The National, Thursday, April 28, 2011
Every day, Mukhtaran Mai, a tall, gaunt woman from a tiny farming village in Pakistan’s southern Punjab province, faces the trauma of what happened to her.
Nine years ago, to punish her for an affair her brother was accused of having, a tribal council ordered that she be repeatedly raped.
After the attack, she says she was paraded past scores of villagers.
It became the most infamous women’s rights case in Pakistan for years.
In a country where getting convictions in violent crimes cases against women were notoriously difficult, six suspected rapists were caught, convicted and imprisoned.
It was a result that satisfied human rights groups from around the world who had been closely following the case.
But, a new judgment has changed everything.
Pakistan’s supreme court has decided that all but one of the men, previously imprisoned for gang-raping Mai on the orders of tribal elders, should have their convictions overturned.
They have now been released.
“I am hurt and upset,” Mai says. “I am going through the same things I went through in 2002. It has brought back all the pain.
“Then, it was a decision of the tribal council that made me suffer; now it is a verdict from the Pakistani courts.”
Since the attack, Mai, who was then illiterate, managed to start a school for girls and a women’s refuge just a few hundred feet from the spot where she was raped.
She received international awards for her bravery in speaking out, and her autobiography In the Name of Honour has been sold worldwide.
But Mai says the new ruling to free her attackers has crushed her.
“Yes, I had civil society with me, and groups from all over the world,” she says. “But, only I knew what difficulties I still had to face.”
She says she had to battle men from an influential local clan when most women, who experienced what she did, were expected to commit suicide.
“After everything, the men of powerful families are openly handing out sweets in celebration of this judgment,” she says. “I was never expecting this.”
She also feels threatened because the released men could now return to the village where they still have homes.
“They will be close to my school,” she says. “My school, employees, my family and I will be in danger.”
She says that if anything happens, it will be the supreme court and the government of Pakistan who should be held responsible.
But, she also worries about those girls who have been abused, but who had taken strength from her story.
There are many girls like that at the refuge that Mai now runs.
Twelve-year-old Nasreen – not her real name – arrived at the refuge less than two weeks ago.
She had been raped by her father.
She is now receiving help, but her counsellor and refuge manager, Shazia Amin, says it is hard to keep her spirits up.
“We are doing everything we can to help Nasreen,” she says.
“But all the girls here know what has happened in Mukhtaran Mai’s case.
“We are all disturbed and morale is very low.”
The feeling is that if the accused in the most high-profile case can be released in this way, then there is little hope for justice for girls like Nasreen across Pakistan.
And Mai says she believes what happened to her nine years ago could still happen today.
“This judgment means nothing has changed in Pakistan.” – BBC