On Sunday, media outlets reported that Mukhtar Mai married Nasir Abbas Gabol in Muzaffargarh district in Punjab. Mai told the Associated Press, “When you get married, you have to have faith in your partner and his family. I will try to cooperate with them…You know, I never said that I would not marry, I said that these things – relationships – are in the hands of Allah. I said if I got a good man I would get married. Now, as I thought fit, and with the agreement of my parents and other people, I’ve got married.”
Mukhtar Mai gained international recognition and became a symbol for gender empowerment when she spoke out against her 2002 gang rape, an act ordered by her village council as a punishment for actions attributed to her younger brother. Not only has she written a best-selling autobiography since then, but she also opened a school and a chain of women’s crisis centers in Pakistan. She is a heroine for the numbers of women who are oppressed and abused, and in 2005, was officially honored as Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine in a ceremony in Washington. A film about Mukhtar Mai’s journey, slated to be produced by Jay Roach, is also reportedly in the works.
In a telephone interview with the NY Times today, Mukhtar, 37, said her new husband “is a police constable who was assigned to guard her in the wake of the attack and who has been asking for her hand for several years. She is his second wife.” She told BBC Urdu, “Eighteen months ago, he sent his parents to ask me if I would marry him. I declined because I knew he was already married and I didn’t want to ruin his first wife’s life.” Gabol reportedly did not take this rejection well and “threatened to divorce his first wife. He also tried to commit suicide,” Mukhtar added. According to the BBC, “His sisters are married into his first wife’s family – and in a tit-for-tat move they were threatened with divorce too if Nasir Abbas divorced his first wife. Nasir Abbas’s first wife and his two sisters approached Mukhtar Mai and pleaded with her to marry Nasir Abbas.” It was her concern for Gabol’s first wife that moved her to relent on her previous decision. She told the Times, “I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by another woman…She is a good woman.” In the end, reported the Times, “Ms. Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.”
What’s interesting about this story is how Mukhtar Mai managed to challenge taboos even in her decision to get married. Not only is it rare for victims of rape to marry in Pakistan, [in very traditional parts of the country, rape victims are encouraged to commit suicide] but Mukhtar Mai is seven years older than her new husband. Not only that, but based on her interviews with the BBC and the NY Times, it seems that Mukhtar was very much in control of her destiny – dictating terms of the marriage, and ultimately making the decision to wed the lovestruck police constable. So, a big congratulations to Mukhtar Bibi, we hope you continue to break stereotypes and speak out against female oppression in Pakistan.