 22, 2002, Mukhtaran Mai was brutally gang-raped on orders
of a local tribal council. The council, or panchayat,
had decided upon this ruling as punishment for allegations of
inappropriate conduct with an upper-caste girl levelled against
Ms. Mukhtaran’s brother. The details of the appalling
crime are indeed startling, but what has further garnered the
world’s attention is the tremendous courage of Mukhtaran
Mai. Instead of quietly submitting to the panchayat's
verdict, she decided to stand up against her perpetrators by
waging a legal battle which has now reached the highest levels
of the Pakistani court system.
KHAN: What happened to you was indeed appalling and disturbing,
and you mentioned that initially after the event you went through
a period of deep depression. What was it that gave you the strength
to move beyond this initial stage?
MAI: The support of so many people like yourself and of course
the strength I received from God.
KHAN: Initially there weren’t so many people supporting
you. Who/what was there for you in those days?
MAI: God was there for me. He’s always been there for
KHAN: It seems in many cultures the woman herself gets blamed
for the crimes that are committed against her. How did your
family and your fellow villagers treat you after the incident
MAI: [Initially] only my parents were with me, and no one else.
The others were afraid. They would think “we’re
poor, and maybe if we stand up the tribal lords will abuse us
in the same way.” In their hearts these people were with
us, but they were scared to show this.
KHAN: Could you please talk about your parents and others who
gave you support, like the local imam? Given the cases of karo
kari (honor killings) and things you hear in Pakistan,
it seems women do not usually receive such support.
MAI: Of course they were all with me. Everyone knew what had
happened to me, and they knew it wasn’t my fault.
KHAN: Could you tell me a little more about the local imam?
We hear a lot in the press that Islam and the ulama
(scholars in Islamic law) are oppressive to women. What are
your thoughts on this?
MAI: Where does it say [in the religious texts] that Islam supports
violence against women? The local imam supported me starting
from my home [before any of the court cases had begun] all the
way to the courts, and he spoke against the incident and what
happened in his sermons. He was a continuous source of support.
KHAN: It seems that, especially at first, the Pakistani government
was not really interested in dealing with your case. Could you
talk a little about this please? How does the Pakistani government
fare when it comes to dealing with such issues as abuse or violence
MAI: Only when the international media picked up my case, that’s
when the police and government got involved. They never pay
attention when such things happen to poor people.
KHAN: Is this how women are always dealt with?
MAI: How can a poor woman get any justice? I have the whole
world behind me, so I have much support. But many women don’t
have such resources at all. Many women kill themselves after
such incidents. Their family thinks “Well, at least we
won’t have to worry about this now.”
KHAN: Didn’t you also consider suicide?
MAI: Yes, I did. But eventually, I realized that I should stand
up for justice. I figured, if I am going to die anyhow [because
of suicide], might as well die trying to fight for the Truth.
KHAN: I remember in one interview you gave, you mentioned that
at first you had consoled yourself with the fact that the men
who did this to you were ignorant, and that somehow because
of this it was perhaps understandable. But once you started
being turned away by the courts, you began thinking that even
the educated do not care about what happened to you, and you
started losing faith in education itself. What are your thoughts
about this now?
MAI: It’s not that I thought badly of education itself.
But yes, I had initially told myself, these people did what
they did because they are jahil (ignorant). But after
going to the courts, and the High Court gave the decision that
it did, then I wondered about how even the educated could deal
with me in this way. If even these people do not mete out justice,
then where can we turn?
KHAN: What eventually happened with your court case?
MAI: The Special Court (khususi court) had given six
of them a death sentence. Then the High Court upon appeal reversed
the sentences for five of them, freeing them completely, and
one of them was given a life sentence. So now the case has been
petitioned in the Supreme Court, and we’ll see how they
will deal with the decision of the High Court.
KHAN: And that initial ruling of the khususi court,
had that been given before all the media’s reporting of
the story, or was it after?
MAI: No, no this was given after the media had already publicized
the case. The case had reached the media as soon as it had been
filed with the police. In fact, many Pakistanis only found out
about the case when BBC and CNN had broadcast it. Many local
papers found out when it had been featured by them.
