WickedEye's Quotient

7/12/2007 at 05:35

In the Hearts of the People and In Their Gratitude

I am sitting in Austria and thinking of Pakistan.

My Comparative Criminal Procedure class discussed shari’a law today. As such, the conversation turned to India- which is unique in allowing Muslims to choose to abide by shari’a law rather than by the secular Parliamentary system- and Pakistan.

And thence to “honor killings”, which occur entirely outside of shari’a law but are often ignored by it.

And thence to (my soul shudders within me at this phrase) “honor rapes”.

And thence to Mukhtaran Bibi.

Knowing I had lived in India, the professor asked me about the first three subjects. And I could no more have avoided bringing Mukhtaran Bibi into the discussion than I could have stopped breathing.

So I told my classmates her story.

She is a 34-year-old woman- a Muslim- from a small village, Meerwala, in Pakistan. Her 12-year-old brother was seen talking with a woman from a higher tribal group.

Her village council, the panchyat jirga, sentenced her to be publicly gang-raped for his crime.

She was.

And she refused to do the proper and expected thing and kill herself afterwards.

Instead she found a sympathetic cleric, a scholar of shari’a law, who helped her prosecute her case through the courts. She won justice from her rapists, and a judgment which she could have used to sequester herself in comfort, or to leave her village, to leave her shame behind her.

She did neither of those things. She stayed in her village, living with the taint of a woman defiled and dishonored, under threat from tribal lords and government officials. And she used the money paid to her as judgment to open two establishments there: a school for boys, and a shelter and school for women and girls.

The first people she approached to enroll were the children of her rapists.

I cannot write or tell her story, especially those last words, without wanting to weep.

And I have no words to describe such a woman, such a human being, such greatness of spirit. Mukhtaran Bibi is too big for any utterance of mine to touch.

So I turn to other famous words, from the last speech to the court of a man who was also condemned to a terrible fate by an unfair tribunal:

Remembering [her] heroism I felt small, small, at the presence of [her] greatness and found myself compelled to fight back from my eyes the tears, and quanch my heart, trobling to my throat to not weep before [her]…

But [her] name will live in the hearts of the people and in their gratitude when [their] and your bones will be dispersed by time, when your name, [their] name, your laws, institutions, and your false god are but a dim rememoring of a cursed past in which man was wolf to the man…

If it had not been for these thing [she] might have live out [her] life among scorning men. [She] might have die unmarked, unknown, a failure. This is [her] career and [her] triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man...

- Last speech to the court, Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Postscript: There is a very troubling follow-up to the story of Mukhtar Mai (her local press’ name for her, meaning “respected big sister”). She has been held under house arrest in Pakistan, her rapists were let go, re-arrested, and are now being retried in a different court, and her passport was confiscated by the Pakistani government- meaning Pervez Musharraf, our very good friend- just before she was to travel to the US to be introduced by Bill Clinton as she spoke at the UN last year.

General Musharraf thinks her public speaking and work for women’s education will “hurt the image of Pakistan”.

This is the webpage of the organization which invited Mukhtaran Bibi to speak at the UN on their behalf. From there you can write an email to the ambassador from Pakistan and get updates as to how she is being held and whether or not her rapists have been let go.

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