The Washington Post
In the Name of Honor: A Memoirby Mukhtar Mai
In June 2002, journalists throughout the world began to hear of the gang rape of a Pakistani woman from the impoverished village of Meerwala. The rape was ordered by a local clan known as the Mastoi and was arranged as punishment for indiscretions allegedly committed by the woman's brother. While certainly not the first account of a female body being negotiated for honor in a family, and (sadly) not the last, journalists and activists were captivated. This time the survivor had chosen to fight back, and in doing so, single-handedly changed the feminist movement in Pakistan. Her name was Mukhtar Mai, and her decision to stand up to her accusers was an act of bravery unheard of in one of the world's most adverse climates for women.
By July 2002, Mai's case was headline news in Pakistan and under international scrutiny, the government awarded her the equivalent of 8,500 U.S. dollars in compensation money (a historic settlement), and her attackers were sentenced to death. Mukhtar Mai went on to open a school for girls in an effort to ensure that future generations would not suffer, as she had, from illiteracy.
In this rousing account, Mai describes her experience and how she has since become an agent for change and a beacon of hope for oppressed women around the world. Timely and topical, In the Name of Honor is the remarkable and inspirational memoir of a woman who fought and triumphed against exceptional odds.
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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."
"The others are too young to do this. Your husband has granted you a divorce, you have no children, you teach the Koran. You are a respectable woman!"
It's long after sunset, but until now I've been told very little of what caused this serious dispute today. The men of the jirga, our village council, have been meeting for several hours now, and only they know why I must appear before that tribunal.
Shakur has been missing since midday. All we know is that at noon he was in a wheat field near our house, but tonight he is locked up inside the police station, three miles from the village. I hear from my own father's lips that my little brother has been beaten.
"We saw Shakur when the police brought him out of the Mastois' house. He was all bloody, and his clothes were torn. The police took him away in handcuffs without letting me speak to him. I'd been looking for him everywhere, and a man who'd been cutting branches up in a palm tree came to tell me that he'd seen the Mastois kidnap Shakur. In the village, people began reporting to me that the Mastois were accusing him of illicit conduct and theft."
The Mastois are old hands at this kind of retaliation. Their powerful clan leader knows many influential people, and they are violent men, capable of invading anyone's home with their guns to loot, rape, and tear the place apart. The lower-caste Gujars have no right to oppose them, and no one in my family has dared go to their house.
Because of his religious office, the mullah is the only person entitled to intervene in this crisis, but all his efforts have been in vain. So my father went to file a complaint with the police. Outraged that a Gujar peasant has defied them by sending policemen to their very doorstep, the proud Mastois have slightly modified their story: now they accuse Shakur of raping Salma. They claim that my brother has committed zina-bil-jabar, which in Pakistan means the sins of rape, adultery, or sexual relations without the sanctity of marriage. Before handing over my brother, the Mastois demanded that he be locked up, and they insisted that if he were released from jail, he should be returned to the custody of the Mastoi clan. Zina may be punishable by death, according to the Islamic code of sharia, so the police have locked up Shakur not only because he is accused of a serious crime but also to protect him from the violent Mastois, who want to take justice into their own hands. The whole village has known about all this since early this afternoon, and my father has taken the women of my family to our neighbors' houses for safety's sake. We know that the Mastois always take their revenge on a woman of a lower caste. It's the woman's place to humiliate herself, to beg for forgiveness before all the men of the village assembled in a jirga in front of the Mastois' farmhouse.
That farm is barely three hundred yards from ours, yet I know it only by sight: imposing walls, and a terrace from which they look out over the neighborhood as though they were the lords of the earth.
"Mukhtaran, get ready, and follow us."
That night, I have no idea that the path leading from our little farm to the wealthier home of the Mastois will change my life forever. If the men of the Mastoi clan accept my apologies, the path will be short. Although my mission is a dangerous one, I am confident. I set out, clasping the Koran to my breast. The Koran will protect me.
My father made the only possible choice. I am twenty-eight, and I may not know how to read or write, since there is no school for girls in our village, but I have learned the Koran by heart, and ever since my divorce I have taught its verses to our local children as an act of charity. That is my respectability. And my strength.
I walk along the dirt path, followed by my father, my uncle Haji Altaf, and Ghulamnabi, a friend of another caste, who has been acting as an intermediary during the negotiations of the jirga. They are afraid for my safety, and my uncle even hesitated himself before coming with me. Yet I proceed along the path with a kind of childlike trust. I have committed no crime. I have not personally done anything wrong. I believe in God, and since my divorce I have been living dutifully in peaceful seclusion with my family, far from the world of men. No one has ever spoken ill of me, as often happens with other women. Salma, for example, is known for her bold ways: that girl has a saucy tongue, and she gets around. She goes out when and where she pleases. It's possible that the Mastois have tried to take advantage of my young brother's innocence to cover up something involving Salma. Be that as it may, the Mastois decide, and the Gujars obey.