2005 - Lahore high court acquits five men, and reduces death
sentence on sixth to life in prison
March 2005 - Shari court suspends Lahore high court decision
March 2005 - Prime Minister Aziz orders re-arrest of four
of the accused
March 2005 - Punjab government arrests 12 men originally
implicated in case
June 2005 - Lahore high court says 12 men must be released
June 28, 2005 – High court decision overturned: 12
men returned to custody
November 2006, Pakistan's lower house of Parliament voted
to alter its rape laws to move them from religious law to
penal code, effectively separating rape from adultery. It
also modifies the law to no longer require that the victim
produce four witnesses of the assault, and it allows circumstantial
and forensic evidence be used for investigation. The change
requires approval of the upper house of Parliament before
it becomes law. The changes were hailed by civil rights
groups as a positive step.
KHAN: You used the money you received with the initial court
settlement to establish a school in your village. Could you
tell me about this school? What do you teach there? Why did
you choose to found a school with this money? Is it only for
girls? Is there such a school for boys in your village?
MAI: We have five teachers in the girls’ school and one
in the boys’ school. We teach math, science, Urdu, English,
Islamic Studies, and Social Studies in the girls’ school.
We teach Qur’an. We fund and support the girls’
school. The government runs the boys’ school. There’s
only one teacher in the boys’ school, and they have very
limited supplies. The teacher there often comes to us in the
girls’ school to ask for coloring books, supplies.
KHAN: It is really admirable that you have taken on the task
of educating others about the abuses that occur against women.
Some people in Pakistan however do not like the fact that you
are here in the U.S. on this speaking tour. They feel that you
are “airing Pakistan’s dirty laundry in public”
by doing this, and that you somehow are being disloyal as a
Pakistani. What do you have to say in response to such sentiment?
MAI: The people who say this, I say to them that such bad things
do not remain hidden. It’s not that we have come outside
[of Pakistan] to publicize our faults. We [as Pakistanis] shouldn’t
be concerned about whether others find out about our faults.
Our concern should be to end the bad things in the first place,
to wash the “dirty laundry.” We should want to end
these injustices, and all women are calling for the same thing,
that such injustices be stopped.
KHAN: Could you please comment on the infamous quote of General
Musharraf concerning rape when discussing your case with The
has become a moneymaking concern. A lot of people say if you
want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and
be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
MAI: It’s so strange that General Sahib, being the leader
of Pakistan, would say something like this against a woman.
And he didn’t just say it against one woman, but against
so many women. A poor woman has only her honor. Why would she
ever jeopardize it?
KHAN: Do you feel that your trip to America, and your participation
in such events, will have any benefit, either here or in Pakistan?
MAI: From doing these things, I get emotional support. From
seeing everyone with me in this cause, I get strength to continue
and do good work.
KHAN: What do you think we as Americans can do to put pressure
on the Pakistani government to bring about the types of reforms
MAI: You as Americans can put pressure on our government to
bring about the desired reforms.
KHAN: And what can Pakistanis themselves do?
MAI: It’s obvious that even our own people in Pakistan
can put an end to unjust and feudalistic practices, but that
can only be if people take the side of the oppressed. Unfortunately
instead, what oftentimes happens in Pakistan is that people
give support to the tribal leaders. Instead of giving them support,
support should be given to the oppressed.
KHAN: Mukhtaran Bibi, because of the strength you have displayed,
do you feel you have given courage to others?
MAI: Many women come to me now. Not just because of rape, but
also for other reasons such as domestic violence, or their husbands
have kicked them out of their homes. Sometimes I can help them
with their problems, sometimes I can’t.
KHAN: The “punishment” that had been given to you
was meted out by an illegal panchayat set up by the
tribal lords. What can we do as individuals to get rid of tribalism/feudalism,
especially since it infects every strata of Pakistani society,
up through the highest ranks of government?
MAI: Well, I can only tell you about Meerwala (Mai’s village).
For the last three years, there has been no panchayat in Meerwala.
Now, people go to the police when they have an issue. And when
there are domestic disputes [Mukhtaran Bibi smiles], the women
tell their husbands “I’m going to Mukhtaran Bibi!”
KHAN: So tribalism will end because of Mukhtaran Bibi?
MAI: It will not end because of me, but it will end if these
girls and boys who are getting an education (in the schools
we’ve set up), will grow up to be people who will act
with more sensitivity.