Monday, March 07, 2005

When Rapist Walk Free

I am so thankful for Nicholas Kristoff. He is one of the few journalists who
has been exposing the brutality taking place in our time. HIs willingness to
report it is one of the positive sides of this sordid tale. Pray for her. RLC

March 5, 2005. Nicholas D Kristoff
When Rapists Walk Free

One of the gutsiest people on earth is Mukhtaran Bibi. And after this week,
she'll need that courage just to survive.

Mukhtaran, a tall, slim young woman who never attended school as a child, lives
in a poor and remote village in the Punjab area of Pakistan. As part of a
village dispute in 2002, a tribal council decided to punish her family by
sentencing her to be gang-raped. She begged and cried, but four of her
neighbors immediately stripped her and carried out the sentence. Then her
tormenters made her walk home naked while her father tried to shield her from
the eyes of 300 villagers.

Mukhtaran was meant to be so shamed that she would commit suicide. But in a
society where women are supposed to be soft and helpless, she proved
indescribably tough, and she found the courage to live. She demanded the
prosecution of her attackers, and six were sent to death row.

She received $8,300 in compensation and used it to start two schools in the
village, one for boys and one for girls, because she feels that education is
the best way to change attitudes like those that led to the attack on her.
Illiterate herself, she then enrolled in her own elementary school.

I visited Mukhtaran in her village in September and wrote a column about her.
Readers responded with an avalanche of mail, including 1,300 donations for
Mukhtaran totaling $133,000.

The money arrived just in time, for Mukhtaran's schools had run out of funds.
She had sold her family's cow to keep them open because she believes so
passionately in the redemptive power of education.

Now that cash from readers has put the schools on a sound financial footing
again. And Mercy Corps, a first-rate American aid group already active in
Pakistan, has agreed to assist Mukhtaran in spending the money wisely. The next
step will be to start an ambulance service for the area so sick or injured
villagers can get to a hospital.

Down the road, Mukhtaran says, she will try to start her own aid group to
battle honor killings. And even though she lives in a remote village without
electricity, she has galvanized her supporters to launch a Web site: (Although her legal name is Mukhtaran Bibi, she is known
in the Pakistani press by a variant, Mukhtar Mai).

Until two days ago, she was thriving. Then - disaster.

A Pakistani court overturned the death sentences of all six men convicted in
the attack on her and ordered five of them freed. They are her neighbors and
will be living alongside her. Mukhtaran was in the courthouse and collapsed in
tears, fearful of the risk this brings to her family.

"Yes, there is danger," she said by telephone afterward. "We are afraid for our
lives, but we will face whatever fate brings for us."

Mukhtaran, not the kind of woman to squander money on herself by flying, even
when she has access to $133,000, took an exhausting 12-hour bus ride to
Islamabad yesterday to appeal to the Supreme Court. Mercy Corps will help keep
her in a safe location, and those donations from readers may keep her alive
for the time being. But for the long term, Mukhtaran has always said she wants
to stay in her village, whatever the risk, because that's where she can make the
most difference.

I had planned to be in Pakistan this week to write a follow-up column about
Mukhtaran. But after a month's wait, the Pakistani government has refused to
give me a visa, presumably out of fear that I would write more about Pakistani
nuclear peddling. (Hmm, a good idea. ...)

Mukhtaran's life illuminates what will be the central moral challenge of this
century, the brutality that is the lot of so many women and girls in poor
countries. For starters, because of inattention to maternal health, a woman dies
in childbirth in the developing world every minute.

In Pakistan, if a woman reports a rape, four Muslim men must generally act as
witnesses before she can prove her case. Otherwise, she risks being charged
with fornication or adultery - and suffering a public whipping and long

Mukhtaran is a hero. She suffered what in her society was the most extreme
shame imaginable - and emerged as a symbol of virtue. 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.

Please see my "concerns" page:
My blog:

No comments: