Published April 19th 2009
Mukhtar Mai, Glamour Magazine’s woman of the year 2005, ties the knot, for reasons she defines as “to support women’s rights.” I hope that this woman who has not backed down in the face of oppression in the name of culture, tradition and religion will continue to hold on tight to that principle even when the honeymoon is over. There are some troubling signs in this new relationship. One is that the groom, Mr. Gabol is an unstable character, younger and indelibly lacking in the maturity she possesses, and was a little too quick to attempt suicide with sleeping pills when she turned him down in 2007.
Interestingly, his wife (yes he was married) tried convincing Mukhtar to marry him (the law allows for multiple wives and ample opportunity to ignore the rules about getting permission from the prior wives). Expectedly, his first wife, Shehla, seems not to take things too seriously, and defiantly loves the camera. She told journalists her and Mukhtar are “like sisters.” How biblical. Agreed that women should make alliances, but my issue with this is that the story of Mukhtar is the story of triumph over tragedy that the shackles of traditionalism confers on women, and yet we now see Mukhtar herself stepping into a complex relationship which is sadly typical of Pakistan’s favorite soap opera theme: one man and two women.
The good news is that Mukhtar seems to be a bit more steadfast and aware of everyone’s rights, including Shehla’s. She insisted Gabol signs over the land he owns and allocates a proportion of his monthly salary to his first wife, as precondition to the second marriage. She also took her time to decide, which is really buying more happiness, and more importantly she refused to move to the neighboring village with him. Mr. Gabol said he was happy about the fact that he is the husband of a famous woman, but it remains to be seen how he really will stand by her side after he marries her, and after she will still be Mukhtar Mai. At the end, she needs to find something other than her 2 girls school and 1 boy’s school to entertain him with, or he will get bored like he did with Shehla. Pressure is not new to Mukhtar, but this kind takes a new emotional muscle. I am maintaining an “I don’t know” stance on this.
Yes its wonderful that a stigmatized rape victim defied local dogma and married in “holy” matrimony, but with the fall of Swat to the hands of Taliban thugs, and the release of the flogging video of the girl from Swat, there is so much to lose if Mukhtar becomes a victim of someone else’s expectations. She is a national asset in the hands of another man. How enlightened can a man be in and around Multan, feudal capital of Punjab? But then again, like I said I don’t know. How bold and emancipated can a woman be from the same region. Mukhtar shocked the world by being a poster girl for women’s rights. Yet, when the mundane takes over the creeping up sun every day, he may just may not yell at her for leaving the corners of the rotis thicker or shove her around for attending to him later than she should have when he’d come for his visits, or storm out in a fit of anger if she prefers her school kids to his aspirations.
I don’t know if she’ll feel weary and tired for having fought too many battles on too many fronts, and maybe say, this one let me try the local witch doctor solution and endure with the quiet grace of a woman. I don’t know. Still I hope that she and he become the poster couple for a well balanced marriage partnership.