In the Name of Honour
“Mukhtar Mai is a hero… She has taken a sordid story of perennial poverty, gang rape and judicial brutality and inspired us with her faith in the power of education — and her hope.” – Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
For the first time, Mukhtar Mai recounts her ordeal in this moving memoir. A story of extreme suffering and humiliation, it is also one of immense courage and faith. Mukhtar Mai is thirty five years old. She lives in a small Pakistani village in southern Punjab, located on the frontier with India. On June 22, 2002, she was sentenced to be raped by the tribal council of her village. She was held down by four men, stripped and gang raped. She was then made to walk home, naked, in front of 300 villagers. Exposed and shamed in front of everyone. Mukhtar Mai was “paying” for her younger brother’s alleged misbehavior.
At the tender age of twelve, Abdul Shakur was accused of having an affair with a woman from a higher caste (and in her late 20’s). When the village council convened in the nearby cotton fields to “judge” young Abdul, they produced no evidence to prove that there had even been any wrong doings; yet they sought to avenge the honor of the high caste woman by sentencing Mukhtar Mai to be gang raped. In the minutes leading up to the exacting of her sentence, Mukhtar Mai begged for mercy, pleaded her brother’s innocence, and cited the Koran – the only book she knows by heart. In the aftermath of the rape, Mukhtar Mai knew that she should swallow acid and kill herself. That is what many women who are victims of “honor” crimes in this part of the world resort to. There can be no life worth living after such disgrace has been thrown on you and your family.
But Mukhtar Mai defied her aggressors and the prevailing custom. Instead of lying down to die, she took the case to court and fought for justice. Her aggressors were imprisoned, sentenced to death, and she was awarded damages by the Pakistani government.
Mukhtar Mai decided to open a school for young girls and another for boys. She had never been given an opportunity to attend school herself, but she fervently believed education to be the most effective way of changing the attitudes and practices that made her own ordeal possible. Mukhtar Mai’s story was captured by journalists around the world and her plea for help prompted an outpouring of solidarity, from individuals to institutions, from the European Parliament to Condoleezza Rice.
With the donations that continue to arrive from abroad, Mukhtar Mai has been able to let her schools grow and flourish. She has become a source of inspiration for thousands of young girls who, like her, strive for their basic rights. She and her family live with police protection. They continue to receive threats from members of the Mastoi high caste who are outraged that a young woman from the peasant Gujjar caste
could possibly challenge their authority. When in March 2005 the death sentences of all six of her aggressors were overturned by a Pakistani court, the risks for Mukhtar Mai’s safety only increased. “I love my country and I am proud of it. But I hope that through telling my story I may help people understand that there must be some change. And if my suffering helps bring about change, then it was worth it.” – Mukhtar Mai