Mukhtaran Mai on India gang-rape death: Rapists should get life imprisonment

Pakistan’s best known campaigner for women targeted in sexual crimes on Saturday vowed to take her campaign to neighbouring India, just hours after the death of a young Indian woman whose rape on a bus in Delhi provoked an unprecedented outcry from human rights campaigners.
“If I had the opportunity to extend my work to India, I am ready and willing to go across the border for a cause that is central to my life,” Mukhtaran Mai told Gulf News in a telephone interview from her rural village in Muzaffargarh in the southern part of the Punjab.
“The death of this poor girl in India is not just tragic. It has badly exposed the virtual absence of the law in protecting Indian women,” she added.
Mukhtaran Mai’s ordeal began in summer 2002 when she was gang raped after
being condemned by a tribal "jirga" or traditional council. The order followed accusations based on flimsy evidence which claimed that one of Mai’s younger brothers had an affair with a woman of a rival tribe.
But instead of quietly accepting her fate as many other victims have done, Mukhtaran Mai chose to fight back, campaigning publicly against the verdict, thereby emerging as a lone voice for an oft-ignored cause.
Mukhtaran’s  campaign brought an unprecedented global spotlight to the plight of women who are targeted in sexual crime across Pakistan.
Mukhtaran  told Gulf News on Saturday her response to her own ordeal had begun giving confidence to other women victimised across Pakistan. “Before I chose to speak out,
young women victims were fearful and many kept quiet” she said, adding “while Pakistan’s laws remain weak in protecting women but at least many are now speaking out.”
Mukhtaran said, “I am deeply grieved at the tragic gang rape and death of the Indian bachi (girl). Though Pakistan and India are different and our cultures are different, our institutions are the same. Our legal system, judicial adaras (institutions) are the same. We have the same thana (police station) culture. In Pakistan, we bemoan the tragic fate of this girl. The problems facing our women are the same as in India.  I am very sad about what happened to this girl."
“The women are now raising their voice and speaking up. After what happened to me and my struggle to bring my perpetrators to justice, women are now emboldened and are speaking up against rape and crimes against women. But the judicial system in our country and also in India is the same and has not been able to get women justice.
“What do the rapists get? Ten years? They are put in prison and then they are freed. Instead of facing life imprisonment they get a few years in prison.  Unlike previous times women are now coming forward. The problem is our judicial system. Our legal system is like this. For years rape trials take place and justice is not given. Even our police, they do not even register rape cases.”
She asked what the Chief Justice in Pakistan had done so far for rape victims. India also has  a chief justice, Mukhtaran said. “What has been done there against rape? In India, the chief justice can, but nothing is done. The laws are not on the side of women.”
Mukhtaran told Gulf News: “That girl is now no longer in this world. She suffered at the hands of these men who abused her and now she is dead. How is the law on our side? What is this justice? They say here in Pakistan, you need four witnesses for rape. How does a woman get four witnesses for rape? In my case it took place in front of the Panchayat, (village elders gathering) in front of 70 people. How did I get insaaf (justice)? My rapists got bari (free) after nine years and now one is in detention. If they can't bring one person to justice how they will change society? They need to set an example, to make these men an ibrat (an example) so others get scared and do not commit such crimes against women.”
Speaking about the death penalty for those sentenced on rape charges, Mukhtaran said the legal system has clauses and punishments, but there should at least be life imprisonment for rape if not the death penalty. “If the rapist is alive and imprisoned for life then at least he can live with what he has done and others can learn from them. Such people should be made an example to rid society of such crimes against women.
“I have appealed the sentence handed to the attackers. My legal counsel, Aitezaz Ahsan has been fighting my case for nine years, but now he is barred from the Supreme Court so the appeal is still there.
“I am sorry I got very jazbati (emotional) I have been ill for the past month and have not been watching TV for many days, but since I heard about the Indian girl’s abuse and now her death I have been very upset. I cried a lot. I was also angry and very emotional. I didn’t know who to take out my feelings on, from the morning I have been upset with the children in the house and now I got emotional during the interview. But I grieve for this poor bachi (girl) who suffered. We women should raise our voices and our legal systems must change to bring us justice,” she said.
Controversy surrounding Mukhtaran’s case gathered fresh momentum in 2005 when Pakistan’s former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf placed restrictions on her travel abroad.
The decision was prompted  by concerns among government officials who claimed her overseas travels drew an exaggerated attention to the issue of sexual crimes against women in parts of Pakistan.
While recognised for her work outside Pakistan, human rights campaigners say, Mukhtar Mai lives a life surrounded by the continuous danger of being attacked by members of her rival clan.

Source: published 14:38 December 29, 2012.

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