â€œI can never forget; it still haunts me,â€ Mukhtaran said quietly, as we met at a lunch organized in her honour a day after her fashion week appearance. I wouldnâ€™t call it a â€˜runway debutâ€™ as various stories have been terming it; she was hardly there to draw attention to herself or the clothes she wore. Fourteen years after being raped and publically humiliated in some perverse sense of justice her villageâ€™s tribal elders had handed out to her, Mukhtaran had traveled from her home in Miranwala to Karachi, to draw attention to the cause she has taken up for life.
It was a cause that Rozina Munib, designer and fashion week debutant, wanted to bring attention to via her showcase. And while initial reactions to â€œMukhtaran Mai at Fashion Weekâ€ incited shock amongst feminists and social activists, the sensitivity with which her appearance was handled brought the designer nothing but awe and admiration. Mukhtaran got a standing ovation at fashion week and was meeting potential donors a day later, encouraging them to donate to the Shelter she was maintaining for the protection of women and School for underprivileged children in Miranwala.
Miranwala is a three-hour drive from Multan, and one of the worst areas in the country when it comes to human rights violations against women. â€œWe often bring in women with broken legs and severe wounds,â€ she shared. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of domestic violence, incest and child rape â€“ especially between fathers abusing their own young daughters â€“ karo kari and more.â€ Does the Punjab Government do anything, I asked her? â€œNothing. There are laws but absolutely no implementation.â€
Mukhtaran has been trying to rehabilitate these women and provide shelter to the children. She is currently operating a Shelter for women, a school for children, a mobile unit and a resource centre. But running this costs around 6.5 million rupees a year and funds have dried up. Mukhtaran has not received any aid for the past seven years; NGOs involved â€“ initially hyped up and helping because of the high profile nature of the case â€“ have turned their backs to her now. This fashion week opportunity, while accused of trivializing her cause, actually thrust her back into much needed limelight.
â€œI donâ€™t think it (fashion week) trivializes Mukhtaranâ€™s struggle; it actually amplifies her voice,â€ Sherry Rehman spoke to me at the lunch that was organized by Frieha Altaf, who is trying to raise funds for Mukhtaran. Several generous donors including Sherry Rehman, Ronak Lakhani, Amin Hashwani and Monty Mashooqullah were there, as was Rozina Munib, the designer. â€œ We need to stop isolating womenâ€™s rights issues. Why must Mukhtaran be restricted to a niche? These issues exist across the board.â€
Sherry Rehman speaks to Something Haute about the relevance of bringing someone like Mukhtaran Mai to a fashion week platform.
â€œIt was innovative to bring two disparate worlds together,â€ said Bina Shah, who was dining at Cotie Rotie at the same time we were there and came up to pay her respects to Mukhtaran Mai. â€œIt was great to try and get it (her cause) recognized.â€
Frieha Altaf can be credited for bringing this together. She and her team worked with ace film director Asad ul Haq and they traveled to Miranwala to film Mukhtaran in her hometown. â€œFashion must be relevant,â€ Frieha was adamant to bring a real issue to a stage that is often accused of being displaced from the reality we exist in. â€œRozina was very brave to dedicate her debut show to Mukhtaran,â€ Frieha added and Rozina, also present at the lunch, said she had absolutely no problem with the fact that Mukhtaran Maiâ€™s presence overshadowed her collection showcase.
While several photographers were approached to film Mukhtaran, most didnâ€™t show interest. Asad ul Haq, however, traveled the dusty road to Miranwala to bring her story to a wide audience.
Talking to Mukhtaran, one was held in awe of how brave this gentle woman was. I asked her whether she feared for herself, as she continually went up against tribal men in her hometown. She said it was her children she feared for; her three children â€“ ages 10,6 and 4 â€“ had to be sent away because they were in constant danger. She missed them and often thought about a life in which she could be with them.
While the government does nothing, it would be heartening for the people who care to come together and help her pursue this cause while keeping her family safely together at the same time. We can hopeâ€¦
– Feel free to contact us if youâ€™re willing to help and weâ€™ll put you through to the right people.