Sadia Dehlvi has sent me this book review that was published by the Hindustan Times.
In the Name of Honour: A memoir
With Marie-Therese Cuny
Mukhtar Mai’s story is about the transformation of an uneducated Pakistani peasant leading a simple life to becoming a global symbol in the fight for gender justice. It exposes the horrific honour killings rampant amongst the rural and tribal societies of Pakistan. In these days of Islamophobia a superficial misread would be to interpret this as yet another story validating the mythical medieval Muslim monster. Women continue to suffer as shameful variations of the theme exist in caste, class, and race obsessed societies the world over.
Mukhtar’s tale is that of a woman who navigates the unchartered terrain of a lower caste seeking to punish her rapists in a primarily male chauvinistic legal system.
Mukhtar led a protected life in her father’s house in the village Meerwala teaching the Quran to little girls. Her twelve year old brother was wrongly accused of having an affair with a twenty something girl belonging to the upper class Mastoi clan. On the night of June 22nd 2002 the village council met and Mukhtaran was taken to represent the family in the confrontation. Her life was to change forever.
Mukhtar spreads a shawl at their feet asking for forgiveness but despicably the tribal court pronounced gang rape as “honour justice” for the Mastois. Mukhtar is shoved inside a nearby stable and gang raped as the entire village of three hundred people hears her scream. Mukhtar is then paraded half naked; the father throws her a shawl and walks her home. A humiliated Mukhtar contemplates suicide. If she had, the saga would have been buried along with her remains under the rubble of Meerwala. Instead it was the beginning of a new life for Mukhtar, one of courage and activism that the world would soon acknowledge and acclaim.
In the exhaustive process of seeking justice, the illiterate Mukhtar encountered local judges and policemen who obtained her thumb impressions on blank sheets with a reassurance of acting in her best interest. Mukhtar later realizes she had been signing her life away and felt crippled due to her illiteracy. Mukhtars case became internationalized, Pakistani women’s groups rallied together in her support resulting in Mukhtar being compensated financially by a Pakistan court. With that money and other financial aid, Mukhtar sought meaning to her life by building the first school for boys and girls in her village. Mukhtar journeyed to addressing international forums and becoming a source of strength to women facing similar violations of dignity. Mukhtar uses the strength of the experiences of personal misfortune to show them hope of a new dawn.
Mukhtar Mai’s fight is far from over. Accused of embarrassing Pakistan she has faced house arrest by the state authorities. The possibility of Mukhtar’s rapists being acquitted on a retrial ordered by the Federal Shariat Court is life threatening.
The book is an easy to read inspiring story which provides windows into the mind set and social realities of the rural and tribal areas of the subcontinent. Class and caste oppression remain our bitter truth and shame. It is Dalit women in Khairlanji and the Gujar women in Meerwala. Phoolan Devi was gang raped and paraded naked by upper caste villagers. She took revenge by combating evil with evil. What makes Mukhtar Mai and her story unique is that evil is avenged with goodness, compassion and nobility. The Mukhtar Mai organization runs women’s shelters, an ambulance service and elementary schools where Mukhtar herself is learning to read and write.
Translated by Linda Coverdale