“The feudal and rich people have always robbed ordinary people of their rights. They have grown richer by the day while we have gone poorer. Despite being from a poor family and illiterate, I have decided to contest and would raise voice in favour of the poor and oppressed.” Reads like a revolutionary, doesn’t it? But she is no revolutionary.
Meet Mai Jori from the Balochistan Provincial Assembly constituency PB-25, a stronghold of Jamali Sardars. Threatened, advised against running for office, pressured and finally joked at; she persevered and contested the elections. A mother of nine children with one physically- challenged daughter, she belonged to a family. She did not miss work for a single day, plied her donkey-cart both for work and political campaign, and organized the first ever 8-day long march with support of the poor of her area from March 1–8. During the march, she travelled from Gandakha to Osta Muhammad and spoke the abovementioned words. She contested election in a situation where a male contestant from her community could have been either killed or kidnapped. She did not flinch and carried on campaigning. She collected her election funds in her and accumulated nearly Rs30,000. She starved and worked with her people for her election.
She lost; she had to, because there was no way she could beat Mir Nasir Khan Jamali or Mir Ataullah Buledi, two stalwarts of the area. And especially when political parties had granted tickets to influentials considering them “more equal” and who won by getting 27,316 votes and Mai Jori, only 491. But she won from her village, Goth Ghulam Muhammad Jamali.
Her defeat is less important than the fact that she became the first ever woman from her community to face the mighty Sardars and refused to budge. She became a symbol of nonviolent political resistance and her name would live on. On the other hand, the schematics of her opponent were interesting. His men threatened her, intimated her husband with false court cases, offered him job and even “produced” Mai’s look-alike who announced to withdraw from the election race but she did not give in.
And let’s not forget that she did that in an area where in 2008, three girls were buried alive under a tribal code that a Sardar had defended openly.
Women like her truly represent the grit of Pakistani society and are aplenty; doing their little things for their and the rights of their communities they live in. They are our silent “heroes” and serving their cause dedicatedly. One hardly sees the civil society representatives supporting such women publicly while on every other issue, these so-called liberals, specializing in holding placards, highlight issues that could keep them “in the market.” These are our five-star liberals and beat their drum in and out of Pakistan to attract attention of the rich philanthropic audience, mainly in the West to grow their businesses of selling their pseudo liberalism that they themselves define.
These armchair liberals have hijacked the liberal discourse in Pakistan and their own stances are hardly liberal. Most of them define liberalism in terms of following the cosmetics of common Western culture instead of following its true values. Mai Jori alone dwarfs them all. She indeed made her people and Pakistan proud by becoming a representative of the poorest of poor and the most oppressed but there is hardly any talk about her among liberal circles in Pakistan. They do not discuss her because she exudes hope in an otherwise gloomy society. Glamorize the misery; ignore the hope and this is how you sell and are seen as the saviour of Pakistani society. Mai Jori’s struggle is epic but she is conveniently forgotten precisely for this reason that she gave hope, and not despair. Hence, negligible, or no sales value!
Pakistanis find themselves tangled between the extremists on the right and pseudo liberals on the left. Neither of these represents the Pakistani people who have never voted for ultra liberals as well as the right wing extremists. The present social turmoil has its reasons and people are inundated with confusing arguments from the right and left. In reality, both these classes are selling their products and this selling ironically unites them in a common vested interest to keep Pakistanis confused. Just like other silent Pakistani heroes, Mai Jori is hope and hope does not confuse. It rather challenges the confusion and you would not find her in the discourse of both right wing extremists, and the liberals in Pakistan.