Mukhtar Mai – The Movie

Posted on March 8, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, People, Society, TV, Movies & Theatre, Women
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Adil Najam

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. We have commemorated the occasion each year at ATP not simply as a reminder of the injustices against women all over the world, but as a celebration of the dignty and determination of all of the women around us – everywhere in the world and in Pakistan (here). As I wrote last year, “the daily struggles and achievements of Pakistan’s 70 million women that we need to celebrate. Today, and everyday.”

There is no one I can think of who represents this dignity and determination better than Mukhtan (Mukhtaraan) Mai (here and here; book link here). For the last month we have heard about the plans to make a Hollywood movie on the life, struggles, and determination of this amazing woman. Today is a fitting day to talk about it.

I have had the good fortune of having met a number of great and famous people; heads of states, poets, artists, performers, intellectuals, sports and movie stars, men and women. I can honestly say that there are few – very few – who impressed me with an inherent sense and aura of grace and dignity that Mukhtar Mai has.

I met her a few years ago at the 2006 Pak-Millennium Conference where the theme was “Celebrating Pakistani Women.” Apart from various panels, the conference featured a conversation with Mukhtar Mai. I was the moderator conducting the conversation. With an overflowing room of some 250+ people most of whom were English speakers and non-Pakistanis, I had to conduct the questions in a mix of Urdu and Punjabi, she responded in a mix of Saraiki and Urdu, and we then tried to simultaneously convey the sense in English so the audience could remain in the conversation. It was one an intense, intensely uplifting, and motivating conversation for all present. It was so entirely because of her quiet dignity and charismatic sense of purpose.

This happened at a time when the then President (Gen. Musharraf) had recently given some inappropriate remarks about her and there was also much talk about her in the US media. One had wondered how she would handle these delicate issues. She did so with remarkable skill – more, more importantly, with obvious honesty. I think I remarked at the time that I wished Pakistan’s official spokespeople had the same level of clarity and panache in how they presented their case. Despite at least a few questions from the audience that very much incited a heated response, she always kept above the fray. Her discourse was not about revenge, was not about victim-hood, was not even about incrimination. It was about determination, about the will not to give up, about our futures being better than our present, about the need for action by all, about an inherent belief that good must triumph over evil.

Two incidents from that afternoon are etched in my mind. One was her reaction to Senator Mohammedmian Soomro, Chairman Senate, who was also there and who had opened with some gracious remarks, including referring to her as “my sister.” Her references to Senator Soomro were equally gracious but also substantively targeted reminding him of what the politicians should be doing. She brought up the argument that luckily her story was not the story of every woman in Pakistan and that it should not be made into that, but also that it should not be the story of any woman, anywhere and that is why she was speaking out. Again, a balance of dignity and determination.

The second incident was about an American audience member’s question regarding “what Americans can do improving the conditions of Pakistani women.” Her response came with a huge smile and the observation that women everywhere in the world, including USA, needed society’s help in getting fairness and justice and that Americans should concentrate on being fair to American women and she expected her Pakistani brothers to do what was the right thing themselves because it was their national, religious and human duty to do so. Ultimately, she said, change has to come from within society and can never be imposed from teh outside. But what was most impressive was that she had a strategy for how change would come – through education. Which is why her work now is on education – and this from a woman who is illiterate herself. If only all our literate population was half as wise!

So, now one hears of the Hollywood movie planned about her. Here is the news item from Variety:

Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani rape victim who waged a legal battle against her attackers and the justice system that sanctioned the crime, will be the subject of a feature film to be produced by Jay Roach and Jennifer Perini. Pic will be written and helmed by “City of God” co-director Katia Lund. Roach and Perini will produce through his Everyman Pictures banner. Funding is in place through a partnership with ARY Digital and Passport Capital. ARY Digital is Pakistan’s first independent TV network.

When her young brother went before a council of tribal elders after he was accused of being seen with a girl from a rival tribe, Mai pleaded for his release. They spared him — but ordered that she be gang-raped in public to shame her family. While most victims of this authorized crime commit suicide rather than exist as a pariah, Mai fought back. She took her case to Pakistani authorities, and her ordeal drew international attention through press attention and particularly stories written by New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, who may become a character in the film.

The press attention shamed the government into prosecuting her attackers, and Mai emerged as a galvanizing figure in a crusade to reform women’s rights in a male-dominated culture. “She has become the leading representative of women’s rights there,” Roach told Daily Variety. “Katia wrote a treatment, we took it to every studio, and they all found it inspiring but couldn’t imagine financing it.” They did better with the hedge fund Passport and ARY. The latter will air the film in Pakistan, which promises to be a controversial event considering how volatile the subject matter is there.

I hope the movie is a good one. This is an amazing story of an amazing woman and it deserves to be told well. I do hope it will not just be a film about victim-hood, but about struggle and determination. I hope it will not just be a story about women’s subjugation but about women’s triumph. I hope it will be about the Mukhtar Mai I got to know a little – a person who rejects any attempt to merely “feel bad” for her’ a person who, instead, motivates you to feel good not just about how she has handled adversity, but about what you can also do to bring about change. That is the story that needs to be told.

47 responses to “Mukhtar Mai – The Movie”

  1. readinglord says:

    I would suggest to all those who worship Mai as ‘Kali Mai’ to read carefully (baghour) the detail judgment of the SC in her case.

    @Maqbool Ahmad

    “She is a living martyr (zinda shaheed)”

    The word ‘shaheed’ means ‘one who gives one’s life for some great objective’. As it is, the very term ‘zinda shaheed’ is absurd.
    In fact, the only fact which came out of the Mai scandal is that Mai had undergone sexual intercourse, which as she at the time claimed to be free of any wedlock, could be termed essentially as ‘zina’ (adultry, fornication), either consensual or non-consensual.

    Now, Abdul Khaliq, the only sentenced accused, claims that this was an honorable sex performed with Mai as his wife, but Mai denies having been married with him to make her sex with him as ‘non-consensual’ or rape, apparently to avenge the tribal vendetta and keep the windfall stream of dollars flowing.

    I wonder why Khaliq could not produce evidence of his marriage with Mai which would have ended the ‘Shahadat’ of poor Mai and made her an honorable bahu of Mastoies, putting an end to scandalous vendetta as well?

  2. Maqbool Ahmed says:

    She is a living martyr (zinda shaheed).

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