Agent Provocateur June 22, 2002. It reads much like August 17, '88. The people who think numbers have a connection to our lives, like when all numbers were adding up to eight and the Presidents C-130 plane was blown up in mid-air over Bahawalpur, will probably read something in the June 22, 2002, numbers as well. As reported, this is the terrible day on which Mukhtaran Mai of Meerwala was gang-raped publicly and by order of a punchayet, (village council) convened by the influential Mastoi tribe in the village. Somehow, there is never an outright fatwa or condemnation of such an act from the parties, who froth at the mouth when talking about other issues involving ghairat, but thats an aside. Contrary to all expectations, the extremely poor and illiterate Mukhtaran Mai came out into the open on the humiliation she had to endure and brought into focus how the social mores in rural Pakistan 'continue to be dominated by an un-Islamic, medieval and deeply elitist code of honour. The leader of the village council and five others were convicted and sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorist Court, but later the decision was overturned by the Lahore High Court, which released five out of the six accused for gang-rape and commuted the remaining mans death sentence to life imprisonment; perhaps for lack of evidence. In a country which has, of late, shown tendencies towards vigilantism, with people often taking law into their own hands, to mete out instant justice to the perceived wrongdoers, women have not yet managed to be considered deserving of justice, instant or otherwise. And this is despite having a strongly-worded law against sexual harassment in place. This case has been a classic example of how facts are distorted and documentation of the evidence is tampered with in such cases at all levels, says a joint press statement by several womens groups in Islamabad. The wait for this judgment has taken nine long years. Mukhtaran Mai was raped in 2002 and in 2005 the Chief Justice took suo moto notice of this case. The Supreme Court has had to work with the evidence recorded in the lower courts that reflects the flaws of the countrys judicial system. Admittedly, the court could not have ruled by emotion, but only on hard evidence, nonetheless, there is a fear that this decision might further strengthen the anti-women parallel legal and judicial systems and mechanisms within the country. There is also the possibility that the decision in the Mukhtaran Mai case will discourage survivors of rape and gang-rape to report and go public on their ordeal and humiliation, as the dice is loaded against them. Mukhtaran Mai had Aitzaz Ahsan defending her case and one does not get much better than that in terms of legal minds. Not only that, her story pulled at the heart strings of all women who could imagine being in her place. Yet, because her original FIR was manipulated, the accused had to be acquitted by the Supreme Court because the evidence and the law are more important than the personal beliefs or feelings of judges, says Salman Raja, a noted member of the legal fraternity. This is the system we are up against It is the system and mindset, which we have to change before expecting judgments to our liking. A leaf out of Mukhtaran Mais own book can be taken and emulated. Even though she was illiterate herself, she started a school for girls in 2002 in Meerwala, a small village of district Muzaffargarh, with the donations she received. The school started out with four girl students and today its enrolment is 1,000 plus. This Mukhtaran-led social change will eventually ensure that no female, in their area at least, will be victimised in a similar manner. She has converted this terrible personal calamity into an opportunity to contribute to bring about a paradigm shift. She has made herself into a role model. She even has eight students from the vengeful Mastoi tribe studying at her school. As Kahlil Gibran says: People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing? Postscript: It is common practice in the land of the pure to view all that you command, in your job situation, as your personal property, to use as you wish and to do as you want. A similar situation was witnessed aboard an evening PIA flight from Islamabad to Karachi some days ago. Apparently, a newly-appointed DCS (to whom the cabin crew of the airline reports administratively) accompanied by the CFO and Secretary PIAC decided to ignore the alcohol consumption ban in public places and aboard flights, and proceeded to get high on life with the alcohol they had brought on the flight in mineral water bottles. They may have been ignored, if they had not been silly enough to draw attention to themselves, much like Bollywood or Lollywood movies. The air hostess serving them was so harassed that she reported the matter to the Captain who, on landing, reported the matter in writing. As soon as he did that the airline could do little in the face of the political pressure that came down on it. In fact, the PIA spokesman informed the prying media that the accused showed negative when tested for alcohol. When asked why no action was taken against the employee, who blamed them falsely, he hemmed and hawed, thought some more, then said: No such incident took place so no action was taken If no longer a great airline to fly with, we can take comfort in the fact that PIA is, at least, now a happy airline to fly with The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: