Last edited: March 27, 2005

Mukhtaran’s Choice

The Pakistani gangrape victim suffered what in her society was the most extreme shame, and emerged as a symbol of virtue, faith and hope

The Indian Express, March 10, 2005

By Nicholas D. Kristof

One of the gutsiest people on earth is Mukhtaran Bibi. And after this week, she will need that courage just to survive. A tall, slim young woman, Mukhtaran 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 gangraped. Four of her neighbours 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 she would commit suicide. But she proved tough and 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 even sold her cow to keep them open.

Down the road, Mukhtaran says, she will try to start her own aid group to battle honour killings. Her supporters have launched a website for her:

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 neighbours. Mukhtaran was in the courthouse and collapsed in tears. “Yes, there is danger,” she said by telephone afterward. “We are afraid for our lives, but we will face whatever fate brings.”

Mukhtaran took an exhausting 12-hour bus ride to Islamabad on Friday to appeal to the Supreme Court. 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 the Pakistani government has refused to give me a visa, presumably out of fear that I would write more about Pakistani nuclear peddling.

Mukhtaran’s life illuminates what will be the moral challenge of this century: the brutality that is the lot of so many women and girls in poor countries. 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 punished with public whipping.

Mukhtaran is a hero. She suffered what in her society was the most extreme shame imaginable—and emerged as a symbol of virtue. She inspires us with her faith in the power of education—and her hope.

The New York Times

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