Because her brother was accused of having an affair, Mukhtar Mai was gang raped on the streets of her Pakistani village in 2002 as tribally sanctioned punishment. Instead of killing herself in shame, as is often done, Munkhtar, who also goes as Mukhtaran Bibi, took her attackers to court. She used the money she received from damages to open schools in order to educate women—and let other victims of rape find safety and sanctuary inside its walls. She wrote an autobiography that became an international bestseller. And last week, she got married—just another blow she has dealt to the social stigma surrounding rape victims in conservative Muslim countries.
What’s particularly interesting about the story isn’t necessarily the exhaustive list of humanitarian deeds that prompted Nicholas Kristof to compare her to a young Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but the way in which she’s incorporating seemingly liberated ideals into traditional Pakistani life.
Mukhtar, 37, married Nasir Abbas Gabol, a 30-year-old constable who was assigned to protect her from her attacker’s family during the rape trial, becoming his second wife. According to the New York Times, Gabol was quite persistant—and with the help of his wife and family, quite persuasive.
“Four months ago, [Mr. Gabol] tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills. ‘The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents met my parents but I still refused,’ Ms. Mukhtar said. Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila. Ms. Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, tried to talk Ms. Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the status of second wife. In Pakistan, a man can legally have up to four wives.”
Though multiple wives are customary in the culture, Mukhtar was apprehensive during the six-year courtship about the effect it would have on Shumalia.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by another woman,” she told the Times. “She is a good woman.”
However Mukhtar relented, and the two were finally married—with a couple of conditions. “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.” So Mukhtar will continue to live in her village of Meerwala, and her new husband can visit from his village whenever he “finds it convenient.”