Fight to the finish for honour’s sake
Harbans Singh

Izzat Ke Naam
by Mukhtar Mai in collaboration with Marie-Therese Cuny; Pages 107. Rs 100. Arvind Kumar Publishers, Gurgaon.

Izzat Ke NaamIzzat Ke Naam chronicles the saga of a human spirit that refuses to yield to adversity. The woman fights back not only to reclaim her honour but also embark upon a mission that is the first step in empowering an individual. The story of Mukhtar Mai, her horrific rape in that part of Pakistan where tribal customs take precedence over civil laws, is now all too well known. What, however, is remarkable about the book in Hindi is that the idioms and the phrases used by the translator are familiar for the readers of the region. It is almost like Mukhtar Mai is in conversation with the reader and in doing so is making the reader privy to the most intimate thoughts. Her suffering, humiliation, pain, fear, hope and the gamut of emotions she goes through come alive.

At another level, Izzat ke Naam also deals with womanhood, her honour and that of the society she lives in. For many it was unbelievable that the devastating events that overtook the life of an illiterate poor rustic woman could shame a nation into submission to civilised law. The unfortunate episode has also brought out the best that is in the Pakistani media. But for it, the world might well have remained unaware of a heinous crime that invariably diminishes an individual and devalues a society.

Her narration has been not only honest but frank as well. Aware that without the support of the media she could not have achieved what she did yet, she does not hesitate in expressing her suspicion for all strangers, especially those who profess to be contributing to her cause. After all that she had gone through it does not surprise that she has to be miserly in trusting others. The book makes no attempt to gloss over this change in her otherwise simple character.

In the 33 odd years of her existence, Mukhtar Mai has achieved much more than many a blessed people who aspire to make a difference to the lives of other people. Today she has become a symbol of womanhood’s struggle against exploitation. An embodiment of moral courage, she has today made a difference to the lives of many girls all over the developing world. She has succeeded in doing so because she has demonstrated that the fight that she carried was not just for extracting justice for herself but for establishing a system where there is no repetition of such an incident. It is remarkable that an illiterate woman chose the tool of education to achieve her goal. Even more remarkable is the fact that even though burdened with the responsibility of continuing her fight and ensure that her school continues to build itself, she is as eager to educate herself and rise in her own self esteem.

The case of Mukhtar Mai also raises the question about the systems that refuse to come to the relief of the victim. We in India had our own Mukhtar Mai in Bhanwari Devi, the sathin of Jaipur. She too had to undergo similar experiences and had the additional humiliation of being handed with a judicial judgment that said no higher caste Hindu would defile his caste by sleeping with a Dalit. Yet, it is Mukhtar Mai’s case in Pakistan that has brought the whole world to rally round her. Is it that Mukhtar Mai fought a system that was recognised as evil and therefore was able to mobilise support from all over the world, whereas the Sathin had the challenge of fighting a system that was recognized to be fair?