The Pakistani government is barring a woman from coming to the United States to speak out about her case and the plight of women’s rights in Pakistan. She was gang-raped on orders by her local tribal counsel. We play a rare broadcast interview with Mukhtar Mai from her home in Pakistan and we speak with a Pakistani journalist who met with her in April. [includes rush transcript]
We spend the rest of the hour looking at the case of Mukhtar Mai–a Pakistani rape survivor who has become an international symbol of the ongoing struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan.
In June 2002, a group of men gang-raped Mukhtar Mai near her home in Pakistan. The rape was ordered by her local tribal counsel as punishment for a crime allegedly committed by her 12-year-old brother. After her rape, Mukhtar Mai was forced to walk home nearly naked before a jeering crowd of three hundred onlookers.
According to The New York Times, on average, a woman is raped every two hours in Pakistan, and two women a day die in so-called honor killings. Most of the cases go unnoticed, but Mukhtar Mai defied tradition by fighting back against her attackers in the courts. She testified against them. A number of them were convicted and sent to prison. With the compensation money she received, she opened elementary schools in her village.
Last week, Mukhtar Mai was back in the headlines when the Pakistani government barred her from leaving the country in an attempt to block her from publicizing her case. Amnesty International had planned to bring her to the United States. On the eve of her trip, she was detained by Pakistani government officials and placed under house arrest. The government then apparently tried to intimidate her by ordering the release of the 12 men connected to her rape.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted that he had ordered Mukhtar placed on the no fly list, telling reporters “I don’t want to project a bad image of Pakistan.” But her detention had the opposite effect, sparking international condemnation. The Pakistani government now says Mukhtar Mai is free to travel wherever she wants. But there is one small problem–they confiscated her passport. Once again, Mukhtar Mai is refusing to be silent and is speaking out to the local and international media about her case. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes, “President Musharraf may have ousted rivals and overthrown a civilian government, but he has now met his match–a peasant woman with a heart of gold and a will of steel.”
I reached Mukhtar Mai yesterday at her home in Pakistan. I began by asking her if she was free to travel outside the country. Translation is provided by Pakistani journalist Azra Rashid.
- Mukhtar Mai, interviewed June 20, 2005.
- Azra Rashid, Pakistani journalist who traveled to Mukhtar Mai’s village in April 2005 and met with her.
- Mukhtar Mai, speaking in April 2005.
- Asma Jahangir, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, speaking in April 2005.
- Dr. Israr Ahmad, head of Tanzeema-e-Islami, speaking at a protest in Pakistan, April 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: I reached Mukhtar Mai yesterday at her home in Pakistan and began by asking her if she is free to travel outside Pakistan. Translation is provided by Pakistani journalist, Azra Rashid.
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] My case is about to go to the supreme court, and I have to be in the court on June 27. But I will come soon.
AMY GOODMAN: The President of Pakistan, Musharraf, will he let you travel to the United States?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] Ok. He has said that he will give her the visa.
AMY GOODMAN: The latest news we have is that one of the prime minister’s aides said he would take you to the United States. Will you go with him?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She’s saying that I can’t come right now, because her case is about to go into the supreme court. And she didn’t know about the case before, about going to the supreme court, but now she does. And she can’t come right now.
AMY GOODMAN: But afterwards, would she go with an aide to Musharraf?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] If God wants her to come, then she will come.
AMY GOODMAN: Does the government have your passport?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] The government still has her passport.
AMY GOODMAN: So does that mean you can’t travel unless they let you and give it back?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] They’ve called her and told her that she can come and get her passport from the government.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what message you have for the people of the United States? Why would you travel here?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] People have invited her to come to their program and talk about what happened to her.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what happened to you? Can you tell us what was the crime committed against you?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] Everybody knows what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] No. I can’t tell it again.
AMY GOODMAN: Because it hurts or because of legal reasons?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She’s saying it’s both, because it also hurts when she talks about it, but it’s also legal, and she can’t talk about it because the case is going into the court.
AMY GOODMAN: You were extremely brave in standing up and bringing charges against the men who raped you. What gave you that strength?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She’s saying that the whole world is with her, and that’s really giving her the strength.
