Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Bravest Person on Earth

That title belongs, I think, to Mukhtar Mai. A resident of an unknown corner of rural Pakistan, she was gang-raped by a member of a higher-status clan in retaliation (judicially authorized by the village council, in accordance with the prevailing customs of the area) for disrespect her brother is said to have shown to one of their women. (Her family says that in fact the boy himself was also sexually assaulted by the clan.) Rather than committing suicide as she was supposed to do, she bravely (and so far unsuccessfully) pursued criminal charges against her attackers. Despite being banned from leaving the country and seeing her attackers' conviction overturned, and despite the fact that the president of Pakistan accused her of exploiting the rape as a "money-making concern," she has continued to pursue them and used the money she has received to start a girls' school in her village. She became a symbol of the plight of women in that part of the world, and has now dictated (she is illiterate) her memoir, In the Name of Honor. Below is an excerpt:

On the night of June 22, 2002, our family reaches a decision.

I, Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman of the peasant Gujar caste, living in the village of Meerwala, will be the one to confront an influential and aggressive local clan, farmers of the powerful Mastoi caste, on behalf of my family.

My little brother Shakur is accused by the Mastois of having "spoken" to Salma, a young woman of their clan. Shakur is only twelve years old, while Salma is over twenty. We know my brother has done nothing wrong, but if the Mastois have decided otherwise, we Gujars must bow to their demands. This is the way it has always been.

My father and uncle have explained the situation to me.

"Our mullah, Abdul Razzaq, is in despair. The Mastois have the majority in the village council, and they refuse all reconciliation. They are armed. Your maternal uncle and Ramzan Pachar, a friend of the Mastois, have tried everything to calm the members of the council. We have but one last chance: a Gujar woman must appear before their clan. Among all the women of our house, we have chosen you."

She has not allowed what was done to her to destroy her life. She has instead taken the vilest that humanity has to offer and turned it into testimony to the pursuit of what is just. The rest of the excerpt is here. The most recent English translation of her dictated Urdu blog on the BBC is here, and is also compelling reading. The entire book is available from Amazon here. We are all in her debt in ways too numerous to count.


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