Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The woman who dared cry rape

?Shame? will be screened as part of film festival

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy photo

In the United States, if a woman is brutally raped (especially) by persons known, she goes to the police, the hospital has a rape kit to gather evidence and eventually, with justice on her side, the rapist is tried and convicted.

In Pakistan and many other counties in South Asia, a panchayat, or tribal council, governs rural regions. When a family member is suspected of behaving in a sexually illegal way, punishment can be meted out on the women of the family as revenge. A rape brings dishonor and shame upon the family and everyone suffers. By custom, the woman usually commits suicide afterwards. That's the way it's been for generations. But one illiterate, unmarried woman from Meerwala changed the course of history.

In June 2002, Mukhtar Mai's younger brother, Shaqoor, was accused by the Mastoi clan of committing some kind of indiscretion with one of their girls. The Mastoi clan kidnapped Shaqoor and assaulted him. (Later a conventional court found that the story against Shaqoor was fabricated to cover up the sexual attack against the boy himself. The three men who attacked him were imprisoned for sodomy. Their convictions still stand.)

Shaqoor's family called for the police, who finally arrived and gained the release of Shaqoor, but the Mastoi were not satisfied. They refused a marriage deal and insisted on zina (adulterous sex) for zina.

Mukhtar was gang raped by several Matsoi men, and then paraded half nude down the village's main street. Her next move should have been suicide, but she had nothing to lose. She didn't care if they killed her, so she pressed charges against her abusers, against the wishes of her family, the village, the government and even, to this day, her countrywomen.

The case became an international cause célèbre.

At the time, a young filmmaker, Mohammed Naqvi was shooting a film for the Discovery Times Channel called "Terror's Children."

"I was in my home town of Karachi, following Afghan refugee children," Naqvi said. "This story broke out when she decided to go to a local reporter. Within days it was international news.

"But she was a woman taking a stand. I was one of many writers who wanted to meet her and find a story. I didn't have any preconceptions. I wasn't sure where it was going but when I met her, it was really..." Naqvi faltered in his recitation. "She is an amazing person. She took such a bad situation and turned it into a positive one."

Indeed after a lengthy battle with the Pakistan government, which tried to hush her up, her attackers were convicted and she was paid reparations by the government. (Her attackers have since been released).

She also built her village's first two schools with her compensation money and now campaigns internationally for women's rights. In Pakistan, the laws have since been changed so that a woman who accuses someone of rape no longer has to produce four pious male witnesses who saw the actual act of rape.

Naqvi, 28, spent four to five years making the documentary about Muhktar, called "Shame." Applauded and honored at screenings around the world, the emotional film touches nerves. Because they can relate, Naqvi said women in South Asia are particularly stunned by the story. It is their secret shame as well.

"For any woman they are scared and embarrassed," Naqvi said. "Mukhtar is this amazing, strong woman. She actually didn't care. It was so awful she didn't care if she was killed. Initially her family was not behind her but eventually they supported her and went to court with her, and she had journalists and human rights activists with her. She still receives death threats from the other family."

With a hearty laugh, Naqvi said the movie was an "interesting way to start off my career."

Naqvi will be in attendance for the screening of 'Shame" on Saturday, Feb. 23, at the nexStage Theatre.

The Family of Woman Film Festival

What: Lecture on "Hope in Eritrea—Safe Motherhood and UNFPA" with Dr. Amreen Husain of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

When: Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m.

Where: The Community Library, Ketchum.

What: Cocktail reception with UNFPA members and filmmakers.

When: Thursday, Feb. 21, at 6 p.m.

Where: Private home.

Movies: Friday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. "Motherland Afghanistan," Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. "Shame," Feb. 24, at 4 p.m. "Water," 7 p.m. "Moolade."

Where: nexStage Theatre, 120 S. Main St., Ketchum.

Tickets: $15 Chapter One Bookstore, Iconoclast Books or nexStage Theatre.

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