AMY GOODMAN: Is this a common crime against women in Pakistan?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She’s saying that it happens everywhere. It’s not just Pakistan. It happens in every country everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: You won money after your case was brought, from the government, against the men who raped you. What did you do with that money?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She bought land for her school, and now she has her own school in the village.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are you teaching?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] A lot of girls from the village.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you teaching them?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She has hired five teachers who teach kids English, Urdu, science and math.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mukhtar Mai, who is the Pakistani woman who has defied her government, the men in her village, and brought charges against the men who raped her and won a money award and has established a school. When you first said you would travel to the United States to tell your story, you were put under house arrest. Why?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She doesn’t really know the reason. But the guys who were accused of raping her, they were also acquitted. They were released back into the village.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid?
MUKHTAR MAI: [translated by Azra Rashid] She’s not afraid. God is with her. Why should she be afraid?
AMY GOODMAN: Mukhtar Mai, speaking to us Monday from her home in Pakistan. When we come back, we’ll be joined by the Pakistani reporter, Azra Rashid, who translated and just visited her in Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN:We continue on the case of Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang raped on orders of her local tribal council for supposedly a crime committed by her 12-year-old brother, retaliation against her. I’m Amy Goodman, as we talk to Azra Rashid, she translated for Mukhtar Mai in our conversation, and she’s just returned from Pakistan, her own home, where she interviewed Mukhtar Mai.
Tell us where Mukhtar Mai lives and why you went there.
AZRA RASHID:Well, I read her story on the CBC website, and I was really touched by the story. I couldn’t believe that in the 21st century women are still going through such abuses and violations. I read the story, and then I decided to go back to Pakistan and do an interview with her. And she lives in a very small village, near a city called Multan; and that city is known for Islamic fundamentalists, and the village in that area is known for its tribalism. So I traveled from Karachi to Multan and then to the village to interview her.
AMY GOODMAN:Let’s go to excerpts of that interview that you did with Mukhtar Mai speaking in April of this year.
MUKHTAR MAI:[translated by Azra Rashid] Women are facing a lot of problems here, not only at the workplace, but they’re also facing domestic violence and abuses. I can only understand one reason for this. They think women are weaker than men. Men have all controls in society. The second reason is illiteracy. Women are uneducated. They don’t know their rights.
The whole world is with me if you think about it. Not just Pakistan, but the whole world. And if I’m not getting justice, then there is little hope for other women going through the same kind of abuse. I don’t think women are to blame for this. They don’t get justice, and that’s why they let these abuses go on quietly.
But now I understand this, especially after the high court decision. The legal system is weak. The law does not have any strength here. If even the law would falsify the truth, who would then women turn to for their justice? If you think about it, I’m not really getting justice. Just look at the high court decision. They refuse to believe the truth. They said it was a total lie. That’s a further abuse for women. But God is watching everything. One witness is not enough in Pakistan to prove a rape. They need at least 15 witnesses. The woman who goes through the abuse and exploitation, no one believes her. The high court said it’s a false allegation. The case never took place. They said that because there is no one version of the story. I went to file a report, but there was no one to write it.
There are several different versions of the story. But I told them I wasn’t the one responsible for documenting it. I was also illiterate. The police is to blame for this, and not me. It’s for the first time that someone has filed a report. And even that took two and a half years to be done. But I didn’t want it that badly back then. It all changed after the high court decision. I felt really hurt.
The perpetrators of this crime were ignorant and illiterate people. But the judges at the high court were all educated people. I cannot imagine how they could have come to a conclusion like that. Afterwards I started hating education, as well.
We say there is illiteracy and ignorance in this part of the world, and I believe that, too. But if the educated are doing it, what’s there to stop the ignorant? I don’t know. I don’t understand anything anymore. I don’t know what they want. Don’t they have their own daughters, mothers and sisters? They should try to see it from their perspective. Today there is one Mukhtar, but tomorrow any girl can go through the same ordeal.
Of course, it hurts. You understand that, too, being a woman, the kind of hurt that a woman must feel after going through such violation. But I have to live. When it hurts really bad, I just go to my school, look at the girls and spend time with them to help forget the pain. But I will go on until I have even the slightest hope of justice.
I don’t really want to move away from my village. This is my home. I just feel the same amount of attachment to my village as people do to their country. But when people say harsh things about me, I think about leaving this place. But then I tell myself, I have my school and these girls here. If I left, I’d be leaving them behind, too, and the perpetrators will think that Mukhtar gave up and left after everything that happened to her, that if they do that to a woman, the woman will leave, and they will get away with the crime. I think about that.
