[Trigger Warning for Sexual Violence]
Many of us remember Mukhtaran Bibi, the Pakistani woman who was brutally gang raped in 2002 at the behest of neighboring tribal elders. Her crime? Her brother was accused of indecent acts with a woman of the elite Mastoi tribe, therefore, following the logic of eye for an eye, members of the woman’s tribe were allowed indecent acts with his sister.
In all reality, her brother was actually sodomised by the Mastoi men, who were later convicted in a separate trial. But this did not spare Mukhtaran Bibi. She was tricked into attending a meeting to absolve the matter and then stripped at gunpoint and brutally gang raped. Afterwards she was only given a torn shirt to wear as she was paraded around naked in front of 300 men.
Traditionally, women in Mukhtaran’s position are usually expected to commit suicide out of shame. However she did no such thing. Soon, a nearby Imam (Muslim religious leader) named Abdul Razzaq, horrified after hearing what happened, decided to take action. He denounced the act in a Friday sermon and then went to her family with a journalist and convinced them to press charges.
The rape made headline news in June of 2002 and one month later it was picked up by BBC and Time Magazine. Soon government officials in Pakistan were going on record denouncing the crime and offering monetary compensations for her struggle. Mukhtaran used the money offered by the government to open a school for girls, noting that she had never had the opportunity to go to school herself.
In September of 2002, fourteen men were brought in front of the anti-terrorism court of Pakistan. They went to the ATC because of the nature of the crime and the continued harassment and intimidation their tribe had been making (and apparently still makes) towards Mukhtaran and her family. There were a number of acquittals for lack of evidence, but six men where sentenced to death. However, not long after after, the Lahore High Court reversed the decision for five of the six men. In 2005 it was said that they could essentially buy their way out of jail in a settlement of 50,000 rupees, although the men were unable to come up with the money and stayed behind bars. Mukhtaran and her lawyer appealed that ruling and it’s taken five years to come up with any kind of verdict.
However, on April 21st, Pakistan’s high court decided to uphold those acquittals for lack of evidence. All but one of the men will now go free. This move has been met with condemnation from Islamabad to New York City. Mukhtaran, still running schools that help rape and attack survivors, who flock to her for aid, has vowed not to shut down her projects or let this hinder her. However, in the past she voiced great disappointment about Pakistan’s justice system and she is no doubt feeling the same bitter disillusionment today. The Pakistani government, who has tried to shut her up since the beginning, even seizing her passport in 2005 so she could not attend award events held in her honor (lest she cast a bad light on Pakistan), has not issued any statement on the matter. But for the tens of thousand men and women in Pakistan (and abroad) who consider Mukhtaran their personal hero, this day has revealed the bitter truth about how little justice has been served.
To donate to the charity that helps support Mukhtaran’s schools and other projects around Central Asia go here: http://www.4anaa.org/new/