Mukhtaran Mai

Three years ago, four men from her village in Pakistan gang-raped Mukhtar, then 33, to punish her brother for an offense they believed he’d committed. Her honor destroyed, she was expected by her community and even her own family to kill herself in shame. Instead, she marshaled deep reserves of dignity and strength to show her village what honor really is. Over her own father’s initial objections, she went to the police, ultimately facing her attackers in a trial that put the four men in jail (an appeal that could free them is still pending).

When the government rewarded her with $8,300 in compensation, she chose not to flee with her cash, but to remain in her hometown and use the money to start the village’s first-ever schools, even as her rapists’ tribesmen continued to threaten her. “If women aren’t educated, it’s hard for them to speak up for themselves,” she has said.

And only education, she believes, will stop future generations of men from abusing women (she has even enrolled her rapists’ children).

Coverage of Mukhtaran Mai’s press conference in Washington (source: Despardes)

Dr. Manzur Ejaz places Mukhtaran Mai in a wider context of a tradition of women’s stuggle in feudal Punjab.

Responding to a question about Dr Shazia Khalid, Mukhtar Mai expressed sympathy and solidarity with her as a fellow victim of rape. However, she made a subtle distinction between herself and Dr Shazia Khalid suggesting that the good doctor may have abandoned the struggle by leaving the country. This reminded me of two famous characters from Waris Shah’s epic story.

Waris Shah distinguishes between love as a vehicle of social struggle — to overcome class, creed and tribal prejudices — and the desire to be with the lover by any means. Heer chooses to fight the predominant socio-economic system by openly embracing a buffalo herder, Ranjha. By contrast, her sister-in-law Sehti, portrayed as a very scholarly woman, seeks personal resolution by eloping with her lover, Murad Baloch. Heer, a woman of knowledge and faith, has to confront her family, tribe, religious institutions and legal system. Sehti takes the easy way out.

Waris Shah makes the point that mere suffering or its awareness are not enough to change an oppressive system. He is so intent on distinguishing between social struggle and efforts for self-gratification that his hero Ranjha refuses to elope even when Heer, in a weaker moment, suggests that. He says,

Heeray ishq na mool swad dainda nal chorian atay udhalian dey
(O Heer, the love, carried through deceit and elopement, is never fulfilling.)

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