AMY GOODMAN:Mukhtar Mai speaking in April. She was interviewed by Azra Rashid, a young Pakistani journalist who went there specifically to follow this story, working on her first documentary.
We now turn to Asma Jahangir, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Last month she demonstrated with a group of middle class Pakistani women for equal rights in Lahore. Police clubbed the women, dragged them to police stations. They particularly targeted Jahangir. The police ripped off her shirt, tried to pull off her pants. Azra Rashid interviewed Asma Jahangir on her visit to Pakistan last April. She began by talking about the Hudood laws that were passed in 1980 in Pakistan which have been used to imprison thousands of women who report rapes.
ASMA JAHANGIR:Before this law came into being, women were not punishable for adultery at all, and sex outside of marriage was not punishable. Now, that, for one, became punishable, which means that it could be misused against women, which we saw indeed today’s was misused. And how it was misused was, a number of women who were raped got punished for sex outside of marriage because they simply could not prove that they were raped, and yet they had said that there was a sexual act that had taken place.
Secondly, a number of women who had got married against the wishes of their parents were picked up by the police, through connivance of the state and the family. They were put in prison for allegations of zina, which is all sex outside marriage. They either had to, you know, sort of go through imprisonment or possible punishment or turn around and said that they were kidnapped by their spouses; and so, that created a lot of social upheaval.
AMY GOODMAN:Asma Jahangir, head of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. Azra Rashid, I want to ask you about this next clip that we’re going to play. It was also a protest that took place in Pakistan that you witnessed.
AZRA RASHID:Yes, yeah. It was a protest that took place when I was there in Karachi, and it was a protest by Islamic fundamentalist groups. And I tried to interview this guy, Dr. Israr Ahmad, and he is the head of Tanzeem-e-Islami. And he refused to give me an interview, because I’m a woman. And he called me names and stuff on camera, so it was a difficult interview.
AMY GOODMAN:So how did you do it, and how did the other men in this protest respond to you?
AZRA RASHID:I had to send somebody else with a camera, and I was trying to shout the questions from behind the camera. I was holding the camera and doing the camera work, but I was really keeping my distance from the guy, from their leader.
AMY GOODMAN:You were alone?
AZRA RASHID:Actually, I took a friend with me to interview this person.
AMY GOODMAN:Let’s go to Dr. Israr Ahmad, head of Tanzeem-e-Islami, speaking at the protest in Pakistan.
DR. ISRAR AHMAD:[translated] This non-segregated mixed society is against Islam. Number two, a woman may go out, but only wearing a burka. This is her second circle of protection. This burka is her fort. And then third, the houses should be built so that non-kin males would only sit in the guest room and will not come inside. Because in our society women must remain under the veil. And there’s a list in Koran of men who can see a woman bare-faced. And a woman’s fourth veil is her body. Her whole body should be covered, except for face, hands and feet. Not even a son should see any bare part of his mother’s body. A father should not see any bare part of his daughter’s body. This is the veil. We have to keep women under these four veils.
AMY GOODMAN:Dr. Israr Ahmad, head of Tanzeem-e-Islami, speaking at the protest in Pakistan. As we wrap up in this last moment, Azra Rashid, you’re a journalist doing your first documentary. You chose Mukhtar Mai and the climate on these issues in Pakistan. Why?
AZRA RASHID:Well, I am from Pakistan origin, and I still can’t believe that this is happening in Pakistan. And it is happening. When I was there, I heard about there’s another rape case which took place, and the victim was burned because they wanted to get rid of the evidence. And it’s so common in Pakistan. And it’s just painful.
AMY GOODMAN:How significant is it when you bring these stories to light?
AZRA RASHID:People in the West don’t know about these stories. They get shocked about.
AMY GOODMAN:And what about the effect in Pakistan, and particularly on women?
AZRA RASHID:I was actually very surprised when I went to Pakistan, because in Pakistan there is this whole attitude of indifference. They didn’t even know who Mukhtar Mai was when I went there. And I kind of introduced the topic to my friends in Pakistan, to this elite class in Pakistan. They didn’t know what was going on.
AMY GOODMAN:They know who she is now?
AZRA RASHID:Hopefully, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Mukhtar Mai goes to the supreme court, and we’ll see if she makes it to the United States to talk, not only about her case, but about the status of women in Pakistan.