Into the Mirror – Mukhtaran Mai

EXCERPT: House Of Women

The book explores tribal traditions and lifestyles in Pakistan and tries to reconstruct both sides of the story to unearth the truth behind the alleged gang-rape of a Pakistani village woman.

November 2005, Mirwala

‘She was his bride!’ the old widow hollers in autumn sunshine, surrounded by rag-clothed grandchildren.

Gold studding her bulbous nose, the matriarch of the house where Mukhtar says she was assaulted rocks, sobs, and pulls on the tattered corners of a thin purple floral shawl pyramiding her face, and wipes her raging tears.

‘We never took their girl! They are telling lies to you and everyone! To take a girl and do such things to her does not exist in Islam. Muslims and Islam know no activity like this.’

Taj Mai Mastoi, somewhere in her 60s, cries on a charpoy in her dust-blown courtyard.

‘No-one realises we also are Muslims!’

She clutches her knee to her chin between outbursts of spitting rage.

‘There was no rape!’ she fires. ‘There was not even a panchayat! She came as a bride.’

This is a house of women now. All of Taj Mai’s menfolk are in jail: two of her sons are accused of raping Mukhtar, another son is convicted of raping Mukhtar’s brother. Four of her brothers and two sons-in-law are accused of sanctioning the gang-rape of Mukhtar. Taj Mai’s husband Imam Baksh Mastoi passed away before 2002. Aged and small, she has been left in charge of a family of 18 children and women.

The old lady and her two daughters-in-law — their husbands in jail — pick cotton on the fields of landlords, for 15 to 75 cents a day. Sometimes they rope in the older children to work the fields.

In the Mastois’ wildly different version of events, Mukhtar Mai and Abdul Khaliq were married by Maulvi Abdul Razzaq in an on-the-spot verbal ceremony at nightfall on June 22, 2002.

They say she spent three nights in Abdul Khaliq’s room as his bride.

‘That was their room,’ yells eight-year-old Tariq Mohammad, Khaliq’s youngest brother, pointing to the middle of a three room hut.

The instant marriage, the Mastois say, was to compensate for Mukhtar’s brother’s ‘rape’ of their girl Salma. A Gujjar girl’s hand was given in exchange for the dishonouring of a Mastoi girl. That’s why we never pressed charges for the alleged rape of Salma, the Mastois say.

On a Sunday visit in November 2005 to the residential compound of the Mastois, only the children are at home. The old lady has gone to the jail to see her sons. Her daughters-in-law are in the fields picking cotton.

When we return the following morning, with two armed policemen and a plainclothes officer from Mukhtar’s

12-strong permanent police guard as escorts, the old lady and the wife of one of her jailed sons, Maqsooda, are expecting us. They move across a barren field to meet us. Accompanying them is a male relative from a neighbouring house, thick lines of kohl under his eyes, his feet bare on the cold cracked earth of the barren field.

Taj Mai explodes in fury. She curses the foreign media for glorifying Mukhtar. She lambasts the publicity surrounding Mukhtar’s case as one-sided.

‘You come here to talk to me, but I don’t want to talk to anyone! There is no justice for me. My conditions are terrible. My sons are in jail,’ she rants. ‘No-one wants to hear or tell our reality.’

She fires at the police accompanying us. ‘What kind of police are you? Our little girl went past Mukhtar Mai’s house the other day and the police ordered her to get lost. Our little girl is not a terrorist!’

Eventually placated by my translator’s insistence that we want to hear her story, the old lady relents and beckons us over the dry field into her dull mud-walled compound.

Poverty stalks this home of no men. It is a stark contrast to the local media portrayal of this family as powerfully- connected wealthy landowners. Only two emaciated goats and two skeletal cows make up their livestock.

Bone-thin dogs and cats saunter through the courtyard. No tea is offered. No food is cooking on any fire. No one is kneading any dough for roti bread, the basic item of village diets.

Unlike Mukhtar’s home, no paved road leads to this house and no electricity lights their nights. Cracked dirt trails run between fields and irrigation ditches to the Mastoi home. The door to Taj Mai sits dislodged inside her room.

‘I have no door to my own room. The dogs and cats come in here at night,’ she says.

Maqsooda, the wife of Taj Mai’s second son Allah Ditta grabs her own little daughter’s arm and shoves it at me. It is stick thin and covered in thick protruding lesions.

‘Do you have any money for me to fix her arm? I can’t afford to take her to a doctor for treatment.’

She sticks a thumb through her daughter’s worn mud-soaked tunic. ‘Look at these rags! We can’t buy any clothes.’

On the night Mukhtar says she was gang-raped in this house, all the Mastoi women — Taj Mai, her six daughters, a daughter-in-law — and an assortment of grandchildren were at home.

