By Michele Leight
"Shame" is a powerful documentary
about Muktaran Mai's gang rape, and her courage and pursuit of
justice, that have raised the bar for human rights globally. It
is also about the gift of education because she was not educated
in her youth, like millions of girls in many nations today.
While this important story unfolds, we are
also offered a glimpse of a two-tier justice system that exists
in her country: one is based on British Common Law and is available
to everyone that is not poor; the other is for the poor and low
caste - like Muktaran Mai - who still receive punishments from
their tribal councils and panchayats that would be criminal offences
in most courts of law around the world.
Two-tier justice is common in many nations,
not just Pakistan, where this true story takes place.
There are few people in the world today that
have not heard of Muktaran Mai, whose first name is often referred
to as Muktar, but this documentary brings her much closer to us
than any of the articles or news clips we may have seen or read
before. It is as if she is telling her story as a trusting friend
- and she still trusts people, despite what happened to her, which
is perhaps why she is so beloved.
To set the scene for those that may not know
of Muktaran Mai's extraordinary pursuit of justice, the image
from "Shame" at the top of this review (courtesy of
director, Mohammed Ali Naqvi), shows her at home in Meerawalla,
Pakistan, where she has now started four schools with the help
of her government and her NGO, Muktar Mai's Women's Welfare Organization,
This documentary features the earliest known
interview with Muktaran Mai, in itself historic footage, because
of the courage it took to go on camera surrounded by the power
elite of her village, who were complicit in gang raping her and
Three hundred feet from her peaceful, rural
compound is the home of her gang-rapists, who are currently in
jail. The remainder of the several hundred strong Mastoi clan
reside in homes surrounding hers. They are the most powerful clan
in the village of approximately 5000 citizens.
Muktaran Mai chose to stay in Meerawalla after
her gang rape, because it is her home and because she wanted to
change practices that were brutal, especially to women and children.
She has succeeded, and "Shame" reveals it is her conviction
that education is the only way to end feudal thinking in villages
like hers, which do not educate girls, and even the boys had no
education till she brought it to them, because there was no school
Muktar Mai continues to receive death threats
from Mastoi clan members, while her four rapists are behind bars.
Four other Mastoi men raped her twelve-year-old brother the same
day in 2002. No matter how much protection you have, it is a constant
battle to live safely among your enemies, and thankfully today
she does have round the clock protection provided by her government.
Muktar Mai's story as it unfolds in "Shame"
is too important to receive a cursory review, and I have added
information that is relevant to the reasons why she was gang raped,
for the benefit of those that might be coming to this story for
the first time - especially young people. The Museum of Modern
Art showcased "Shame" in their annual "Documentary
Fortnight," among other wonderful films, details of which
can be found at www.moma.org
Before writing this review I interviewed the
director of "Shame," Mohammed Ali Naqvi, who offered
important insights that are included here. Like the Pakistani
media that took up Muktaran Mai's cause from the very beginning,
Ali Naqvi was justifiably protective and proud of this amazing
Pakistani woman, who represents a breath of fresh air and hope
in a frequently tragedy laden area of human rights - honor killings
and honor crimes - that are by no means exclusive to Pakistan,
and which often advocate horrific punishments for women and children
of both sexes.
While certain practices by certain men come
under fire in this review, this by no means includes legions of
Muslim men that are honorable and would never do such terrible
things, and who work tirelessly alongside women to change cruel
behaviors, by raising awareness about them, like the director
of this wonderful film - who is a Muslim man. One has only to
see "Shame" to know how many men abhor these cruel punishments.
Mohammed Ali Naqvi, the director of "Shame,"
explained that women do not own their honor in some Islamic communities;
instead, they represent the honor of the family, especially males.
When disputes or "offences" occur in rural areas, he
said, they are mediated and settled by tribal councils in three
ways: with land, money and women.
"A woman essentially becomes a 'unit of
honor,'" he said.
This means she can be traded as a bride (as
girls, teenagers, or mature women) in a land or money dispute,
or punished when land and money is not available (to make good
on a "deal" with the aggrieved party), even if she has
done nothing wrong.
If a woman is poor and lower caste, as Muktaran
Mai was, (I do not believe in caste, I do not like to describe
her this way, but I must use this term as it is important to the
story), she is not wanted in marriage, and land or money was not
an option for her family. Then the punishment becomes either sexual
(gang rape), or physical injury and maiming (acid is thrown on
them, or a nose or other organ is cut off). These savage punishments
are intended to permanently dishonor, or shame her, and her family.
Ali Naqvi gave encouraging news, that since
the making of "Shame" The Hudood Laws, (derived from
Sharia Law), upon which tribal councils such as those that decided
Muktaran Mai's sentence generally rely, have been amended. Now,
a woman does not need four male witnesses to her rape to turn
in her rapists. Her word is sufficient. Reporting rape is potentially
life threatening when no male witnesses can be produced (and which
male is going to do this?), because then The Hudood Law decrees
that the woman has been adulterous or promiscuous, and the punishment
is death by stoning. Which explains the scarcity of reported rapes.
So for centuries these women and children have
been controlled and kept down by terror and fear in a male dominated
system that continues to rely on feudal dictates in the absence
of any other form of justice. The origins of some of these laws
are well documented; the more I read about them, the braver Muktaran
I had to know that Muktaran Mai was okay before
beginning this review, because rumors surface from time to time
that are unsettling. I felt there was a voice missing - hers.
I needed her to tell me she was safe.
So I spontaneously dialed a phone number in
Pakistan listed on her non-profit web site. A strong, beautiful
voice answered, and after making sure it was no one else (in Hindi)
I found myself in conversation with Muktaran Mai herself. She
spoke in Urdu, but it is similar enough to Hindi that we understood
each other perfectly well. It was one of the most uplifting conversations
I have ever had. She is clearly proud of her schools, as well
she should be:
"Come and visit," she said warmly.
I can't wait. She said she was safe and well.
