Going back to Mukhtar Mai


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Photo Courtesy: Associated Press

I am at a loss of words today. No words can describe the dejection, pain and anguish that many of us felt on hearing the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mukhtar Mai’s case. After nine arduous years of waiting for justice, five out of six accused in Mai’s rape have been acquitted. It was the Supreme Court that took suo moto notice on the LHC’s decision and now its decision to uphold the initial verdict is extremely disappointing to say the least.

Here is a time line of important events in Mukhtar Mai’s case to understand the complexities caused by procedural delay.

The detailed verdict can be found here. [For a more detailed time-line, refer to BBC’s report on Mai’s case]

June 22, 2002: Mukhtar Mai, 30, from Meerawala village in southern Punjab, is ganged-raped on the orders of a local jirga. The jirga is convened to seek punishment for Mai’s 12-year-old brother, Shakoor, accused of adultery with a woman from the Mastoi clan. Mai insists her brother is innocent and the charges are fabricated to prevent Mai’s family from filing a case against the men of the Mastoi who sodomised her brother.

Meanwhile, Mai’s brother is arrested by the police on charges of adultery as alleged by the Mastoi. The Mastoi rejects the jirga’s initial decision of Shakoor marrying the girl he is accused of having adultery with. Instead an appeal to settle scores by Qisas, ‘eye for an eye’ is demanded. Mukhara appears in front of the jirga, is gang-raped by six men in front onlookers and made to parade naked on the streets. The Mastoi clan then informs the police that both parties have agreed upon a deal and Shakoor is released.

Note: The role of the police here reflects how influential parties have control over criminal investigations. Police officials did not bother with details of the settlement and despite evidence of sodomy, Shakoor was still taken under custody.

June 28, 2002: Maulana Abdul Razzaq, an imam of the village mosque, protests the decision of the jirga and Mai’s rape. Maulana Razzaq urges the villagers to report the matter, declaring it a grievous sin and a crime. He then proceeds to inform a local journalist, Murad Abbass, who first reported the case in a local newspaper. The imam convinces Mai’s family to report the case. The case is filed on June 30, 2002. Meanwhile media attention builds pressure and the Punjab Government demands the police to take immediate action. Within two days the case is registered.

Note: One of the most crucial aspects of Mukhtar Mai’s case is the role of the village cleric in mobilising people to take action, reporting the matter to a journalist and urging Mai’s family to take action. As we protest role of some religious political parties in hindering women rights, we must acknowledge men like Maulana Abdul Razzaq in bringing Mai’s case to the forefront.

The initial report: The initial report filed in Mai’s case alleges 14 men of being involved in the gang rape. Charges are filed under the provisions of Pakistan Penal Code (provisions 109/149) of 1868, the Anti-Terrorism Act (7c & 21-1) of 1997 and the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hadd) Ordinance (10-4 and 11) of 1979. Using these provisions, Mai’s lawyers argue that the crime of rape should be extended to everyone present at the time of Mai’s rape, abetting the crime. By this provision, four of the fourteen are charged with rape and the rest for the act of commission or omission.

Medico legal reports and a chemical analysis of Mai’s case reveal two semen stains.

August 31, 2002: Court sentences six of the fourteen men to death, under the anti-terrorism provision. Four are sentenced while the remaining eight are released. An appeal is filed in the Lahore High Court against the release of the eight men.

March 3, 2005: The Lahore High Court, Multan Bench, reverses the trial court’s decision. It acquits five out of the six and reverses the death penalty for the sixth man, to life imprisonment. “Lack of evidence” was cited as the reason for the reversal

Note: The chemical analysis report clearly reports two semen stains, which means irrefutable evidence against at least two of the four charged with rape. Another reason provided is poor investigations, for which no one but our flawed system of justice is to be blamed.

The decision of the LHC was met with hue and cry by human rights organisations demanding the state to intervene.

The Federal Shariat Court intervenes and suspends the LHC verdict.

