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I read the news about judgement in Mukhtaran Mai’s case with the same horror and disappointment that many in Pakistan felt and expressed. It is a terrible thing to see justice undone like this, at the hands of a supposedly victorious, independent judiciary, brought back to the bench through the blood, sweat and aspirations of so many hoping for change in Pakistan.
Newspapers and media outlets responded with either indignation or smug satisfaction, portraying Mukhtaran Mai as either the ultimate victim or a lying, money-hungry slut who cried “rape” and fooled the world into giving her loads of money. (If this latter description is something new to you or you find it harsh, please YouTube, just for a taste, the terms “Mukhtaran Mai” and “Mubasher Luqman” – the words were not used, but the sentiment is very much there.)
Photos of Mukhtaran Mai showed her as sad, dejected, ashamed, betrayed. I don’t know why. It’s the state that’s failed her. It’s that’s failed her. The judiciary and the society that engendered it, the patriarchy that suffuses that society, the misogyny that propagates rape and murder as retributive justice – it’s us. We’ve failed her.
She’s a hero. She’s a champion of resistance and justice. She’s got heart.
Because she refused to fade gently into the ignominy and shame that people expect from rape victims, because she demanded justice, because she told her story, women have started reporting sexual violence. Men and women have started taking those “traditions”, those misogynies, to task that use women as the site of honour. Because of her work, girls in her village are getting a decent education.
Mukhtaran Mai is my hero and a role model for every thinking, conscious person in this country because she refused and continues to refuse the shame and indignity hurled at her, and has hurled it right back to where it belongs: at the feet of the rapists, the panchayats, the police, the justice system and this twisted, unjust, woman-hating society.