When I put down the phone I was convinced that
this amazing woman is as unstoppable as she is courageous. I have
noticed that the greatest people in the world that create positive
change are focused on solutions, no matter what was done to them
in the past.
For the sake of those that are not familiar
with other legal systems, including village tribunals, tribal
councils and panchayats, I have included some history of these
"legal" entities that serve the poor, the illiterate,
or those that cannot afford attorneys. Tribal councils like the
one that ordered Muktaran Mai's gang rape are not exclusive to
Pakistan. The same entities serve the poor in India, Bangladesh,
Afghanistan, parts of North Africa, the Middle East, and other
nations - millions of human beings.
I recommend an article at the Harvard Journal
of Law and Gender by Mazna Hussein (http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlg/vol291/hussain.pdf),
which provides an overview of the existing laws in Pakistan, and
states plainly that although the vast majority of barbaric covert
punishments occur in rural tribal areas - including gang rape
of poor and low caste women - such crimes are also committed against
middle class and wealthy girls and women, often at the hands of
family members. Most "honor killings", and "honor
crimes," are committed against women and girls by men. "Cultural
Conceptions Promoting Honor Crimes" in Hussein's article
offers further insight into the rationale behind such practices
that are quite disturbing, but more widespread than even so-called
liberated societies would like to admit.
The beauty of the documentary "Shame"
is that it captures a defining moment in the history of human
rights, because of what the protagonist, a lone woman in a feudal
village without basic amenities like electricity has achieved
in a region that has operated under the radar of what we know
as "the law." Meerawalla was once as lawless as the
frontier towns of the West, without a single Clint Eastwood to
protect women or the vulnerable.
The first person to protect Muktaran Mai was
the gentle cleric in her village, who let it be known from his
pulpit that eyes were watching, and that what had been done could
not be hidden from a higher power. Then came the reporters, and
soon everyone was reading about the gang rape in the papers. Meanwhile,
Muktar Mai was going around telling her story to any household
that would listen. This takes enormous courage because her rapists
Today, among others, Muktaran Mai's many protectors
and allies include her NGO and others like it, her government,
the media, lawyers, law enforcement, and honorable clerics, like
the one who was a staunch pillar of support in her darkest hour,
who supported her in his sermons in the village mosque when no
one else dared, and continued to be there for her when she filed
her police report, fought her court room battles, and he is still
there for her today. He is a humane, "just" man whose
impact is felt long after the film ends. Throughout the documentary,
Muktaran Mai refers to her religion, and she is clearly devout.
In the beautiful opening sequence of "Shame"
the village is seen through the windscreen of a car, and its occupants
call it a "deranged and scary place," without schools,
roads, law enforcement or even basic facilities like electricity:
a place where "jungle law" prevails. In such places,
they say, the most important thing to the people that live there
is honor, because it is all they have.
After being gang raped in 2002 on the orders
of a tribal council in Meerawalla, a village in rural Pakistan,
as "honor for honor" justice for an alleged impropriety
committed by her twelve-year-old brother, Shaquoor, against Salma
Mastoi, a 21-year-old woman from the Mastoi clan, Muktaran Mai
breaks the silence by telling her community, the local cleric
and the media what happened.
The word "alleged" jumped out from
the movie screen, because I am used to a more rigorous "innocent
until proven guilty" form of justice. In the article for
the "Harvard Journal of Law and Gender," Mazna Husain
"Most honor crime perpetrators do not
use the defense of honor crime exculpation or mitigation laws
because such statues often require proof that the perpetrator
witnessed sexual activity. Since statistics indicate that most
honor crimes occur on the basis of mere allegations, many perpetrators
are unlikely to meet the evidentiary burden required by statues
like Section 340." (Arnold, Supra note 10 at 1360: Pakistan
Honor Crimes Legislation).
As I grapple emotionally and intellectually
with the huge injustice I have just heard about from the mouths
of a woman and her 12-year-old brother, I realize this is a double
crime. The gang rape of a male or female minor in the US or Britain
is a criminal offence. I was convinced it was the first crime
of raping the boy that initiated the second crime of gang-raping
his older sister, to silence him and the entire family.
This documentary shows what a slippery slope
"justice" can be when it is adjudicated by all-male
tribunals comprised of individuals with no formal training whatsoever
in the law, let alone basic education. This kind of unmonitored
power becomes a horrific "Lord of the Flies" for the
vulnerable in any community that is governed by their dictates.
In the film, 12-year-old Shaquoor - a fighter
like his sister - says he told his rapists he would tell what
they had done to him. They beat him, and locked him up, until
they devised some means of shutting him up. He appears in the
film with a bandaged head, shaken but not cowed.
How anyone could accept that a boy without
a single hair on his pre-pubescent face could have raped a 21-
year-old woman is beyond comprehension.
Muktaran Mai's father, Ghulam Fareed, is interviewed,
describing how the Mastoi came to him and demanded that Shaqoor's
older sister Mukraran Mai "apologize" to the Mastoi
in return for his son's release. The police were summoned earlier,
but did little else besides bandage Shaquoor's battered head up.
Later, under fire from the media, a police officer said people
in these areas "settle their own disputes."
Gang rape of women and minors can hardly be
called "settling a dispute."
One of the villagers later said all this trouble
could have been avoided if the police had intervened and made
a report on the incident when the men locked up Sahqoor - instead
of allowing the Mastois to hold him in their custody. No police
report was filed about the boy's rape.
While it was claimed Shaqoor raped a woman
of the Mastoi clan, Shaqoor's crime of "intimacy" actually
involved walking with a 21-year-old, unmarried, higher caste Salma:
"The Mastoi were several hundred family members," said
Ghulam Fareed. "They outnumbered our small family of 20."
But "caste" looms large in remote
villages and rural areas, and, as this documentary proves, it
is used as an excuse to commit savage crimes.This was a "set-up"
from the moment those men raped Shaquoor. As I watched this brave
boy describe being raped, I was dismayed at the obvious prevalence
of "rape as punishment" against children, in this case
most likely due to his lower caste.
