In 2002 Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped at the orders of a local Pakistani jirga in retaliation for a minor offense by her brother (he loved a girl from a different social class). For nine years she braved death threats to bring her attackers to justice. But on April 21 the country’s Supreme Court released five of the six alleged rapists. NEWSWEEK PAKISTAN spoke with Mukhtar:
What is your reaction to the verdict?
I was deeply saddened and shocked. I thought the Supreme Court would give me justice … but there is no justice in this country through the court system. I’ve realized the police and the Supreme Court are the same.
What were the major setbacks during the trial?
Badly collected evidence. But there was plenty of evidence. There was so much medical evidence. The whole village can testify on my behalf. The investigation report was problematic, as were some of the initial statements collected by the police because they lied. One [Supreme Court justice] knew this and was with me. The other two were not.
How have people in your village, Meerwala, reacted?
They are upset. Everyone knows what happened. Everyone knows the truth. The women are scared for me and for themselves. If I couldn’t get justice after all these years, what about the next victim?
Are Pakistani women back to where they started?
Yes. They’ve humiliated every Pakistani woman with this judgment. Earlier, I could comfort the women in my village because I had confidence in the Supreme Court. What can I say now? Of course, they are less confident. This is many steps back for the women in my village, for the women in Pakistan. This is many steps back for all of Pakistan.
You received compensation money, which you used to build schools in Meerwala. What is the status of these schools?
At first, because there was no concept of schooling in my village, it was very hard … Slowly, the entire community began sending children to my school. We provided therapy, advice, and assistance to many women. Many women came, and we would give them therapy and advice and help them. The children of the men who [allegedly] raped me are enrolled in the school as well.
Do you feel safe? Has the government provided you with any security?
[The attackers] have strengthened now. They have comfort, not me. I have no peace of mind. I don’t feel safe. A few policemen are stationed in the street during nights, but that’s about it. They haven’t given me anything new since the Supreme Court verdict.
You have been offered asylum in the past. Will you now leave Pakistan?
I refused when asylum was offered in the past. Pakistan is my home. Meerwala is my home. If I want, I can ask now [for asylum]. But I will stay here. I am working here, I am helping people. If I leave, my work will stop, and I can’t have that.
Given what has happened, if you could, would you do it all again?
It has been so difficult, the journey. This decision has exhausted and saddened me. I’ve lost confidence and trust. But I did this for others as much as myself, I would do it again. My lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, has filed a petition for review now. Let’s see what happens.