“The Federal Shariat Court’s subsequent suspension of the LHC verdict on the grounds that high courts had no jurisdiction to hear appeals in cases pertaining to Hudood laws, and the Supreme Court’s action to take jurisdiction of the case in response, underscore thejurisdictional problems that have plagued Pakistan’s higher judiciary since the inception of the Federal Shariat Court in 1980.” .

As pointed out by Ali Dayaan Hassan, the jurisdiction dilemma further delayed the case.
The Supreme Court then decided to take suo moto action against LHC’s decision and hear the final appeal. All fourteen men alleged in the initial report by Mai were re-arrested.

June 28, 2005: Acquittals of the five men initially convicted by the trial court stands while that for eight others, is held until retrial.

April 21, 2011: Upholding the Lahore High Court’s verdict, the Supreme Court’s three-judge bench acquitted five out of six suspects in the Mukhtar Mai’s case. The remaining eight have also been released.

In short, only one of the fourteen identified by Mai as her rapists has been charged. It is worth recalling the adage: justice delayed is justice denied. After nine years of court trials, numerous appeals and a plethora of threats on her life, Mai has been let down by the justice system. In a society where crimes pertaining to women are repeatedly snubbed, Mai evolved as symbol of courage and defiance. Her resolve has inspired women in Pakistan to keep fighting the struggle against societal chauvinism and patriarchy. Mai used financial help to set up schools, ambulance services and shelters for women in her village. It is remarkable for a woman to stand against adversity with such grace and composure.

As I said earlier, I have no words to express how I feel about the court’s decision. I am not a legal expert and therefore, do not have the authority to comment on the details of the verdict. All I know is that I am a citizen of this country, I believe in upholding the rule of law and respecting the court’s decision. But I am also a woman, and so I am aware of the role of societal pressure and culture in controlling the way our investigations are carried out and laws are implemented. I am also aware of the intensity of prejudice with which cases pertaining to women are handled, if at all reported.

I want to appeal to each one of you to please consider the long-term implications of this decision and let this be an eye-opener to the flaws within our system. It is easier to blame the judges and give a name to our protest and anger, but much more difficult to look within and pinpoint where things went wrong. Without demanding a change in the way these cases are perceived, reported, investigated and handled, the viscous cycle of prejudice against rape will never be broken. It will be an arduous battle from here on but I will take strength from the epitome of courage herself – Mukhtar Mai.

As a recent message on the Twitter account in her name read: “No court can weaken my resolve to stand against injustice.”

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19 thoughts on “Going back to Mukhtar Mai

  1. You cant handle anything. If you could have handled both you would had been in the politics and tried to solve the problems with authority. You are a coward who just blames and blames.

  2. my comment is not on what you have wrote in the above article.

    I have tried to join the pieces of your other articles to elaborate your confusion.

    In one of your articles Your rape culture is not my religion. You were against the Maulvi although he misquoted (as 4 witnesses are required for adultery not rape)

    Now with all the dna technology why couldnt you bring justice to Mai.

    Have the maulvis hijacked your judiciary system.

    Have you won your confusing mind to win over justice for Mai.

    I am not against Mai I am against your opinions perhaps you should accept the fact that you are confused.

    As per shariah law in the case of rape only Allah is witness for the victim. Justice would be done instantly for Mai.

    May be you are against those religious fanatics in this case who didnt show up to kill the culprits.

    You state that Teddy Jones incident to say that Pakistan killed christians and burned churches when he made a statement of burning the Quran. And christians and muslims united against it in USA. Majority of the USA population is Christians so the majority of murders would be among the christians themselves (I dont see USA as a Kingdom of Heaven) fact is USA doesnt drags religion into murders where as you in most of your articles do.

    You are a confused soul perhaps one who couldnt figure out what could save more lives a pen or a stethescope.

    Relax make your mind what you want to do in life whether you want to teach,fight abuse,save lives,blog,or tweet all day thank you messages and say that you are an activist fighting injustice.

