Yes, its hard for me to just say ‘A Great…’ for the likes of MukhtaraN Bibi aka MukhtaraN Mai, and its not just because she makes me unashamedly proud of being a woman, a Punjabi, a Pakistani, a South Asian, a human.
Her story is known to us but it is not certain if it has been told. We know that a woman was punished by a jirga for the actions of her younger brother, June 2002 in Meerwala. On the orders of the jirga, MukhtaraN Bibi was gang-raped by the men of the aggrieved (influential) family to avenge the sexual liasons of her (lower status) brother with one of ‘their’ women.
MukhtaraN Bibi would have taken the rap of justice however hard but not that forced play on the ugly set of a live porn show. As is usual in such cases, the set that was erected to mount that gang-rape was conceived, staged and protected by local male elders, politicians, and law enforcers. It was an ‘honour’ kill without the dead body.
In the pit of physical pain, shame and humiliation, MukhtaraN Bibi may have come to know the meaning of many words but we are certain of one: ‘Ignorance’. (‘My slogan is to end oppression through education‘).
It is not unusual for women to receive punishment for the actions of their male family members in a country where ‘honour’ means ‘male revenge’ tied to property, and killing for it is an acceptable social practice. Even in that environment, the punishment given to MukhtaraN Bibi by that local court of ‘justice’ was unacceptable for the larger society. Yet this was not the most unusual thing about this case. The most unusual thing was what MukhtaraN Bibi did after the porn show was over. Instead of going insane with shame, despairing to the point of committing suicide or accepting the status of a whore in the area, MukhtaraN Bibi stood up, gathered support, fought the system-backed aggressors, and won!
Oh victimized she was and survive she did as she changed the meaning of both ‘Victim’ and ‘Survivor’!
Even when the real criminals have still not been punished, MukhtaraN Bibi is victorious at many different levels. She has reclaimed her honour in her area and beyond, opened schools in her community to fight ignorance with the money she had received for her strengths and leadership, has become a continual source of inspiration and strength for women, and is one of the major reasons for creating an atmosphere for the jirgas to be declared illegal in Pakistan.
Though jirgas still thrive and continue to generate an ‘official’ form of community violence against women and men of lower social groups, a strong blow to this entrenched system of religio-feudal oppression has been dealt by MukharaN Mai; and, here comes a Punjabi poem for her in roman:
By Fauzia Rafiq
Terae pairaN haiThhaN jutti
jutti thallae nissaldi mitti
soohae rang vich ghol
mathae tae lawaN
Ek mitti Punjabi
utae tera parchhawaN
Inj laggae Bibo
ajjo dil.dlairee pawaN
Sources and Links to more information:
Chronology of Events
Mai’s Profile on Wikipedia
‘Whose Justice? MUKHTARAN MAI: Punishment of the innocent’: Amnesty International
Mai’s Blog: Poland Travelogue
Interview with Mukhtaran Mai
A film ‘Mukhtiar Mai: The Struggle for Justice’ by Journalist Beena Sarwar
Though women were being killed each day by jirgas to avenge male ‘honour’ and protect their properties prior to 2002, the demand to declare jirgas illegal had never gained centrality in the movements for protection of rights in Pakistan. Most women who get killed for male ‘honour’ belong to lower classes while the leadership of women’s and rights movements comes from middle and upper classes. MukhtaraN Bibi by taking a stand against the ‘ignorance’ of jirga-led perpetrators allowed rights activists around the world to support her case to the point where rights movements in Pakistan were enabled to put forward the demand to illegalize jirgas.
All through the years when MukhtaraN Bibi was fighting for her court case and against the value systems that have perpetuated such woman-abusing traditions, she never looked into the camera. It must have been hard to look at all that the world had come to represent to her.
Or for the Press…
For Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year? Almost!
Leading protests… somewhat.
Now she may find that because of what she did and made other people do, the world has become better, and so, behold a glorious folk hero as she raises her eye at the world.
A folk hero raises her eye!