We learn that the Mastoi clan had guns and
rifles, and they had already used knives and sickles on her younger
brother: "He is a good man," says Muktaran Mai of her
father, "he has been bullied." Muktaran Mai was not
critical of her father, knowing that centuries of exploitation
of lower caste men like him have caused them to give up hope of
receiving true justice if anything goes wrong. For centuries they
have accepted cruel punishments.
Now less fearful to speak out against the powerful
Mastoi because the rapists are in jail, Ghulam Fareed says he
is proud of his daughter's achievements. He talks about that terrible
day when two of his children were gang raped, his voice often
breaking at the memory:
"What was I to do? When they took her
I tried to stop them, I begged the Mastois to spare her honor.
They put a gun to my chest and said: 'We will kill you if you
interfere'.... And you know what they did next. They raped her.
Later, when my daughter called for me, I went to bring her home."
This took place 300 feet from their home, with
others listening, and some watching.
He goes on to describe how many of them armed
with guns and rifles surrounded their home after the rape, firing
shots in the air, warning them not to come outside.Thuggery is
a by-product of guilt and extreme cowardice.
Muktaran Mai, the sister who knew to be scared
but believed her apology would bring about the release of her
brother, describes how she makes her way to the home of his captors,
accompanied by her father and uncle.
What more effective way for guilty cowards
to try and cover up a heinous crime than trump up some bogus offence
and gang rape the violated boy's sister, loading so much shame
on the family that they would presumably never open their mouths
to anyone ever again? Perhaps if it had
been any other sister besides Muktaran Mai the rapists' plan would
have succeeded. But they underestimated her.
She tells how she begged for mercy, begged
them to spare her honor, but when Muktaran realizes there was
no escape from the rapists, she asked God to forgive her in front
of them. Then comes the most heinous comment of the entire documentary,
when Khalid Mastoi, one of her rapists, says:
"God is forgiving you."
Since when was raping a woman "forgiveness"?
This arrogant, cruel comment gives some idea
of the misuse of power of this village tribunal, which included
Mastoi clan members. As "Shame" illustrates only too
painfully, no one comes to her defense, even though she begs for
mercy, and there are dozens of strong men surrounding the hut,
who could easily have pulled her out of there. Instead, she is
supposed to accept her punishment because she is a lower caste
As she emerges from her horrific ordeal, she
contemplates suicide, but her mother does not let her out of her
sight, and refuses to buy her acid to kill herself with. Suicide
is common for "punished" and "shamed" women
like her. Sadly, there are families that are so "shamed"
when a daughter is raped - an innocent daughter - they would rather
see her dead than disgraced, and underage brothers or cousins
murder her to save the family's "honor." Being minors,
the boys receive less harsh sentences; most receive a "legal"
tap on the wrist.
Despite the terrible trauma they have endured,
Muktar Mai's family seems very close. The cinematographer dwells
on the simple furniture, the humble yet beautiful trappings of
a rural Pakistani farmers life, the bullocks and cows feeding
under a simple thatch shelter held up with bamboo, an unlikely
place for a quiet revolution to have been launched.
"Something happened to me; I became angry,"
says Muktaran Mai with candor.
Casting off centuries of oppression and hiding
in the shadows of abuse like thousands of women that were, and
are, "shamed," Muktaran Mai took her anger and channeled
it in the pursuit of justice. It was anger
that helped change her from being a victim to a world famous human
rights icon. She broke the silence for all those that continue
to be violated.
Her courage in pursuing her rapists, and putting
them behind bars, has brought hope to so many others that suffer
the same fate - daily, across the world, not just in Pakistan.
As this documentary shows, her pursuit of justice
was not easy. It was painful, often humiliating, despairing, but
ultimately her anger at being so horribly treated won the day
- and she retaliated - with full force.
With the help of her village cleric, Muktaran
Mai filed a police report, and immediately pandemonium hits the
region as the story makes the newspapers: for the first time:
a low caste woman takes her rapists to court, and wins her case?
This causes a national and international sensation - because her
victory overturns centuries of abuse of women who were, and still
are, punished in horrific ways for crimes they did not commit.
Winning in this scenario is not the norm. The
shame of rape is intended to silence victims and their families,
who lose their honor, often the only thing left in rural farming
villages with high unemployment, grinding poverty, and a total
absence of basic facilities like schools, hospitals, law enforcement
or even electricity - like Meerawalla at the time of the gang-rape.
As I looked at the bucolic scenes of village
life in Meerawalla, I asked myself how there could be no basic
facilities? No electricity? Does it take a terrible tragedy to
bring facilities to an impoverished village? Then I caught myself,
remembering the villages I have seen in other nations where similar
conditions exist, and which are governed by feudal clans and councils
that administer justice in exactly the same way to poverty stricken
people living on the edge of society."Shame" impacts
because of Muktaran Mai; the injustices are tangible as she talks
about them. We know villages like this exist in many nations.
Through her testimony, it becomes only too
clear that in these places, when disputes and alleged misconduct
occurs, there is no access for the poor to "due process"
and legitimate courts of law. All they have to defend them are
the tribal councils, and there are no appeals against a sentence
like gang rape. The council's decision is final.
Muktaran Mai, her father, and her uncle all
begged for mercy, for forgiveness, when in truth it was a twelve-year-old
boy of their family that had been violated and held against his
will; but it fell on deaf ears, because they were not appealing
to a legitimate judge and they had no legal representation.
Throughout her trial and after the sentencing
of her rapists, Muktaran Mai was surrounded by Mastoi clan members,
who watch the camera crews, reporters and law enforcement come
and go with suspicion and deep resentment.Why was this woman receiving
such attention? is written in their eyes.
The locals are angry that their "dirty
laundry" is being exposed. For centuries, they have operated
covertly, outside the law. Until recently they were the
law in Meerawalla, but this woman was just not shutting up! She
was refusing to melt back into the shadows of shame.
Even more incredible, she was telling everyone
about her rapists: she told the village cleric, who spoke of the
wrongness of such a punishment during his weekly sermon, she spoke
openly with reporters from local newspapers; she spoke with anyone
who would listen about what had been done to her.