    1. Thank you for your comments on my pieces, perhaps if you would read some more you would find the answer to your questions. Sound advice though., on stethoscopes and a pen, think I can handle both but would definitely focus more on one of the two 🙂
      Good day!

  3. Rizwan , when we all speak as you have we actually reveal more about ourselves than those we slander . others are a mirror to how we feel about ourselves .You , I think , have a very low opinion of yourself etc

  4. Humanity has just been sabotaged by the harbingers of justice and has highlighted the sort of narcissistic ostentation that men in our society so proudly indulge in. Such decisions do not repress justice; in fact they personify the perverse and reviled impulse that continues to plague men in Pakistan (and i use the word “men” very loosely since the very term “man” brings with it a certain element of dignity, grace, decorum and irrepressible endeavour for modesty, which men in our society so dispassionately lack). Vox Populi Vox Dei (the will of the people is the will of God), may seem to be a poignant examination of social equality and freewill, yet tribal jirgas impair the very foundations on which the seeds of equality, righteousness and justice are sown. Witnessing the dawn of the rising sun instils the love and fear of God; but authority and power willingly persuades man to be that very God. Such is the pathetically feeble nature of man. This judgement may be the end of Mukhtar Mai’s odyssey but the calamitous damage done on our social establishment may never be repaired.

  5. like Musharraf said…….if women if pakistan want to be rich and famous and get a US passport, all they need to do is to get out and shout I am raped……thats it………liberal Extrimest like Sana and some western funded NGO’s will come and support her without doing any research…….Mujhtaran disgraced the whole country, on every platform, just to get $ …..she earned it now, again she needs the fame……….gosh……..Shame

    1. @Tehmina………women like Mukhtaran,Sana and you are a disgrace to the religion, nation and country…….this is why women would cross the number in hell leaving men behind………as if you speak for the whole country….

    2. Rezwan, there’s really no need to make such sweeping statements. You may choose to disagree with me or Mai but sweeping remarks & slanders won’t do us any good.
      Please refrain & don’t ever attack anyone in the comment section,else I’m afraid I’ll have to spam your comments. Thanks!

  6. It is indeed heartening to know that Mukhtar Mai’s attorney, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, will file a review petition against the Supreme Court’s verdict acquitting her gang rapists who were implementing the panchayat’s decision. Giving the benefit of doubt to the Supreme Court’s decision on its suo moto hearing, highlight the flaws in the law where the rape victim has to prove that the crime was committed.

    As the article documents, overwhelming evidence existed that the crime has been committed and the identity of the criminals was known. Secondly, the police must have failed in building a strong case against the criminals because corruption and lack of training and facilities to collect and preserve evidence.

    The existence of panchayat (and jirgas) in today’s day and age are testimony to the government’s failure to provide efficient justice to the masses.

    If the review petition against the Supreme Court judgment fails to reverse the verdict, then parliament should review the flawed legislation and reinforce it against the male-dominated and tribal mindset that obstructs the delivery of justice in cases of crimes against women

  7. Like Sana I can have only encouragement for Mai . she can hold her head up high in a land ( and there are many more of them) where women are treated as ‘nothing’ by religious bigots and men in general .She has shown the way to countless people who see her as a now leader . her courage and determination are an inspiration to us all men and women . Us men HAVE to make a stand as well as the women . How can we tolerate a matriarchal system that treats women as it does .In the name of religion ( HA HA ) she has been brutally treated but beyond that act she has stood up for her sex and for her dignity that REMAINS FULLY IN TACT

  8. So what are you angry at? That 5 of the 6 accused were found innocent? That there was no evidence against them? That despite repeated hearings at multiple courts, the charges against them could not be proven?
    I hope you don’t want Mukhtara Mai’s word to be taken as evidence right? Coz if thats the case that anyone can accuse anyone of rape… :S I am very confused…

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