Shaking off the Cross of Honour
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From the small village of meerwala in southern Punjab in Pakistan to international seminars on women and human rights, Mukhtar Mai has come a long way. She may have travelled far but she remains a peasant woman who loves her family and her village and is at pains to assure the country of her birth that she is not willfully sullying its name in international forums.
This "sullying the name" points to the crux of what the book is about, on what ails women in many parts of the world and the sustained struggle that alone can guarantee a release. In one word, it's about the misplaced sense of "honour". In many parts of the world, in societies characterised as "honour and shame" cultures, men's honour is defined through women. Women are made the symbols and bearers of a good that is possessed ultimately by males or by patriarchal societies or in the extreme, by the patriarchal nation.
Confronted by Musharraf's unsavoury remarks on her struggle for justice, Mukhtar was finally made to bear the cross of the honour of the nation. Wouldn't that honour be better served if the nation gave her justice? How did we arrive at the convoluted logic where punishment and defilement of women restores honour?
Her story is well known — the village council, the jirga, condemned her to be gangraped for a crime ostensibly committed by her twelve-year-old brother. As she says "women are the ones exchanged as merchandise to help resolve conflicts and exact punishment; the only solution to settle all scores is compulsory marriage or rape".
Unlike many other Pakistani women whose fate is described in the book and who now approach her for assistance, Mukhtar decided to fight for justice once she had overcome her wish to commit suicide after being raped (a step that society expects). It was sheer anger and desire for justice that made her go on, against a judgment so unjust and cruel that it can have no logic. How can honour be gained or retrieved by punishing women, by violating their bodies, by destroying their minds?