• Saturday, April 19, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    PAKISTAN: A Marriage of Convenience?

    By Zofeen Ebrahim
    KARACHI, Apr 11 (IPS) Pakistan’s Mukhtaran Mai, who gained global
    acclaim for daring to take her rapists to court, announced her marriage
    last month to an already married police constable.

    Mai said she was left with no choice after Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, her
    former bodyguard, threatened to kill himself, and his parents and first
    wife, Shahla, begged her to agree to the marriage offer.

    The announcement sent shock waves through women’s and rights circles
    in the country. Mai, who has fought a valiant, 7-year-old battle against
    tradition and patriarchy, was suddenly no longer a role model and icon.

    &com;Mukhtaran Mai has fallen from being a national heroine to a
    disappointment, even for the media,&com; asserts Karachi-based Najma
    Sadeque, a founding member of Shirkat Gah, a non-governmental
    organisation.

    &com;One wishes she had not done it,&com; says Naeem Sadiq, a
    business consultant here who actively campaigns on pro-democracy issues.

    Sadiq who considers Mai an &com;exceptionally brave woman&com; is
    concerned that her marriage sends a message that &com;she is promoting
    polygamy&com;.

    From a village, Meerwala in Punjab province, Mai who belongs to the Gujjar
    tribe was raped in 2002 by men from the higher Mastoi tribe on the orders
    of the village council, as punishment for an alleged offence committed by
    her younger brother Shakoor.

    Instead of committing suicide as is the custom in these conservative
    villages, she took the rapists to court. Thirteen men are behind bars, and
    the case drags on.

    The news of her marriage to a man with four children on Mar. 15 is the
    only blot on a public person who has become a world-wide symbol of courage
    and fortitude.

    &com;Look, I’m not going to explain my act. I cannot keep
    everyone happy all the time. Only time will prove that what I did was done
    as a last resort,&com; Mai told IPS in a phone interview from
    Meerwala.

    What Mai did was exercise her right to marry a man of her choice, as
    enjoined in Islam and the Pakistan penal code.

    In Islam, men are allowed to practice polygny (have multiple wives). But
    men who can marry a maximum of four times, often flout the most stringent
    condition – of treating all their wives equally.

    &com;No matter what angle I look at it, and if this is a choice
    marriage and not of convenience, I think she shouldn't have done
    it since it immediately puts the first wife in a secondary, dispensable
    and vulnerable position,&com; says Sadeque, who is adamant that the
    precedent set is a bad one &com;sending the wrong message.&com;

    &com;I also think it is embarrassing for those who helped
    her,&com; she continues.

    Anis Haroon, chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Women
    (NCSW), has a different viewpoint. &com;Mai is a strong woman but not
    a feminist. She failed to understand that she was overstepping the rights
    of another woman. If she knew she would have resisted the pressure to
    marry a selfish man.&com;

    Mai defends her decision. By marrying Gabol she says, &com;I have
    saved three women and 11 children.&com;

    This is with reference to an abominable practice in rural Punjab –
    ‘watta satta’ or exchange marriages. Gabol’s two sisters
    are married into his first wife’s family. Had he divorced her, his
    sisters, who have three children each, would have been ignominiously
    thrown out of their marital homes.

    What is the guarantee that he will not marry a third or fourth time?
    &com;I will cross the bridge when I come to it,&com; is all that
    Mai says.

    She insists that she has secured Gabol’s first wife’s interest
    through a pre-nuptial agreement. He has agreed to spend five days in a
    week in his village, Alipur, 15 kms from Meerwala, with Shahla and their
    three children, she says.

    &com;The house he lives in with his first wife was transferred to her
    name as was a plot of land. All his income will go directly to her and
    their children; I don’t want any part of it,&com; she declares.

    How Mai will enforce the pre-nuptials in a country where women are
    considered the property of their husbands is questionable.

    Rashid Rehman, Mai’s counsel and a lawyer with the independent Human
    Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) spoke to IPS over the phone from
    Multan, in southern Punjab. He confirms the signing of the pre-nuptial,
    describing it as a memorandum of understanding (MoU).

    &com;It says he will not interfere in the working of the
    non-governmental organisation (Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare
    Organisation) run by Mai; will not spend more than five days in a month
    with her and will give the house (the first wife is living in), a plot of
    land and 10,000 rupees (roughly 120 dollars) or 80 percent of his monthly
    salary (160 dollars) to his first wife,&com; says Rehman.

    According to Professor Akaml Wasim, who is head of the legal faculty at
    Hamdard Univerity, Karachi, &com;a Muslim woman has the right in Islam
    to lay down certain condition to secure herself, and also her welfare
    during marriage, before the signing of the nikahnama (marriage contract).
    It’s called Taqliq.&com;

    &com;She also has the right to amend or lay down further conditions at
    a later stage,&com; he adds, citing examples from Jordanian, Syrian
    and Iraqi legislation.

    &com;If there is a breach in this contract, Mai has a right to file
    for a divorce,&com; he explains.

    Her legal counsel, Rehman, is of the opinion that the marriage may be a
    marriage of convenience.

    He reasons that &com;there was pressure on her from influential
    parliamentarians to drop her case or go for an out-of-court settlement,
    till a few months back&com;, a charge she disclosed at a press
    conference in Islamabad on Feb. 6 and later confirmed to IPS naming, in
    particular, the federal Defence Minister, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Jatoi.

    &com;The minister told my uncle, Ghulam Hussain, that I should drop
    the charges against the perpetrators of the Mastoi tribe, who were either
    involved in the verdict of the panchayat (village council) against me or
    gang raped me,&com; she is reported in the English-language Daily
    Times as having told the press.

    The minister has denied the charge.

    Mai may have been seeking to counter the pressure with a marriage alliance
    with the more powerful Gabol who are more influential than the Mastois,
    the lawyer suggests.

    Mai has been careful to ensure her husband has no claim on the donations
    to her charity from Pakistan and abroad. Her NGO runs Meerwala’s
    only three primary schools – two of them for girls – that provide
    schooling for 600 girls and 100 boys. For women, there’s a shelter,
    a resource centre with a lawyer that provides legal assistance, and a
    mobile health clinic that takes medical assistance to their doorstep.

    &com;There is nothing for me (in this marriage), just the right to
    divorce,&com; she says. But not everyone is convinced.

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