The power begins to shift from Muktaran Mai's
rapists and oppressors - the clan that gang raped her and her
brother - back to her and her family, but not without terrible
danger lurking behind every corner. Amazingly,
Muktaran Mai did not want to leave Meerawalla and make a new life,
as many would, because, as she says with moving directness:
"If I leave my village, nothing will change."
Anyone that believes in an individual's right
to dignity and a fair trial - "due process" - will love
this film. Atticus Finch, one of my literary heroes (and a lawyer),
explained this fundamental human right to his children in one
of the greatest novels ever written, "To Kill a Mockingbird,"
by Harper Lee. When his exasperated children asked him why he
was antagonizing their entire (racist) town by representing a
black man (accused of molesting a white girl), he told them that
every human being had a right to a fair trial. So he had to represent
him, said Atticus, because no one else would.
Muktaran Mai wanted a fair trial, in a legitimate
court. She wanted justice, as an individual and human right.
I asked the director, Ali Naqvi, if he thought
she would have sought justice without the support and encouragement
of the cleric. He answered without hesitation:
"She would have found a way."
The earliest known interview with Muktaran
Mai is included in "Shame." It is a cinematic portrayal
of release from centuries of abuse, secrecy, denial and "shame,"
of women, an invisible prison - because she shatters the silence
with a sledgehammer, revealing terrible truths from which her
rapists, or any abuser, cannot hide. Despite being poor, uneducated,
and "lower caste," Muktaran Mai proved to be a formidable
opponent against a clan that believed - as other clans still do
- that they could get away with what they had done because they
always have. They intimidate through the threat of violence -
they rule by fear. This time, however, it was not working.
At the time the film was made her rapists were
in jail but there was talk of them being released - posing a huge
threat to her personal safety. Her circumstances then were terrifying.
She was surrounded by those whose practices she was exposing,
and this documentary reveals the daunting obstacles that confront
those who have been so badly wronged that the perpetrators of
the crimes committed against them do anything in their power to
hide the truth - and make the victim look bad. Tribal councils
rule with an iron hand in these remote villages, and they do not
hesitate to "take care of business" like gangsters and
As any one who follows human rights across
the globe knows, it is not possible to receive justice anywhere
in the world without enforcing laws. Only governments can do that,
after the lawyers and judges have done their part. The present partnership between Muktaran Mai, her NGO,
and her government represents a reversal from the government's
prior position, broadcast across the globe by a highly charged
comment made by President Musharraf in 2005 when Muktaran Mai's
gang rape was receiving more attention than the government cared
to read about or view in the media:
"You must understand the environment in
Pakistan," said President Musharraff, "This has become
a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go
abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire,
get yourself gang-raped."
Muktaran Mai's response was: "I offer
all the 'riches' I've made from the panchayat-enforced gang-rape
to the president in return for justice."
This was a courageous rebuttal from a "low
caste" woman to the leader of her country. The rest, as they
say, is history. Clearly everyone was going to have to re-think
their strategy with this woman, because she did want justice
and she was not going to shut up.
Since that low point, things have improved.
The government's actions now speak louder than words. As long
as they continue to offer Muktaran Mai round-the-clock protection,
and help her run her schools - which they are doing - they will
have proved their intentions are honorable.
Even when she is admitted into a legitimate
courtroom, her ordeal is far from over. There are many rape victims
across the world that are candid about how much they dreaded the
indignity of publicly proclaiming all that was done to them. We
see what it means as Muktaran Mai submits to hours of interrogation
by both the prosecution and the defense:
"I can see why women don't want to come
to the courthouse," she says, "the lawyers say terrible
One of the reporters who witnessed her defense
said she sat in the box for days, answering questions that would
have made a man sweat - but she answered all of them. "Shame" portrays the sordid side of testifying
about such barbaric violation in a public setting, but more importantly
it shows that this is why Muktaran Mai won. Telling the judge
and jury - and the reporters waiting with notepads and cameras
- everything that happened to her was the only way to win. Silence
would have held her prisoner forever.
Muktaran Mai told the world, beginning in an
open courtroom, what they had done to her, sending shock waves
through the community and country. It was no longer business as
usual in Meerawalla. With this kind of victory, however, come
many dangers. From day one, she received death threats, and she
continues to do so. For the present, Muktar
Mai's rapists remain in jail, although they were dangerously close
to release at one time, and her reaction to the news is captured
in "Shame." She weeps into her veil, drawn in desperation
across her face.
Released rapists often return to harass the
woman that put them behind bars. There was public outcry, and
she appealed directly to Prime Minister Shawkat Aziz, and, for
now, her rapists remain in jail.
She went door to door after winning her case
in court and founding a school with her award money, trying to
convince parents to let their daughters attend, instead of marrying
them off when they barely reached puberty, because she believes
it is lack of education that makes people do barbaric things,
while educated people - lawyers, media, clerics, doctors, human
rights activists and government ministers and personnel - have
helped her receive justice.
"Shame" demonstrates through interviews
with several women, including Muktaran Mai, that education offers
the potential for independence for females that have never known
freedom from fear of abuse, or even death and maiming, for "offences"
that would not even raise an eyebrow in our society - like touching
a man's hand accidentally.
From my perspective, as a woman living in an
industrialized nation where women share equal rights with men,
it is inconceivable what living in that kind of fear on a daily
basis does to a human being. Even animals have less reason to
fear a sudden, harsh reprisal like being burned with acid for
a transgression. "Shame" is a powerful reminder that
women in some communities have less worth, literally, than beasts.
In the film, Muktaran Mai is in New York to
receive Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year Award in 2005 when
she hears devastating news from home. While she has been away,
a nine-year-old girl has been raped in Meerawalla. She weeps and
agonizes that after struggling so hard to end such injustices,
and after all the hard work she has done, with honors and awards
and accolades coming from across the globe, this has happened.
In my interview with Mohammed Ali Naqvi, he
said there have been no more rapes in the village since then.
This is wonderful news.
