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Who is Mukhtar Mai?

For those of you who may not know her story, rather than go into it here, and rewrite the gruesome details, Google searching will bring you plenty of results and stories.

Now, if you know her story read forward.

About a month ago, all but one of her perpetrators were acquitted.  This is not news, but what is fascinating is the dismissal of it.  It is easy to say “Come on, it’s the Pakistani high courts.  Did you really think anything would change?”  Sadly, my subconscious, instinctual answer to that question was no, but if Mukthar Mai was not willing to give up and continue to appeal the decision, why are people collectively willing to give up?  It is easier to just accept that Pakistani rural society is backwards and that there is no reason to try to wake up a sleeping giant, so to speak.  Why bother if it is not something directly affecting us and why try to challenge others?  People are free to think however they like, right?

I can sympathize that it is difficult to fight an entire society, but it is much more difficult holding onto a mentality that says: “these are family affairs”, or what I would call a “kinship mentality”.  I have heard it all the time from relatives: “You want to go help the world, but you cannot even help your own family (by staying at home, and being a GOOD, CARING desi girl is really what is implied)?”  It is indirectly this mentality that makes social movements amongst South Asians so difficult to mobilize without support from Western organizations or influence.  Now, I’m not implying that there is anything wrong with that, but in a South Asian American community full of professionals and relatively well-off individuals it is unfortunate that there is just not enough support.

In an interview I had with a professor specializing in domestic violence amongst South Asian women, it was sad to hear how many South Asian organizations did not want to partner with domestic violence organizations in fear of losing funding or not having support amongst the community.  I mean, who wants to air out their “dirty laundry” for the world to see (sarcasm fully intended)?  Her outlook on turning to South Asian organizations was overall quite negative, and I could understand because she has seen it all firsthand and anybody can become disgruntled.  However, does it mean there is no way the community can at least change its mentality, at least through our generation?

My silly, optimistic, idealistic (usually equated with my age) self says, “Of course.”  This is something Mukhtar has shown the world constantly.  Nothing is perfect, and by no means is Pakistan  (for instance) completely changed, but a woman with little education and little finances simply remained persistent.  Sure, the government gave her “shut up” money, and yes, she took it – but not for herself.  She did not have all of this outcry simply to win attention, but to obtain the world’s awareness of a plaguing issue of kinship violence and the scars it leaves on, mostly, women.

This can be traced far back, but an example that comes to mind is partition violence.  It was better for a woman to jump down a well to kill herself then to be raped by the “other side” and become “impure”.  Rape was worse and still is because it’s a scar that can never be removed, and is always remembered as a sign of “defeat” for a family unit.  Yet, where in this is the defeat of the individual considered?  Where is the honor in letting women take the pain and suffering of the “defeat”?

The point is, yes, even though the verdict from a few weeks ago was quite disappointing and a major slap in the face, this does not mean one should simply quit.  Of course, there has to be some strategic planning and realistic viewpoints taken into account because idealism without tact and some sort of skill set is meaningless.  Yet, with all of that one must realize that change takes time.  Anywhere in the world where women have progressed, people have fought hard for those rights.  And by people, I mean women AND men.  Some have lost their lives for it.  Others have risked a forever tarnished reputation that in itself is debilitating socially and financially.  There is a need for all types of people to work together, regardless of politics or discipline (i.e. the ego the hard sciences has towards soft sciences, or “liberal arts hippies” towards “evil business people”, for instance).

Not all of us may take to the streets with the issue or travel to South Asia and get ourselves fully engrossed with it.  Maybe we will write about it.  Maye will start to somewhat change the minds of our own families (which can come with a lot of risks that many first generation South Asian children anticipate) to look at violence against women as something beyond “family matters”.  I think the latter is something we can all work towards.

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