The June night still burns with the heat of the day; the birds are asleep, and the goats, too. Somewhere a dog barks in the silence surrounding my footsteps, a silence that grows into a faint rumbling. As I walk on, I begin to hear the voices of angry men, whom I can now see illuminated by the single light at the entrance to the Mastois' farm. There are more than a hundred men gathered near the mosque, perhaps as many as two hundred to two hundred and fifty, and most of them are Mastois. They are the ones dominating the jirga. Although he is our village mullah, even Abdul Razzaq cannot oppose them. I look for him in the crowd; he is not there. I am unaware at the time that after disagreeing with the Mastois over how to handle the affair, certain members of the jirga have left the council. The Mastois are now in charge.
Before me I see Faiz Mohammed, who is known as Faiza, along with four men: Abdul Khaliq, Ghulam Farid, Allah Dita, and Mohammed Faiz. They are armed with rifles and a pistol, which they point immediately at the men of my clan. The Mastois wave their guns around to frighten off my family, but my father and uncle don't budge. Held at bay by Faiza, they stand at my back.
The Mastois have gathered their clan behind them, a threatening wall of impatient and agitated men.
I have brought a shawl, which I spread out at their feet as a sign of allegiance. From memory, I recite a verse from the Koran, holding my hand on the holy book. Everything I know of the scriptures I have learned by listening, not reading, but I may well be more familiar with the sacred texts than are most of these brutes who stare at me contemptuously. The moment has come for the honor of the Mastois to be made pure once again. The Punjab, which is known as The Land of Five Rivers, is also called The Land of the Pure. But who are the pure ones?
The Mastois unnerve me with their guns and evil faces especially Abdul Khaliq and his pistol. He has the eyes of a madman, glaring with hatred. But although I certainly know my place as a member of an inferior caste, I also have a sense of honor, the honor of the Gujars. Our community of small, impoverished farmers has been here for several hundred years, and while I'm not familiar with our history in detail, I feel that it is part of me, in my blood. I stand there trembling, with downcast eyes.
I venture to look up, but Faiza says nothing, shaking his head in disdain. For a few moments, all is quiet. I pray silently, and then fear strikes, abruptly, like a monsoon deluge, numbing my body with a lightning bolt.
Now I can see in the eyes of that man that he wanted a Gujar woman to appear before the Mastois' jirga so that he could take revenge on her in front of the entire village. These men have fooled the mullah, my father, my entire family, and the councilors of the jirga to which they themselves belong. This is the first time that the councilors themselves have fixed upon a gang rape as a means to what they call their "honor justice."
Abdul Khaliq turns to his kinsmen, who are as eager as he is to carry out that verdict, to demonstrate their power through a show of force. Abdul Khaliq then grabs my arm, while Ghulam Farid, Allah Dita, and Mohammed Faiz start pushing me.
I am there, true, but it isn't me anymore: this petrified body, these collapsing legs no longer belong to me. I am about to faint, to fall to the ground, but I never get the chance they drag me away like a goat led to slaughter. Men's arms have seized mine, pulling at my clothes, my shawl, my hair.
"In the name of the Koran, release me!" I scream. "In the name of God, let me go!"
I pass from one night to another, taken from the darkness outside to the darkness inside an enclosed place where I can distinguish those four men only by the moonlight filtering through a tiny window. Four walls and a door, guarded by an armed silhouette.
Escape is impossible. Prayer is impossible.
That is where they rape me, on the beaten earth of an empty stable. Four men: Abdul Khaliq, Gulam Farid, Allah Dita, and Mohammed Faiz. I don't know how long that vicious torture lasts. An hour? All night?
I, Mukhtaran Bibi, eldest daughter of my father, Ghulam Farid Jat, lose all consciousness of myself, but I will never forget the faces of those animals. For them, a woman is simply an object of possession, honor, or revenge. They marry or rape them according to their conception of tribal pride. They know that a woman humiliated in that way has no other recourse except suicide. They don't even need to use their weapons. Rape kills her. Rape is the ultimate weapon: it shames the other clan forever.
They don't bother to beat me. I am already at their mercy, they are threatening my relatives, and my brother is in jail. I am forced to submit.
Copyright © 2006 by Oh! Editions, Paris. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Mukhtar Mai is now a leading example for women in her native country and around the globe. With her compensation money she has opened two schools in her village, one for girls and another for boys. In August 2005, she was awarded the Fatima Jinnah gold medal for bravery and courage by the Pakistani government and was named Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine. In 2006, Time magazine listed her in their issue on the 100 most influential people in the world, and she was also awarded the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book was quite intriguing as Muktar detailed her every feeling of the traumatic event from beginning to end. It definetly gave me a new insight on life. If a woman with no money and lacked education could take a stand this strong theres no reason why I as an American cant do the same, as I am a victim of rape myself, and being revictimized through the system myself. Thsi story truly inspired me to continue to fight and to make my situation poractive instead of reactive. Mukhtar not only exemplifies strength for her country but she also gives a sens of hope throughout the world for all victims of any cruel crime, especially rape. I encourage each woman to read this book as it reads about the trials and tribulation of a poor uneducated woman who became so humanly enriched with the horrific event she underwent.
Very sad condition, VERY BRAVE woman. Good read
The beginning of the book was rather slow, but once I got past the first couple of chapters I found myself completely engrossed.
Couldn't put it down