Mukhtar Mai – The Movie

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

    @Gorki

    Please read this article also appearing in ‘The News” today:

    ” The curious case of Mukhtar Mai

    Monday, March 30, 2009
    Salman K Chima

    12 Angry Men is a movie worth seeing. It is about a murder trial. Eleven out of twelve jurors are convinced that the accused is guilty of murder

  2. readinglord says:

    @Gorki

    Thank you dear for your objective appraisal of my stand in Mai’s case. My point was that the world at large, especially the West and the urban media cannot understand the rural tribal culture under feudal set-up in Punjab. Just see Mai’s recent marriage. She has, as they say in Punjabi, ‘bhari manji te dhathi ey’ (She has fallen on already a full bed) as she has married a man who is already married having a full family, a wife and a number of children. And what an excuse she gives for it for marrying a man who threatens to divorce his first wife and to commit suicide (As he is actually stated to have attempted) if Mai does not marry him. Since she has been made an icon by the media what moral and cultural signal she is conveying to the society at large.

    “Sab maaya he” as Attaullah Niazi sings and “Wa mal hayatuddunia illa mattaul-gharoor” (Aur dunevi zindgi kia he bas dhoke ki tatti he) as the Quran says.

  3. Fatima Zaheer says:

    CONGRATULATIONS to Mukhtar Mai on her wedding.

    Glad that there is some happiness in her life and wish her a great married life.

  4. Gorki says:

    @ Reading Lord
    Thank you for your post. Bronwyn Curran has written extensively about the Mukhtaran Mai case and there are many other sources of information about her rape and subsequent trial, on the internet. (This case even has a rather lengthy entry under wikepedia). After reading your post and some of the above sources I do not feel I am in a position to ascertainand argue about the specific facts of this case.

    Your (and Bronwyn Curran

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