Upon the orders of a tribal council who wished to punish her family because her brother had sexual relations with a girl from a powerful clan and higher caste, Pakistani woman Mukhtar Mai was kidnapped and gang-raped in the eastern province of Punjab in 2002. The act was payment for her family’s ‘crime of honor.’ Her brother was sodomized by a member of the alleged ‘aggrieved’ family, also as punishment.
Rape victims in Pakistan face the ordeal of tremendous social stigma, often leading victims to suicide. Instead of silence, shame, or suicide, Mai defied social and religious taboo and brought her attackers to court. After years in various courts in order to obtain justice, Mai raised her case to the highest levels of government and became a symbol of women’s struggle to end the social stigma that rape carries. She eventually spoke at the United Nations about the nightmare of many women like her.
Along the way, she published her story, was named Glamor Magazine’s Woman of the Year, and fought for women’s rights. She now runs a school dedicated to the social and educational upliftment of young females in Pakistan. She also runs a shelter for abused women and currently fights for the eradication of honor killings which are common in rural areas of southern Asia.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a punishment ordered by rural councils to pay for crimes committed by male relatives of women occurs every eight hours.
Rape victims in Mai’s society also lose the prospect of marrying. Once again, she defies taboo and decided to accept the proposal of the policeman, Nasir Abbas Gabol, who was assigned to protect her. “It’s every woman’s dream to marry and have a normal life,” said Mai, now 37, from her home in the village of Meerwala. She initially turned down the marriage proposal because the policeman is already married. Muslim men are allowed to have as many as four wives. Gabol threatened to commit suicide when Mai turned him down. Gabol’s first wife personally convinced Mai to accept the marriage proposal.
Mai and Gabol were married last Sunday.