Film/New logo


Directed by Mohammed Ali Naqvi In Urdu & Sariki with English Subtitles, 96 minutes, 2007

The Museum of Modern Art, New York: Documentary Fortnight 2008

February 19 & February 29, 2008 at 6.00 pm

"Through education....they will understand that we are also human beings, and that people have to stop abusing us," said Muktaran Mai

Muktaran Mai and Mohammed Ali Naqvi and students

Muktaran Mai (far right), with Director Mohammed Ali Naqvi, and young students from Muktaran Mai's School for Girls

All photographs courtesy of Mohammed Ali Naqvi

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 her brother.

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 at all.

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.

Muktaran Mai, Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Naseem Akhtar

Muktaran Mai, with the Director of "Shame" Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Naseem Akhtar

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

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 Mai becomes.

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 (, 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 were free.

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 writes:

"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 woman.

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.

Muktaran Mai in New York

Muktaran Mai in New York

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 thugs.

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 things."

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 down.

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 not enough.

"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 pre-pubescent face.

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 is ill.

"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 have happened."

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 was present:

"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 said;

"We are here to give justice, whether it is a boy or girl from any village. We cannot let this cruelty continue."

After the victory in court and the imprisonment of her rapists, she and her family continued to receive death threats.

"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 exist.

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 public."

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 aunt.

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 intervene.

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 they exist.

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 a distance."

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 for ways to support the wonderful work she is doing.

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review

©The City Review Inc 2008. Written permission to use any part of this article must be obtained in writing from The City Review or Michele Leight