Mukhtar Mai�s jihad

"The rights of women are sacred, so see that they are maintained." -- The Prophet Muhammad SAW

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ruled to re-try the case of Mukhtar Mai:

Then it was the turn of Ms Mai's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, to take the podium.

"This is a battle of a poor and illiterate lady who has decided to fight a legal battle against her rapists to the farthest level and she has not succumbed to the pressures she has faced in her course," he said.

He urged the court to review the village council system - Ms Mai was raped allegedly on the direction of such a council, or panchayat.

"In this case the role of the rapists and the panchayat are the same. It is all about dastardly rule," he said.

The court listened to the arguments and ordered her rapists be rearrested pending a new trial.

As the short order was read out, Ms Mai began to smile - the smile widening as the order began to register.

In a follow-up story at BBC News, a quote from Mai herself serves as a succint summary of the stakes:

"I had three choices. Either to commit suicide by jumping in a well or shed tears all my life like any other victim in such cases, or challenge the cruel feudal and tribal system and harsh attitudes of society."

This is a very good and hopeful ruling, with ramifications far beyond her own case. It took tremendous courage for this victim of gang-rape to appear in public and plead her case before the court. Sepoy explains:

The women�s body is the locus of a family�s honor. It is up to the woman to protect this honor and should they fail - by getting raped or falling in love with someone else or speaking out against domestic abuse, e.g. - the men have the right to seek redress. Along with this honor comes the code of silence. Crimes against women, however unfortunate, are an understandable response from the males, and should be left uncommented. The silence of outrage is mirrored in the silence of the victim. Shame dictates that a family silence their dis-honor. The easiest way to accomplish this, of course, is for the victim to kill herself. The family and the community exorcizes even the memory of the victim. No one remembers, except for those that committed the heinous act and those that used it as an instrument of their power. By staying out of the domain of �honor� and �shame�, the state facilitates this. The lack of a police report is, in the end, the most harmful silence of all.

Mukhtar Mai stood up against this silence and instead chose to speak - at unimaginable personal risk to herself. Her story is the Rosa Parks crusade of our time.

Many point to the case as evidence of some deep flaw within Asian or Muslim societies as a whole. In fact, Pakistan's prime minister generalllissimo Pervez Musharraf had ordered that Mai not be allowed to leave Pakistan, fearing bad PR along these lines (a foolish and unneccessary reactionary action, IMHO). But sepoy points out that there is a more fundamental reason for why these abuses occur - and it relates to education, not culture:

this is not a situation peculiar to Pakistan or Islam or to this particular moment in history. Domestic violence or honor killings are not a culturally unique phenomenon but they are a uniquely patriarchal one. One can easily find instances from Milan to Kentucky with a layover in Dubai. If there is a difference in the rate of incidence between say, Chicago and Lahore, then it is the rule of law and effort of education that has permitted this equality and protection to women in one case and not the other. In many countries, like Pakistan, women have little recourse in law against such violence and insurmountable normative practices that sustain or encourage it. It is easy enough to start labeling Islam or South Asian/�tribal� culture as the root cause of such violence. But that would be a fundamentally flawed and disingenuous conclusion. The culprit is not Islam or South Asian culture, the culprit, undoubtedly, is the State of Pakistan.

for which the Prime Minister continues to make excuses for, and which has not done enough - but this is now changing. The strength of Mukhtar Mai will be a north star for other women to navigate by, so that they can reclaim their rights and help stop this systemic practice of abuse and worse.

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