The small village has changed beyond belief.
When the camera pans from a "before"
to an "after" (the gang rape) shot of Meerawalla, it
is like a fairytale. It shows that any village with similar conditions
can be transformed with a committed community leader, an infusion
of funds, a great NGO, schools, electricity, roads, and law enforcement.
All must work together to achieve a safe, civilized community.
Muktaran Mai believes that education is what
elevates people out of barbarism, and that the absence of it causes
the kind of criminality that was enacted upon her. When 100 men
stand by and watch a woman that has committed no crime being dragged
off begging for mercy, to be raped by several men, it is impossible
to believe that a single one of them has received the enlightenment
- the concept of fairness and justice - that comes with education.Only
extreme ignorance that has festered over a long period of time,
fortified by centuries of abuse of women, can produce such willful
violence in men.
It would be a supreme service to these men
if they could be made more aware about real honor, justice and
manhood. It is never too late to educate, and it might help reduce
the anger that emerges when centuries of habit are challenged
and overturned, especially by women that have always been kept
The constant danger she, and thousands of women
like her, must confront every day is illustrated in "Shame,"
which also draws attention to the lack of substantive evidence
in "alleged crimes and misdemeanors" in rural villages
like Meerawala, where hearsay, idle gossip, or simply walking
with a woman of a different tribe or clan can unleash barbarism
on an unimaginable scale.
In my interview with Mohammed Ali Naqvi in
February, 2008, he said tribal councils and panchayats are now
banned from Meerawalla. This is excellent news. The
director explained that sentences like rape are based on the Hudood
Laws that stem from Sharia Law. The latter advocates stoning for
adultery. The rest of Pakistan, he said, is served by British
Common Law, which is similar to the law practiced in America and
industrialized nations. Since the film was made, The Hudood Laws
have been amended, said Ali Naqvi, allowing a woman herself to
report a rape, where previously there had to be four male witnesses
to her rape. We both agreed that while this was progress, it is
"Six of them raped me," Salma Mastoi
tells the Jatoi police in front of the Minister for Social Services:
"he was the last," indicating Muktaran Mai's brother,
who is seated by his sister without a single facial hair on his
There is a moving scene when she and her father
and young brother climb into a car with the cleric, when they
hope to file a police report in the neighboring town of Jatoi
- for the second time. Relatives, fearing reprisals from the Mastoi,
beg them not to go. One gets a sense of how much courage it takes
to continue to live among such dangerous enemies, while seeking
justice against them.When Muktaran Mai went with the cleric the
previous week, and relayed all the humiliating details before
the police officers, they did not file a report.
It was only when the media got active, and
the story appeared in local newspapers, and the Minister for Social
Services arrived on the scene to hear Muktaran Mai's verbal testimony,
that law enforcement took notice. This
was a "first" for them as well - a low caste woman coming
to the Jatoi courthouse to report a crime? Such matters, explained
a perplexed officer, was usually the jurisdiction of the tribal
council of Meerawalla.
The change in the status quo shows on his face.
He was not acting. This had never happened before. A 500-member
clan of gun and sickle-toting rapists is daunting for anyone,
including a small police force that have left village tribunals
to their own devices for centuries. It is only when truck loads
of special forces, military and police arrive that the viewer
senses any fear in the men of Meerawalla.
The second time Muktaran Mai goes to the neighboring
town, Jatoi, to file a complaint about her rape at the police
station, (there is no police station in Meerawalla), a reporter
has arranged for her testimony to be videotaped. This will not
allow any wriggle room for subverting justice in the future.
These are things that Muktaran Mai has no knowledge
of because she has never experienced legal rights or human rights
- nor has any female in her village - but it is what she instinctively
yearns and hopes for because she has an inborn sense of justice.
It does not take education to know that gang rape is wrong.
Once the truth was out, the story was championed
in the national Pakistani media, and soon international media
and human rights groups across the world. There was an unseemly
"blip" in 2005, when Muktaran Mai's passport was confiscated
by the Pakistani authorities. She was held under house arrest
prior to a visit to the United States. The Pakistani government
refused to grant her a visa, fearing that all the press about
gang rape and young boys being sodomized made Pakistan look bad.
Although she was shaken and afraid after her
"lock up," she bravely contradicts a government spokeswoman
who does an unconvincing job of informing the press that the real
reason Muktaran is not leaving Pakistan is because her mother
"Madam," says an exasperated reporter,
"she is saying in front of you that she was under house arrest."
This is not the only government in the world
that locked up an outspoken woman that reveals a flaw in her own
country. However, they know what she is saying is true, and we
know she is doing this to bring about critical change in Pakistan,
because she loves her country. As a vote of confidence in her
sincerity, today Muktaran Mai travels everywhere with guards provided
by her government that is well aware of the risks she faces in
her commitment to turning a new page in the worn-out book of atrocities
that are a an insult to the millions of honorable, humane Pakistanis
that do not condone them. It was, after all is said and done,
the government's award money (after she won her case) that helped
Muktaran Mai create the first school in Meerawalla.
"Shame" is refreshingly free of political
innuendo, bias or grand-standing. Instead, the director focuses
on the heroism and strength it takes to confront beliefs that
have kept, and continue to keep, millions of women down. Whatever
hurts women must also hurt their children. If a mother is burned
from acid, has a limb or nose cut off, or is stoned to death,
her children are brutalized mentally and emotionally, and it is
not easy damage to repair. Those most at risk are women and children
from a lower caste.
With great sensitivity and humanity this documentary
captures Muktaran Mai's initial struggle against the terrifying
forces that conspired to prevent women like her speaking out -
without a political agenda or by using sensational material that
might easily have been misused to spice up subject matter like
this. There is virtually no sensationalized reporting of the circumstances
of the rape in "Shame." I had read a great deal about
it in the press, and it is always difficult to read, let alone
see it told on a movie screen. The director gracefully relies
only on what Muktaran Mai herself is willing to reveal.
