Woman who blew whistle on rapists marries guard

By Andrew Buncombe,Omar Waraich
Wednesday 18 March 2009 18:43

She was gang-raped on the orders of a Pakistani tribal council, but became a celebrated figure when she broke with tradition and spoke out against those responsible. Now Mukhtar Mai has married the police officer assigned by the government to protect her.

After months of wooing and concerted pressure, the 37-year-old from southern Punjab consented to become the second wife of Nasir Abbas Gabol. Speaking from her home village, Meerali, she confirmed she was wed at the weekend. Her husband said: "I will do whatever possible to help my wife in her efforts for the rights of women."

Ms Mai came to international attention in 2002 when a tribal council in Pakistan's eastern province decided to punish her family for her brother's alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste. In fact, a subsequent inquiry discovered, the brother had been molested by some of the woman's family and the accusations against him were a cover-up. But at the time, the council decreed that as punishment for the alleged affair, his sister was to be gang-raped. "I [was] dragged away like a goat to the slaughter," Ms Mai later wrote in a autobiography, In The Name Of Honour.

Although rape victims in Pakistan suffer huge social stigma, Ms Mai spoke out about the rape and identified her attackers. Despite pressure from the highest levels not to press the case, her attackers were brought to trial and convicted before being freed on appeal.

She has since become a women's rights activist and opened a school in her village, where the attack took place. She has also started several centres for women. After her attackers were released, Ms Mai has fought for a retrial.

By marrying, she has defeated another stigma for rape victims in Pakistani society. Ms Mai, named Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year in 2005, met Mr Gabol in 2002 when he was posted to the police station in her village after the rape. His parents approached her 18 months ago with the offer of marriage but she declined. Having threatened to kill himself, the officer said he'd divorce his first wife if she did not agree. Eventually, his first wife's family met Ms Mai and persuaded her to accede to his request.

"I married him on humanitarian grounds. I didn't want three families breaking up because of me," she said. "You know, I never said that I would not marry. These things are in the hands of Allah. I said if I got a good man I would get married. Now, with the agreement of my parents and other people, I've got married."

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