CULTURE-PAKISTAN: Mai Tells Her Tale in ‘Shame’

Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Oct 5 2006 (IPS) - She is in the news again. This time appearing in a documentary film ‘Shame’, that tells her tale of being ordered gang-raped as retributive punishment by a village council.

She is in the news again. This time appearing in a documentary film ‘Shame’, that tells her tale of being ordered gang-raped as retributive punishment by a village council.

Far from shrouding herself in a cloak of victimhood, taking a vow of silence or committing suicide – which would have been in keeping with the fate of other victims of this bizarre punishment before her – Mukhtaran Mai fought back. She told her story to the whole world.

Since ‘Shame’ premiered at the 31st annual Toronto International Film Festival, last month, it has been making waves through its combination of interviews interspersed with TV footage, explaining Mai’s ordeal. Gang-raped in June 2002, in Meerwala, a farming village in southern Punjab on the orders of the panchayat (village council) as retribution for her younger brother’s alleged sexual molestation of a girl from the socially high Mastoi clan, justice still remains a distant dream for Mai.

But she is determined that the courts prosecute the men who raped her. She has the advantage that the brutality of the incident caused a public outcry that refused to be snuffed out till the Supreme Court intervened suo moto.

Of the fourteen men accused in an anti-terrorism court, six were found guilty and awarded the death penalty in August 2002. The court’s ruling was widely hailed by civil society. However, the convicts went in for an appeal and five of the six condemned were acquitted. The sixth accused had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The court ruled that the evidence produced before the trial court was insufficient and police investigations faulty.

Mai’s appeal was heard by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the perpetrators were re-arrested on Jun. 28. The final verdict is yet to be declared.

For the Musharraf government, Mai’s saga has nuisance value as it refuses to die down. Like a stubborn stain it becomes noticeable every time she goes abroad to receive an award or honour.

Last year, she was among the 12 recipients of the United States ‘Glamour’ magazine’s Women of the Year award when she was hailed the ‘Rosa Parks of Pakistan’. Earlier this year, Mai published her memoir in collaboration with Marie-Thérèse Cuny under the title ‘Deshonoree’ in France. She has spoken at the United Nations. Next month her memoir will be released in the U.S. under the title ‘In the Name of Honour’.

She uses the attention and money that go with the awards to building health and security for women in her area. She has opened two schools – one for boys and another for girls – in her village. She has been writing a blog for the BBC’s Urdu website with the assistance of BBC’s Nadeem Saeed.

For Mohammad Naqvi, the documentary producer, working with Mai, 34, was a “life-changing” experience. “I think I am a better man after working with her and spending time with her,” he says in an e-interview with IPS.

Born in Montreal, Naqvi grew up in Canada and the U.S. but remains sensitive to the cultural complexities of the country of his origin.

Naqvi’s earlier works include three short films û‘Time’, ‘Night’ and ‘Hide’. He also directed the documentary ‘Terror’s Children’ in 2003, commissioned by ‘The New York Times’, in which he conducted extensive research on refugee camps. ‘Bus’ was a short digital film on the India-Pakistan conflict. The latest is ‘American Jihad’, a profile of madrassas (Islamic religious schools) in the U.S. done jointly with the Emmy-nominated Ken Shiffman.

Screened as a work-in-progress, Shame received much applause and the two public screenings were a complete sell out. “Not one person left once the film was over. We received standing ovations at every screening when Mai came to the stage. People were not ready to even let her leave- they wanted to ask her so many questions. Even after we left the cinema hall, people came up to us and took pictures with Muktharan and hugged her. In fact, we also got a letter the next day from a rape survivor who was in the audience who was compelled to write to Mukhtaran and tell us how inspired she was by Mukhtaran’s story,” says the producer.

Justifying the making of Shame, Naqvi acknowledges that while there have been several cases like Mai’s, “she is one of the few rare leaders in the world who can be subjected to the worst and turn it into the very best”. He adds: ‘’She is the strongest protagonist of any of my films, past present, or future. She is also the one I care the most about and personally relate to the most.”

Somy Ali, a model and actress turned filmmaker, who has just finished a documentary on Mai called ‘I Can Survive’ and which was aired at a Hilary Clinton benefit recently, terms it a “necessary film” that gives hope to victims of ‘ignorant traditions’ as it exposes crimes that are “committed on a daily basis to which a majority remains oblivious and to a large extent even apathetic.”

“Raising their voices is their only weapon against this war of unjust laws,” said Ali.

Naqvi says Mai is one of the few people who is not “just fighting for herself, but for all men and women all over the world who have suffered oppression.”

It took him over three years to make the film and during that time he had a chance to observe Mai closely. The more he knows her, the more he remains in awe. “She possesses an astonishing resilience and undaunting drive.”

And yet, he sees that the wounds remain raw and unhealed. “She is not completely at peace, after all she is human and this tragedy may stay with her for the rest of her life.”

Mai’s hopes are pinned on the boys and girls that attend her schools. She told Naqvi that she believes that it is this next generation that can grow up to love and respect one another and not have to endure the kind of tragedy that befell her.

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CULTURE-PAKISTAN: Mai Tells Her Tale in ‘Shame’

Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Oct 5 2006 (IPS) - She is in the news again. This time appearing in a documentary film ‘Shame’, that tells the tale of a village council ordering her to be gang-raped as retributive punishment.

Republish | | Print |