Muhammed Ali Naqvi and I did speak of religion,
and the widespread misconception that religious clerics in Muslim
communities condone such barbaric acts as gang rape and stoning
of human beings. They do not, but unfortunately many people do
not realize this.
Religious clerics have nothing to do with tribal
councils and panchayats.
Muktaran Mai is candid about pursuing justice
to help other women. She is outspoken about the rapes of girls,
boys and women that have been rampant in communities like hers
for far too long. She is anxious that these crimes committed in
secrecy stop. This is a 24- hour a day job, because those that
are violated bring their stories to her - and they keep coming
every day, from other towns and villages.
"Shame" exposes an unfair "two
tier" justice system - one for the rich, the other for the
poor. It made me deeply grateful that I, as a woman, have access
to courts and lawyers, and that the laws where I live are just.
It made me appreciate a legal system in which I have access to
"due process." At least I have a chance of defending
myself, and a fair trial, even though I know many atrocities take
place every day in my country, and all over the world.
This documentary goes beyond rape, beyond violation,
revealing an illiterate woman's aspirations and longing for education,
because, like most of the people in her village, Muktaran Mai
had never gone to school. This situation exists in thousands of
villages across the globe today, where there are millions that
will not set foot in a classroom. They will do household chores,
fieldwork, be off-loaded into the sex trade, or be married off
as child brides and have babies when they are teenagers.
Once her ordeal is behind her, Muktaran Mai
seeks education for herself, and for all the children in her village.
She is incredibly intelligent, and quick to grasp that only educating
girls will not solve the problem. Boys must also be educated to
change cruel behavior.
As might be expected, the money she was awarded
after winning her case soon runs out, and it is a struggle to
keep going. She sells off her few possessions, livestock, and
is beginning to get desperate when help arrives on several fronts
- Nicholas Kristoff's column in The New York Times generates
donations that not only continue the running of the girls' school,
but offer the hope of a high school. Glamor Magazine, which named
her "Woman of the Year" in 2005, awards her prize money,
which also goes towards the schools.
These are wonderful ways of helping to heal
the battered and brutalized of the world, and anyone can participate.
Ordinary people, reading reports in newspapers, or stories in
Glamour Magazine, send in a contribution that adds up to schools,
and desks with children sitting at them. Amazing.
Today, the Pakistan government is partnering
with Muktaran Mai in funding and running the schools. From none,
there are four schools, said Mohammed Ali Naqvi in the interview.
"Shame" exposes the prevalence of
rape of minors of both sexes, which is devastating to thnk about
wherever it occurs. No country is immune from this tragedy, sadly,
but the gravest risk exists in communities with terrible poverty,
or a "class" or "caste" structure that gives
a sense of entitlement, or license, to abuse a child or person
because they are poor and lower caste. .
Muktaran Mai is straightforward when she is
asked by a reporter a year after the rape if she feels any better,
now that she has founded a school and achieved international fame?
"A little," she says wistfully, "How
can you forget something like this?"
The reporters ask if she has thought of leaving,
and making a new life elsewhere.
"This is my home. My family lives here,"
she responds without hesitation.
The full weight of her ongoing struggle is
captured in the camera panning back and forth between two houses
on either side of a narrow field. The subtitles let us know the
only thing that separates Muktaran Mai from family members of
her rapists is the three hundred feet across this field.
She fears for her life, and says so repeatedly
in the film. But she also says:
"The worst has already happened, so what
is there to fear now?"
When the filmmaker interviews the mother of
one of the rapists in their home, she is overwhelmed by what has
happened, worn out from taking care of an endless brood of children,
with grown sons languishing in prison, and toddlers darting about
the yard. She cannot conceal her anger about what has happened.
While the Mastois may be powerful in numbers,
and "higher caste," their compound is shockingly impoverished.
The toddlers are without clothes, the goats wander amongst them,
and the sister who was at the center of this entire mess, Salma
Mastoi, sits beside her mother dejectedly, covered from head to
toe in a burkha, in sharp contrast to the day she gave testimony
at Jatoi police station in front of the cameras, when her face
was uncovered and Muktaran Mai wore a veil.
Salma Mastoi is now robbed of speech. What
can she say after the lies she told? I could not help wonder what
was done to her by her guilty brothers to make her tell those
lies. The filmmaker is invited into the house, and they are ready
to tell their side of the story. Taj Mastioi,
mother of the accused rapist (at the time the film was made) has
not been educated, and her lack of awareness of what constitutes
justice and punishment is a validation of the tragic prevalence
of the crimes her sons committed; she does not get it, why all
the fuss when this has been going on forever in their community?
Why are her sons being picked on?
While I did not agree with what she said, I
could not help pity a woman who has had no control over her life,
including raising her sons in a male-dominated society; sons that
felt they had license to do horrible things because that was how
they were taught by their male elders and family members. These
were not sons she could influence, even if she did try, because
women are not decision-makers in clans like the Mastoi.
Taj Mastoi's sons are now behind bars, she
has no help with the crops, the cows, goats and chickens; she
has no help with her toddlers. Salma is unlikely to find a husband
when she has gone on record in the media saying several men raped
her. All because her sons were not educated about the injustice
of committing gang rape against innocent women, and sodomizing
boys. Instead, they were taught that it is acceptable punishment
for a lower caste person.
After I hear Taj Mastoi's comments I wish she
could educate herself out of the prison of ignorance in which
she finds herself. Hopefully, in time, those little toddlers without
clothes running around the courtyard with the goats will go to
school, and put this dark chapter in their family's history behind
them. Perhaps one of them will go to law school and become a real
lawyer, or even a judge. Today, at least one Mastoi boy is attending
Muktaran Mai's schools. That is a hopeful sign. Children must
be educated so they are not forced to pay for the crimes of their
parents, uncles and older brothers.
Throughout her commentaries, Muktaran Mai says
she craves education, she wants to learn, and has learned the
Koran by heart. She was denied an education for two reasons -
there is no school in her village and even if there was, girls
are expected to marry young, not stuff their heads with learning.
