Wednesday, January 31, 2007

“In the Name of Honor”

Mukhtar Mai has written a book, In the Name of Honor. Or rather, she has dictated a book, since Mukhtar Mai is illiterate.

However, not being able to read or write has not impaired her ability to tell a story. Here is a partial excerpt:

Mukhtar MaiOn 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.”

“Why me?”

“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.

You can read the rest of the excerpt here, on the publisher’s page.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Telegraph has a feature on the book:

Mukhtar, an illiterate peasant, is an unlikely heroine. The crime committed against her is not uncommon in an area benighted by poverty, acts of brutality against women and the rule of thuggish overlords.

But she has refused to be cowed by the pressure put upon her, by local officials right up to the president, to end her campaign against the men who raped her. She wants them to be hanged. “I will never forgive them,” she said yesterday. “They must be punished according to the law.”

This week, she publishes the autobiography she dictated, In the Name of Honour, which will again stir up the controversy over all that has happened to her. It took some persuading to get her to tell her story, and for the slight, shy 35-year-old with a lazy eye and a rare but wheezy laugh, recounting the events of that night, five years ago, is still painful.


Initially, the Pakistani government lauded Mukhtar as a heroine; President Musharraf even handed her a £4,500 gift. But when the case received publicity abroad and Mukhtar was asked to visit America to talk about her ordeal, the government put her name on Pakistan’s “exit control list”, which blocked her from leaving the country.

They were afraid that the case would give the wrong impression of Pakistan.

According to Amna Buttar, one of Mukhtar’s close circle, a friend of Gen Musharraf threatened her, saying that Pakistan’s intelligence services can “do anything.

We can just pay a little money to some black guys in New York and get people killed there”.

Asked about the ban, President Musharraf said she was being exploited by “Westernised fringe elements” who wanted her to “bad-mouth” Pakistan. He later said that the rape had become a money-making concern.”

“He is a great sardar [chief] and I am a peasant,” said Mukhtar. “But when they talk of me shaming the country, he should be careful, as he is also the son of a woman.”


She may have achieved fame and more money than she could have dreamed of a few years ago, but her life is still in danger.

Just a few hundred yards from her family’s home is the large compound of the Mastoi. They have neither forgotten nor forgiven, and have threatened to kill her and her brother.

Chris Cork, an English development agency consultant who helps Mukhtar with her village projects, is convinced that the Mastoi will get their revenge. “They have said they will kill her one day. And they will. She has great courage and dignity. She never asked for fame.”

“What if you are killed?” I ask Mukhtar.

“I am just the first drop of water in the village,” she says quietly. “I believe it will rain after me.”

When you are no longer afraid of dying, what can they do? No wonder they hate her so: her courage (in the face of her fear) has rendered her enemies impotent.

This woman did not kill herself — as she was supposed to do — following the gang rape by the Mastoi clan. That she did not do so was not entirely her will, for that was her fervent wish in the days following her ordeal. Anyone so thoroughly violated and wrongly used has that after-effect to deal with: the great desire to die, to obliterate oneself.

Her father and her imam and her uncles supported her through the worst of it. They encouraged her to seek legal redress and their encouragement wrought a miracle beyond their imagining. Their tribeswoman — daughter, niece, cousin — became an international heroine.

Canada, to name just one country, gave her money to further her dreams of educating the girls and boys of her village. She has also brought electrification to her area. Now her days are taken over by the groups who make pilgrimages to see her.

Her story evokes for me another courageous woman, one who did die despite her attempts to get away: Saint Dymphna. Over at The Neighborhood of God, there was a discussion as to whether she was merely a victim or, instead, a heroine. As one commenter, a4g, noted:

…An interesting piece, D, falling on the day Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr. had the unfortunate distinction of being 2000th.

I’ve been thinking about the cries that he is being victimized by the left— and how ignoble a title “Victim” to bestow upon a warrior.

Instead, he is, with his family, a warrior whose service goes beyond merely his life, and includes bearing the weight of fools.

I see St. Dymphna peering out from heaven, dolorous for those who see “victim” in sainthood, but with the twinkled eye and the wry smile of one who can say, “If only they knew...”

Mukhtar Mai knows and that renders her free.

This is not a freedom that many of us are privileged to know. But then again, who of us have endured the experiences of Sergeant Alexander, Saint Dymphna, or Mukhtar Mai? Only one of these three lived to tell about it.

Buy the book here or here, or in the UK, here. Note the variations on the last word of the title: the American version is In the Name of Honor whilst the English version is Honour. Even here. Note the variations on the last word of the title: the American version is In the Name of Honor whilst the English version is Honour. France’s version of Amazon lists it, though there is no translation into French…yet.

Hat tip: New English Review.


DWPittelli said...

Perhaps there is a downside to the US' monopoly on smart bombs like the JDAM. Because if one happened to fall on the Mastois' compound, it would be hard to deny its origin.

Dymphna said...

This is a horrible story, the only good bit about it is this brave woman's response, and the fact that she is alive, willing and able to tell it.

It *is* brutal, but even more than that it's gripping. She transcended her circumstances, and she was able to do it because of her imam (boy, he must've taken some hits from the Mastoi) and the male members of her family. With their support, she brought about change in her village. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the Pakistani legislature, despite the objections of the powerful MMA conservative bloc, was able to repeal some of the worst of the 1979 laws. I think her story made them aware in a new way that the world is watching...though change will be incremental.

It is so poignant that she had such naive faith in Islam and the Koran.

Well, I think her faith is beyond words. It has no prepositions, no "I believe in..." Her faith is built on trust. Whatever happens, she's ready. Yes, she has her chapters and verses, but her faith transcends those things.

I find her valiant. She is as harmless as a saint -- in the sense that she cannot be truly harmed by outward circumstance. Her story reminds me of the saints of the concentration camps.

People who transcend their circumstances -- Churchill comes to mind -- fascinate me.

Dymphna said...

dwpitelli -

That is one small village. Her house is only a few hundred yards from the Mastoi compound.

Not that your image is abhorrent, though. There is something satisfying in it. Funny, though, I think it would cause a major displacement in that little place, a vaccuum into which something worse might come.

Anonymous said...

"They were afraid that the case would give the wrong impression of Pakistan."

Actually, it might give the right impression of Pakistan.

"The Mastois have the majority in the village council, and they refuse all reconciliation."

Ah! "Democracy." That is why America is not a "Democracy".

"Victim" is a state of mind. This woman is a hero, not a victim.