Until death do us apart…?

Posted on May 19, 2009.

Mukhtaran Mai, the brave woman who defied custom, religion and patriarchy in Pakistan in 2002 when she brought charges against her rapists, is in the news again. She has married her former bodyguard, a police constable who already has one wife and four children.
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Their pre-nuptial agreement stipulates that he will spend five days a month with her in her village and the rest with his first wife, who will get 80 per cent of his modest salary.

The newlyweds: a polemic union. Photo:Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organisation

The newly weds: a polemic union. Photo:Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organisation

Nice sisterhood touch – weird nonetheless. Mai says she married because he was threatening to commit suicide if she didn’t.  Her marrying a polygamist dismayed women activists in Pakistan. To me, the mind-boggling issue is the union to an obsessed man. In many countries, that threat would earn him a restraining order and psychotherapy. Here, it earns him a wife.

The heroine who refused to be a victim of her rapists submits to emotional blackmail. Her lawyer says Mai sought an alliance with a man of a powerful tribe, because the trial of her rapists is floundering. On the plus side, that a raped woman finds a husband who cherishes her is groundbreaking in Pakistan.

The truth will emerge sooner rather later, the reasons why this courageous activist, who runs her own NGO and had the support of the women’s movement in Pakistan, who starred in a documentary, wrote a memoir published in English and French, was Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year and spoke at the United Nations, chose this marriage.

He is clearly smitten with her. She does not mention loving him, only family (his and hers) pressure. I’d like to ask her: do you love him, or think you may grow to love him, or is love for your husband a consideration at all? Maybe not. Romantic love is a social and cultural construct. Arranged marriages can grow strong, respectful and loving bonds among spouses. We wish the newly weds well.

Time will tell if five days a month is enough, too little – or too much.

This curious episode highlights how, for many women across the world, marriage is the only way she can feel safe, respected, provided with a roof over her head. The ways of the heart are mysterious and manifold; so are gender relations.

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