Does it matter why they asked her to walk the catwalk?
The decision of our fashion icons Frieha Altaf and Rozina Munib to have Mukhtaran Mai walk the catwalk for Fashion Pakistan Week must definitely have caused numerous conflicting questions. To many it seems like the designers have done it for publicity and to further an image of their own benevolence. But then it is the end that has to be considered, rather than the means to the end.
Although the rape victim taking to the catwalk has created a lot of ripples in the fashion scene both domestically and internationally, at the end of the day, Mukhtaran’s debut as a model is nothing short of being a trailblazer for the victims of rape around the world.
It is commendable that Mukhtaran continues to take the world by its horns after all six of the perpetrators of the horrendous act in her case were acquitted by the court. Running her own shelter and the recipient of multiple awards and much recognition both within Pakistan and abroad, including best-selling author of her biography, Fatima Jinnah gold medal of bravery and an honorary doctorate, any new avenues of exposure, such as this one, only lends extra voice to a forgotten and destitute section of the population that is left no other choice but to end their lives in the wake of such tragedies.
Though it might seem heartless to refer to Mukhtaran continually as a rape victim, at the end of the day, it is indeed her identity now. On the face of it, it may seem as though she is being given a severely negative label, however it cannot be denied that it is this very label that lends power and credibility to her voice and strength to rape victims all over the world. In Pakistan alone there are thousands of unreported rape cases every year that either don’t come forward for the sake of the ‘respectability’ of the family or who silence their own voices through suicide due to hopelessness. Even those who do dare to come forward rarely get the justice they seek, just like Mukhtaran.
Except, Mukhtaran didn’t just stop herself from resorting to suicide; she went a step forward to continually struggle to turn her plight into a force for the good of rape victims globally.
Pakistan is among the top ten countries in terms of rape statistics.
Frieha Altaf and Rozina Munib have indeed set a new standard by including social activists such as Mukhtaran on their platform and this step needs to be lauded a precedent for organisers of similar other social platforms in the country; again, not for any other reason but to lend support to the victims of the act.
In her interview, Mukhtaran says to The Associated Press,
“If one step I take, if that helps even one woman, I would be very happy to do that. I want to be the voice of those women who face circumstances similar to what I did. My message for my sisters is that we aren’t weak. We have a heart and a brain, we also think. I ask my sisters to not lose hope in the face of injustice, as we will get justice one day for sure.”
It is unfortunate to admit that Mukhtaran would not have been given this opportunity, a no body from Multan, to showcase the designs of established designers, had she not suffered her fate as a victim. But again, it is this very fate that has been instrumental in landing her a spot on numerous high visibility and glamorous platforms such as this. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the designers, let’s just assume that their reasons for selecting Mukhtaran as their model were entirely honourable.
For Mukhtaran, her reasons for agreeing to participate can hardly be doubted; the woman is on a mission to lend support to thousands of others who have been through her experience and, therefore, her taking any opportunity to help this mission is both admirable and noteworthy. Despite education and the whiffs of western air into the Pakistani society, rape remains among the topmost taboos in the Pakistani society. Simply for the sake of honour, families refuse to understand that the victims are far worse broken on the emotional and psychological level than the physical.
When these psychological havocs are left unattended, it eventually leads to death. Then there are those who are abandoned by families, announced dead to the society and told to either die or find a shelter of their own. For them, after Allah on the skies, it is people like Mukhtaran or Edhi on earth who fight their wars for them. Pakistan has a long way to go before victims of rape are finally treated like victims – not law breaking transgressors.
Any platform that increases public awareness for the sad and desolate subject needs to be hailed; whether it is in the form of dramas like Udaari or Mukhtaran Mai taking to the catwalk. It was heartening to note that Mukhtaran’s presence during the event was treated with great respect as she mingled with the public and posed for selfies. At least in certain segments of the populace, her work and efforts are viewed as commendable and valorous and not shunned as the antics of a ‘behaya’ woman who refused to commit suicide after being raped.
On a personal note, all I can say is…
Go Mukhtaran Mai… Go!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.