The Mastoi women say a sharai nikah (verbal marriage) ritual took place between Mukhtar Mai and Abdul Khaliq, witnessed by Mukhtar’s father, brother and uncle.

‘It was a traditional nikah, from the early days of Islam, when nothing was written. There were just witnesses and the Maulvi pronounced them married, without writing any certificate,’ says Taj Mai.

For the Mastois, June 22, 2002 began with prayers for the dead. A relative in another Mastoi home had passed away. All the adults had gathered at the home of Khair Muhammad Mastoi, several fields away, to offer prayers and condolences. Only Maqsooda stayed at home with the children. In the middle of the hot mid-summer day, Maqsooda says, she heard Salma, then in her late teens, screaming in the sugarcane crop. She looked over the wall and saw Salma beating Abdul Shakoor with a sickle.

‘I ran and grabbed Abdul Shakoor and dragged him back here,’ she says, pointing to the far corner room the three-room hut. ‘I threw him in that room.’

A padlock hangs broken above the room’s door. Inside rafts of dusted sunlight fall on turquoise-brushed walls and a shelf lined with tin bowls and cups. ‘That lock was broken when Shakoor tried to escape.’

The bricks that once blocked one of the high air vents are still smashed.

‘That’s where he smashed his way out. He broke these bricks and climbed through the hole and escaped,’ Maqsooda says.

Maqsooda caught Shakoor again, dragged him back inside and locked him away. She sent for the menfolk to come home from the mourning gathering at

Khair Muhammad Mastoi’s compound. When they reached home Maqsooda told them she had caught Abdul Shakoor ‘raping’ Salma and had locked him up.

Shakoor’s father and uncles turned up at the Mastoi home and asked them to let Shakoor go. With them were Maulvi Abdul Razzaq and the police, Maqsooda recalls. Shakoor’s father, brother and uncles persuaded the Mastois not to file charges with the police over Shakoor’s alleged action.

In return, the Mastois demanded the hand of one of Shakoor’s sisters.

‘Their son raped our daughter, that’s why,’ says Taj Mai. ‘We were upset because Abdul Shakoor raped Salma.’

Shakoor’s family offered up Mukhtar Mai. Shakoor was let out of the room and given to the police. In the night Mukhtar was brought to the Mastoi home by her menfolk and a sharai nikah was performed between her and Abdul Khaliq, some time after Isha, the last evening prayer, Maqsooda and Taj Mai say.

‘No one wrote a nikah certificate. We just collected witnesses. Then the marriage was confirmed. Early Islam required no official statement of a nikah. On that day nothing was written, we just did as they did in early times, Maqsooda says.

Mukhtar stayed in Abdul Khaliq’s room for three nights as his bride, according to the Mastoi women.

The floor of the ‘bridal’ room is hardearth. Like the room next door where Shakoor had been locked up, the walls are painted turquoise. Alcoves and shelves are carved into the mudbrick. Iron bars fill two window holes on either side of the door.

On peeking inside, I find Taj Mai’s two unmarried teenage daughters, Parveen and Zarina, huddled in the shadows behind the door. Forbidden to be seen by strange men, they are hiding from the police guards who have accompanied me. They have been watching us through the barred windows.

With the nikah, our quarrel was resolved,’ says Taj Mai. ‘We said to them: ‘Our families are now joined in marriage. Let there be no more quarrel between us’.

‘But after 11 days, Mukhtar went to the hospital for a medical test,’ Taj Mai recalls. It was the semen test Mukhtar underwent on the instructions of police after filing gang-rape charges.

‘In our minds our families were joined in marriage, but she went and got a medical.’

A fresh quarrel had erupted between the neighbouring families after the alleged marriage between Mukhtar and Abdul Khaliq.

‘Maulvi Abdul Razzaq. Mukhtar’s older brother and her father came and started fighting with us about Abdul Shakoor and Salma,’ says Maqsooda.

After Mukhtar’s medical test, which found positive traces of semen, police swooped on the Mastoi clan.

‘The police recorded an FIR (First Investigation Report) from Mukhtar’s side and arrested people without any reason,’ says Taj Mai.

Among the first to be taken in by police were Taj Mai and her daughter Salma.

‘Then did a medical test on Salma too,’ Taj Mai says. She doesn’t know what the result was.

The mother and daughter were moved on to another, bigger jail, in the district capital Muzaffargarh.

Mukhtar Mai’s family actually had some of the best connections in Mirwala village. They had the backing of the wealthiest, largest and oldest tribe in the tehsil (sub-district): the Jatois. They were also backed by the most powerful figure in the district: the preacher of the biggest mosque in Mirwala, Maulvi Abdul Razzaq. His tribe: Jatoi.

More arrests came in waves until 14 Mastoi men were shackles, awaiting trial.

