June 22nd, 2002, made its mark in Mukhtaran Mai’s life as the day when everything changed.
Mukhtaran Mai was dragged into the house of a Mastoi tribesman and gang-raped by four men in the Pakistani village of Meerwala.
As per the details of an investigation that was carried out in July 2002, 12-year-old Abdul Shakoor, Mukhtaran Mai’s brother, was raped by three men from the Mastoi tribe and was told to remain silent. Upon his refusal, one of the men accused Abdul Shakoor of being sexually involved with the man’s sister, Salma.
Mukhtaran’s family tried to solve matters by suggesting the idea of Abdul Shakoor’s marriage to Salma, alongside Mukhtaran’s marriage to one of the men from the Mastoi tribe. Though approved by the Mastoi tribe, this suggestion was shot down by Salma’s family and Mukhtaran’s family was asked to send her over to apologize to the men on behalf of her brother.
It was here where she was gang-raped and paraded naked in the streets of her village.
The horrific incident has been adapted into a US opera – Thumbprint. Thumbprint not only recounts the incident, but also highlights Mukhtaran Mai’s immense courage. In a male dominated society, she was steadfast in her pursuit of justice.
While most of her attackers roam freely, she received a sum of money as compensation. While this was not the justice she, or anyone else hoped she would receive, she selflessly invested the sum in setting up schools and a women’s shelter.
Talking about the opera show that narrates her story, Mukhtaran Mai stated the following:
“I was very emotional when I first started watching it and began reliving the incident in my mind. But then, as the opera progressed, it became easier to watch and I felt more courage.”
The opera, by Kamala Sankaram and Susan Yankowitz, depicts her story as one where she is seen to receive some form of justice. The rapists are seen to be sentenced to death in Sankaram and Yankowitz’s opera. Unfortunately, many of the assailants have yet to be brought to justice in real life.
Mukhtaran Mai’s story is both heart-wrenching and terrifying.
Her assailants live across her house and still subject her to catcalls. However, she remains steadfast and strong, continuing her work at the shelter and the schools she has set up. She sincerely doubts that the opera would be shown in Pakistan. However, she wishes for it to be shown everywhere. More than anything, she still wishes for justice.
What is immensely saddening is the fact that she is not alone in her struggle. Her story is perhaps one of the countless stories of the faceless and nameless women who have been reduced to mere statistics in a report, or complaint numbers in a file.
One can only hope that her case being highlighted in front of a bigger audience will set in motion some form of change within our country.