Thursday, July 27, 2017

My 15 years of struggle, gone to waste: Mukhtar Mai

On July 16, a young man named Umar Wawda allegedly kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old girl in Multan. The case was brought before a local panchaiyat to preside over. Two days later, the...

On July 16, a young man named Umar Wawda allegedly kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old girl in Multan. The case was brought before a local panchaiyat [village council] to preside over. Two days later, the council elders ordered the complainant to rape the 16-year-old sister of the accused in return. The first information report of both incidents was registered on July 20. Police have till now arrested 20 people. The accused are still at large.

“Here we are again talking about another Mukhtar Mai”

I am not surprised. It is a norm for panchaiyats and jirgas to penalize a woman for a man’s crime. They call it 'justice.' Men in Pakistan, guilty men, go unpunished. Women, innocent women, get punished.

People in Pakistan, and elsewhere, often ask me why do jirgas still exist in the country? I tell them that they exist to remind Pakistanis that their legal system has failed.

It is not easy for a poor man or a woman to get a police complaint registered. Then, even if you do get one registered, you will be confronted with a long-winded process of going to courts year after year. A poor person cannot afford to go through this both financially and mentally. In the end he approaches a jirga for the speedy resolution of his dispute.

Unfortunately, these men who sit on these councils are never fair to women. It does not matter to them that the only crime committed by a woman is that she is unfortunately related to a criminal.

Now, if even a single man had been punished for what happened to me in 2002, we might not be here today. But here we are again, talking about another Mukhtar Mai.

In the last few years, I have met many rape survivors. And when I meet them I do not ask them any questions. Why should they relive that horrible and devastating moment? So, instead, I sit with them, sometimes quietly. Then, I tell them I went through what they did but I am still alive today. I am, maybe, stronger and they will be too.

When I heard about this incident in Multan, my blood pressure shot up. I couldn't stop thinking about it. My 15 years of struggle and effort to highlight this injustice has gone to waste. Nothing I said or did was of any use.

The media will continue to raise the issues. The activists will continue to raise their voices. But unless the courts set a precedent and punish these men and their facilitators, not much will change.

Those in power, those in courts, those in police stations do not know what it is like for a woman to try to live a life after she has been assaulted. From then on, she is neither alive, nor dead. She is neither accepted by society, nor by her family.

One of the girls is 12 and the other is 16. If this isn't barbarism, then I don’t know what is.

- Mukhtar Mai is an activist. In 2002, a jirga ordered the gang rape of Mai, whose younger brother was accused of an affair with a woman.