It’s not fame, fortune, power or status that make a life great, writes Vida Adamoli.

It is a life that cares about, and takes action for, its fellow human beings. Great lives have a stand-alone spirit, the courage to fight for truth and justice regardless of personal cost.

The majority we never get to hear about. Others become iconic. In 1955, in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, a bus driver ordered a black seamstress called Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white passenger. She refused. Her simple act of protest galvanized America’s civil rights revolution. This is the story of Mukhtar Mai.

In the year 2002 Mukhtar Mai, an illiterate Pakistani peasant, was gang-raped at gunpoint by four high-caste Mastoi men.

Afterwards she was paraded naked in front of hundreds of onlookers. The men claimed they were revenging their tribe's honour, sullied after Mukhtar's 12-year-old brother was spotted taking a walk with a Mastoi girl. The truth came out later. Three Mastoi men had actually sodomised the boy and to stop the family reporting them fabricated the charge.

Custom decrees that victims of gang rape commit suicide. It is the expected way for a violated woman to deal with such terrible shame. But Mukhtar Mai refused to comply, declaring that she'would rather die at the hands of such animals' than renounce her right to justice. Despite continual threats of violence, she courageously pursued her case through the courts.

It was a long battle but eventually, and against all odds, the rapists were tried and convicted. Mukhtar Mai used her compensation money to open a school in her village. 'I hope to make education more readily available to girls,' she said, 'to teach them that no woman should ever go through what happened to me, and I eventually hope to open more school branches in this area of Pakistan. I need your support to kill illiteracy and to help make tomorrow's women stronger. This is my goal in life.'

Mukhtar Mai's refusal to remain silent has given her an international profile. With courage and determination she has transformed herself from an illiterate outcast into a spokesperson for human rights. Because of this she has become an embarrassment to the government. President Musharraf has publicly chastised her for 'bad-mouthing' Pakistan to the world. Things deteriorated to the point she was deprived of a passport and placed under house arrest. 

It wasn't until 2005 that restrictions were lifted allowing her to visit the US. Asma Jahangir, a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a UN Special Reporter on Extrajudicial Killings, says, 'As long as the state refuses to fully challenge the brutality of tribal law, the plight of Pakistani woman will continue. Mukhtar Mai is a symbol of their victimhood, but in her resilience she is also a symbol of their strength.'

In 2005 America's Glamour Magazine named Mukhtar Mai 'Glamour Woman of the Year'. In April 2007 she won the North-South Prize from the EU Council of Europe. And in France In The Name of Honour, the book she has written about her ordeal, reached number three on the bestseller list.

She still lives in the same village, a few hundred yards from the families of her rapists. They have sworn to kill her and Mukhtar Mai admits she is often scared. Nevertheless she is adamant that the cause of women's rights is more important than one life. ''I'm just the first drop of water in the village,' she says. 'I believe it will rain after me.'

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