‘They wrought tyranny on us,’ Taj Mai spits. ‘The real sin was by the other side. Their boy molested our girl. But everyone says it’s us who did wrong. The police should start a new inquiry and collect all the neigbours and find out the truth.’

‘If Mukhtar’s family comes here I will tell them what really happened. If Mukhtar thinks something wrong has happened to her, she should just keep quiet. But instead she tells everyone. She even goes to the US.’

Taj Mai spends her days now reading the Quran, picking cotton and cutting wheat — the crops of other landowners

‘I work daily on the lands of other men. What I earn each day, I spend. I can save nothing. Ask Mukhtar Mai whether we are wealthy or not. We work on the land of landlords. All our men are in prison.’

Taj Mai pulls her knees closer and sobs.

‘Mukhtar’s family doesn’t realise how much I worry about my sons, my grandchildren. We have only children in the house. No young men,’ she rages.

‘I’m the only one earning money for my house. I’m a poor woman.’

The embittered Mastoi women’s fiercest venom is for the local preacher Maulvi Abdul Razzaq and his role in bringing Mukhtar’s case to the police.

They call him the ‘architect’ of the case.

‘The root of all this is Abdul Razzaq,’ breathes Maqsooda.

‘He got involved in this case because of the money he gets from Mukhtar Mai’s family, and because of land.’ The Mastois told the trial court in August 2002 that Razzaq had grudges against them because they reported him for trying to occupy land they had paid for at a public auction.

They had also accused him of harbouring fanatics from the banned extremist group, Sipah

‘He’s a Wahhabi, a Deobandi,’ Taj Mai and Maqsooda charge in chorus, invoking extremist Islamic sects.

From the charpoy where Taj Mai vents her rage, the walls of Mukhtar’s home are visible across the field, over the heads of the cotton plants. With a twist of the head one can glimpse the sideof Mukhtar’s girls’ school, shining with a fresh coat of maroon paint.

For the Mastois, the new school is a forbidden world. The little Mastoi girls stay at home.

‘Mukhtar Mai doesn’t allow our girls to get admission,’ Taj Mai asserts. ‘We never tried to send our girls to her school. No-one listens to us, so who would support us in sending our girls to her school? They would never allow it. They didn’t even allow our boys.’

Taj Mai says her eight-year-old son Tariq joined Mukhtar’s boys’ school for just a few months, but was driven out. Tariq, the little brother of accused rapists Abdul Khaliq and Allah Ditta, stopped going to the school after one of Mukhtar’s nephews threw stones at him and told him to never show his face again.

My visit to his mother and siblings, told me seven months later that on the day I visited, the children had not eaten in three days.

The tale which many had never questioned started to unravel when I met the family of the accused rapists. Salma was their little sister.

Instead of the influential, well-connected and land- owning family they had been portrayed as, they floundered in some of the worst poverty I’d seen.

Mukhtar Mai’s family actually had some of the best connections in Mirwala village. They had the backing of the wealthiest, largest and oldest tribe in the tehsil (sub-district): the Jatois. They were also backed by the most powerful figure in the district: the preacher of the biggest mosque in Mirwala, Maulvi Abdul Razzaq. His tribe: Jatoi.

Inconsistencies in both sides’ recollections were plenty, but that would happen among any group of people — be they educated Westerners or illiterate villagers — asked to recollect an event three years back.

I sought out the preacher. He had a murky past. He belonged to Pakistan’s most murderous gang of Sunni Islamic extremists, the Sipah (Army of the Companions of the Prophet) — outlawed in 2001 for its links to the murders of rival Shias.

One person emerges pivotal in bringing to light the gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai: the softbearded mullah of Mirwala’s biggest mosque.

The Mastoi family harbours their fiercest venom for Maulvi Abdul Razzaq. Without the cleric’s June 28, 2002 sermon, and without the cleric by Mukhtar’s side, police may never have registered charges of gang

The cleric was the first to go public with the allegations of gang-rape in a fiery Friday sermon on June 28, the first Muslim Sabbath after the Mastoi-Gujjar feud.

Over the following two days, the mullah drafted a statement to police in the name of Mukhtar Mai. He was one of the people who persuaded Mukhtar Mai’s father to file gang-rape charges.

‘I registered the case,’ he admitted in an interview in 2006.

‘I drafted the statement of Mukhtar Mai on her behalf.

One of the police officers who handled the case said that police later summoned the mullah to persuade Mukhtar Mai’s reluctant father to file charges.

‘Maulvi Abdul Razzaq was called by police to convince the father of Mukhtar Mai to register a case, because the father was not prepared to go ahead with charges,’ said the police officer, who has asked not to be identified.

The mullah’s motivations for publicising rape claims and then ensuring charges were filed with police became a major source of contention in the trial that convicted six men in August 2002, and in the High Court appeal hearing two and a half years later that acquitted five of them.

In the days following the June 22 Mastoi-Gujjar feud, as anger quietly subsumed Mukhtar’s suicidal state, the men of her family tried to douse any will to fight.

‘My brother Hazoor Bakhsh said: ‘If you go to the police, I will kill myself,’’ Mukhtar recalled.

The Mastoi braderi will kill us, her father and uncles counseled, if you make this public.

Only Mukhtar’s mother was on her side.

For six days after the assault Mukhtar stayed in her room, the discomfort of the suffocating 40-plus heat drowned out by her own agony.

For those six days, Maulvi Abdul Razzaq says he tended to his followers, teaching the Qur’an to his students in the Farooqia madrassa (religious school), nine kilometres away in the bustling centre of Mirwala, on the other side of the humid cropfields. He insists that no-one told him for six days that the gathering he had walked away from on the night of June 22 had ended with the alleged eye-for-an-eye gang-rape of the Gujjar woman — despite his key role in trying to broker a compromise between the tribes.

The Maulvi’s brother Haji Altaf Hussain testified in the court that he witnessed Mukhtar being dragged into the Mastoi home by four men. He told the court that he heard her frenzied begging to be saved from dishonour. He said under oath that he saw her emerge an hour later in torn clothes.

The brothers Haji Altaf and Maulvi Abdul Razzaq lived in the same house. But Razzaq insists that his rother never told him of the brutal outcome of the feud he himself had tried, and apparently failed, to resolve.

‘It is further contended that if such a heinous offence had been committed, Altaf would have narrated it to his brother, who was an arbitrator on behalf of the complainant party and had left the panchayat/meeting as the accused party had not acceded to his proposal of exchange marriages between the parties,’ the judges of the Lahore High Court noted at an appeal hearing in March 2005. Haji Altaf has never explained why he apparently kept from his brother what he allegedly saw on June 22. I met the mullah of Mirwala’s biggest mosque in August 2005.

He entered an antechamber of the Farooqia mosque compound, facing a swollen canal, flocked by young followers with kohl under their eyes — students of the madrassa. Through the open door one could see water buffalo wading slowly through the canal, their large docile eyes skimming the muddy water’s edge. Bicycles glide along the banks.

The mullah spoke softly. His sombre eyes were large and gentle. His beard was long and ashen. He sat crosson the floor, leant feebly against the wall. His student followers huddled around him, eager to be near.

His expression was deadpan as he recalled the night of the gathering to resolve the feud over Shakoor’s alleged rape of the Mastoi girl Salma.

‘I went to the Mastoi home after Hazoor Bakhsh came to me and complained that Mastois had kidnapped

Shakoor. When I got there the Mastois said to me: ‘Shakoor raped our daughter and should be punished’. They asked me: ‘What is your decision?’

‘I replied: ‘If this is true, Shakoor must marry your daughter. This is the Muslim way.’ It was around evening prayer time. When I proposed marriage between Shakoor and Salma, the Mastois refused… They said: ‘He has done this to our sister, we must do the same to his sister.’

‘They refused my proposal to marry them, so I left. As I left, the Mastois said: ‘We will consider further.’

The mullah says the gathering was a panchayat, an informal village council, attended by 200 to 250 men. He says the panchayat dispersed after he left.

‘When I left, the panchayat dissolved and everyone went home,’ he told me.

‘Then the Mastois summonsed Mukhtar and her uncle. Mukhtar’s uncle brought her to the Mastois’ house. When she got there they raped her. I was not present.’

I asked him when he was told of the assault.

‘I heard of it after one week,’ the Maulvi replied.

According to Razzaq, no had rushed any earlier to tell him that his efforts to strike a compromise were shattered and that a Gujjar woman was violated to avenge her brother’s violation of a Mastoi woman. The Maulvi was the man Mukhtar’s family had first turned to when Shakoor was locked up for violating Salma Mastoi. Yet according to the Maulvi, none of Mukhtar’s family or her supporters sought the mullah’s counsel after Mukhtar was attacked.

According to Razzaq, an informer came to him on the first Friday following the feud and told him that the feud resulted in an eye-for-an-eye rape. Razzaq says the informer was himself a Mastoi. However he refuses to give the man’s identity.

‘A Mastoi man came to me and said: ‘Bad things have happened.’ It was Friday, before prayers. I replied: ‘I shall tell the people in the mosque of this at Friday prayers.’

The book explores tribal traditions and lifestyles in Pakistan and tries to reconstruct both sides of the story to unearth the truth behind the alleged gang-rape of a Pakistani village woman.

Bronwyn Curran is a Pakistan-based journalist and one of the first to report the gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai.

Excerpted with permission from
Into the Mirror
By Bronwyn Curran
Gosha-e-Adab, Quetta
503pp. Rs650

Bronwyn Curran is a Pakistan-based journalist and one of the first to report the gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai.

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