Incredible as it seems, Muktaran Mai is blamed
by her community for dishonoring them, and their resentment grows
as media cameras and reporters descend on the quiet village. It
is hard to continue with their covert punishments with media lurking
around every corner. The media are followed by a procession of
police, government ministers and officials, and members of Pakistani
and international human rights organizations. Some
of those that accuse Muktaran of ruining their reputation are
the ones who stood by in silence and did nothing when she was
dragged off in front of them and gang raped.
"I'll believe it when I see it,"
she adds dejectedly after the trial, when she is told that her
rapists have been sentenced to death.
Nicholas Kristoff, a powerful champion of Muktaran
Mai in his column in The New York Times, is visibly shaken
by the tactics used against her - by villagers, family members
and government officials, who want to clip her wings because she
is tearing the lid off the tribal council's horrible crimes and
punishments -and some because they fear for her safety, which
is in great jeopardy.
"I hope my actions against these men will
help other women," Muktaran Mai says in "Shame."
When asked by the filmmaker how she can help
them she says simply:
"Through education. It will make them
more aware. They will understand that we are also human beings,
and that people have to stop abusing us."
Muktaran Mai's mother encouraged her to make
a stand against those that had dishonored her, so did her cleric,
reporters, and on it went, into the courts - and to the highest
office in the land, The President and Prime Minister.
"They did not even leave us our dignity,"
said her mother, when she was interviewed about the cirucumstances
of her daughter's rape:
"She was an innocent girl. I did not know
what to say to her."
Muktaran was 30 years old at the time, and
unmarried, which makes the punishment especially harsh, and permanent.
Her older brother, who did not want to get involved said:
"If you had been married, this never would
Before Muktaran Mai achieved fame and success,
her older brother expressed resentment at having to support her.
This is one of the main reasons why so many young girls (some
are children) are given in marriage at a very young age, and not
sent to school. The family fear she will become a burden financially.
"If I had given my award money to my father
and brothers, they would have become spoiled," said Muktaran
Mai. Instead, she invested it in a school.
After Muktaran Mai was raped, locals came to
their home, some to offer sympathy, others "to bother us,
to find out the gory details, like how many men were there...they
thought we were a joke" she says quietly, adding:
"Someone said: 'Be quiet. You are not
special, many have suffered the same fate as you.'"
Two weeks after Muktaran Mai's gang rape, after
the story hit the papers, a TV crew filmed the testimonials of
those involved at an investigation at Jatoi police at which the
Social Welfare Minister of Punjab Province, Shaheen Attiq-ur-Rehman
"Will I get justice?" Muktaran Mai
asked the minister, who was clearly moved by the horrendous details
of her and her bother's testimony.
"We will see," she answered warmly,
hugging Muktaran Mai and her brother.
It was overwhelming, even for a minister who
is used to hearing everything, to listen to a story as sad and
barbaric as the one she heard that day, straight from the lips
of Muktaran Mai and her twelve-year-old brother.
"The boy was also raped?" she asks
the interrogator at Jatoi Police Station, deeply shocked.
I could see that when she heard that young
Shaquoor had been violated, she immediately drew the same conclusion
that I did. It was a "set-up." Muktaran Mai's gang rape
was most likely ordered by a tribal council comprised of men from
the same clan that raped her brother, a boy, to silence the family,
because he said he would tell about what was done to him.
When the filmed testimony was over, the camera
crew followed the minister to her car, and Shaheen Attiq-ur-Rehman
"We are here to give justice, whether
it is a boy or girl from any village. We cannot let this cruelty
After the victory in court and the imprisonment
of her rapists, she and her family continued to receive death
"This is a deranged place," her father
tells the filmmaker, while having a quiet smoke in the privacy
of his compound. The memories, and guilt, remain.
However, as the months progress and Muktaran
Mai's award money turns into a school and she receives national
and international fame for her courage, he says he must have done
something right to deserve such a wonderful daughter.
Mohammed Ali Naqvi said in our interview that
the death threats against Muktaran Mai continue, and I asked him
if they are made directly to her:
"No, they are made more at a family member,
in passing. They might say to her brother: 'Tell your family to
watch their backs,'" he said.
One can only admire the composure of such brothers,
who must not only withstand rape for a crime they did not commit
when they have barely reached puberty, then the gang rape of a
sister who did nothing wrong, and continue to endure death threats
made against her from members of the clan that did the raping.
"Shame" is a powerful reminder that
education is the greatest gift we can give a child, and that freedom
is precious. Far too many women and children in the world do not
have it. Muktar Mai hopes to educate herself
through high school - her own school.
Out of a terrible act of cruelty has come positive
change, because of Muktaran Mai's firm belief that education can
overturn the kind of primitive "justice" that was advocated
for her and her young brother by barbaric, uneducated men.
What happened in Meerawalla is an extraordinary
reversal of the status quo, with global significance, because
it was one of the most dangerous situations for anyone
to confront the local ruling elite that wielded enormous, terrifying
power, let alone a woman.
Today, instead of young girls, boys and women
being raped in quiet huts and fields of Meerawalla as they were
in the past, 800 of them are seated at desks, learning skills
that offer them hope of release from the bondage of poverty, child
marriage and barbaric punishments. That is progress. It shows it can be done anywhere that similar conditions
Muktaran Mai has achieved education and security
for children in Meerawalla, where there was none before. The next
generation is learning to read and write and recite poetry. They
are the bright new saplings from the seeds of change she has sown.
There is a memorable scene of the children
at school on prize day reciting poems and singing songs in English
and Urdu, their faces glowing with pleasure and pride.
It is a co-ed group, boys and girls, because boys
from the school next door have been invited to join the celebrations.
At Muktaran Mai's request the government built a school for boys
right next door to her girls school.
There is a side-splitting poetry recitation
by a very young student, who is asked to repeat his impassioned
poem because it is so entertaining. He does, putting his young
heart and soul into it. This is one of the highlights of the documentary,
injecting joy and laughter, and disbelief that anyone would seek
to harm innocent young children like these, anywhere in the world.
Muktaran Mai beams with pleasure as the students show how much
they have learned.
It is wonderful to imagine the things Muktaran
Mai will learn through the years, and what she will do with that
learning. So far, she has moved mountains. After seeing what lawless
communities are capable, it is clear that law enforcement must
maintain safety in rural and tribal areas with the help of government,
for young children to attend school without fear.
In Pakistan, the Constitution specifies that
the jurisdiction of the higher judiciary does not extend to the
rural or tribal areas. If this were to change to be inclusive
of all Pakistanis, it would lessen the risk of a woman or child
being gang raped, or having her nose cut off. Without law enforcement
to maintain order and prevent crimes, people in rural and tribal
areas have no choice but to submit to the "dictates"
of their panchayats and tribunals - with no "due process,"
and no right of appeal.
The best way to create a more just and beautiful
world is to teach children well, as Muktar Mai is doing. It is
a struggle to change traditions concerning females in societies
that have always dominated them. It is critical that women and
girls have equal rights with men and boys.
A bright thirteen-year-old student was pulled
out of Muktaran Mai's school by her parents to be married off,
like many before her, and even now as I write this review. Thousands
of girls like her have never seen the inside of a school. It is
an impossible dream to them.
With the camera rolling, Muktar Mai went to
the girl's parents, and asked them to please let their daughter
return to school and continue her studies. Her parents said marriage
is better, what is the use of all this learning for a girl?
The girl cries out:
"I want to go back to school. I want to
learn. I don't want to get married now."
She is back in school.
In the past who knows what punishment this
young girl might have received, what cruelty she might have endured,
for displaying such independence of spirit, or for daring to speaking
out about her own need and dreams.
In my review of "The Aztec Empire"
exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum in New York (see The
City Review article) I wrote:
"As the young know from playground politics
and the history books they are required to read throughout their
schooling, all cultures have a violent artery, or less than perfect
underbelly - not the least of which being the British who used
hanging, drawing and quartering well into the 18th century to
punish wrong doers and to entertain the crowds who flocked to
these barbaric rituals as we might now go to the theatre or rock
concerts - this was a good three hundred years after the Aztec
empire. I studied the Tudors in depth - and therefore mentally
endured many beheadings and gruesome executions - so I have no
illusions. To my knowledge the Aztecs never beheaded a queen in
The 18th century was not so long ago. Today,
all citizens in many nations that once tolerated cruelty as punishment
have abandoned such practices.
Cruelty exists. It must be fought. When used
as "justice," it must be outlawed.
As the film drew to an end, there were scenes
of family life. Shaqoor is now a proud father, smiling into the
camera as his older sister holds his young child, like any adoring
A new generation is growing up in safety in
Meerawalla. No child or woman has been raped since "Shame"
was made, and word has spread of how Muktaran Mai fought back
against horrible abuse. Others still caught in the grip of cruel
men and families make their way to Muktar Mai's home.
Despairing women and children arrive broken,
maimed, their noses cut off, or with acid burns, bearing tales
of terrible cruelty, yearning to break free from abusive men and
families. Muktaran Mai turns no one away. She finds lawyers, surgeons,
doctors, a roof - she is their friend and protector. Some live
with her family, because they have nowhere else to go that is
free of the threat of brutality.
Reaching out to others that have been inhumanely
treated occupies most of Muktaran Mai's time now. Out of a terrible
act of cruelty has come a new life for her and for a village she
loves, the only place she has ever called home.
She did not leave Meerawalla. She changed it.
In "Shame" Naseem Akhtar, director
of one of her schools and a close friend and ally says she knows
the risks they are facing:
"Whatever it looks like if we die, it
will not be an accident."
If anything happens to Muktar Mai, Naseem Akhtar
and those that seek change in Meerawalla, it would be a tragedy
for all of Pakistan, because this is an awesome achievement, by
any standards, anywhere in the world.
When rape, cruelty and murder is condoned by
any entity as justifiable punishment in any situation it sends
a clear signal to cruel people that women and children are fair
game for the kind of atrocities portrayed in "Shame."
There is no fear among cruel elites, that law enforcement will
Muktaran Mai's case has proved that the law,
and its enforcement, must work together to prevent rape, which
affects all nations and communities. Her story is a universal
call for justice against cruel punishments anywhere in the world.
Village tribunals that advocate cruelty must be banned, wherever
This excerpt is from Muktar Mai's memoir "In
The Name of Honor:"
"They rape me, on the beaten earth of
an empty stable. Four men. I don't know how long that vicious
torture lasts. An hour? All night? I, Mukhtar Bibi, eldest daughter
of my father, Ghulam Farid Jat, lose all consciousness of myself,
but I will never forget the faces of those animals. They know
that a woman humiliated in that way has no other recourse except
suicide. They don't even need to use their weapons. Rape kills
her. Then they shove me outside, half naked, before the eyes of
the village. My shawl draped over my face, I drift like a ghost
toward my family's house. My father and my uncle follow me at
That tragic night does not own her any longer.
Today, Muktaran Mai is a symbol of hope across the world. Merrawalla
is safe for women and children, her rapists are behind bars, and
tribal counils are banned from her hometown.
During my interview with Mohammed Ali Naqvi,
I asked him what, in his opinion, could change barbaric punishments
and practices like Muktar Mai's gang rape?
"This might sound like a cliche,"
he replied," but I believe it is education."
With education comes knowledge of individual
rights and human rights. That is the kind of knowledge that gives
ordinary, innocent and vulnerable people that have never known
any "rights" the courage to stand up and fight for justice
if they are wronged.
Perhaps that is why Muktaran Mai was so threatening
to the now banned "judges" and jury of her village tribunal,
and all those that had ridden on their wave of abusive power.
How can tyrants and bullies, criminals and
thugs hold on to their power in any community that demands true
justice? It is important not to be silent
in the face of any atrocity.
The film was made for Showtime and was distributed
by CBS Paramount.
Please visit Muktaran Mai's web site http://www.mukhtarmaiwwo.org/vision.html
for ways to support the wonderful work she is doing.