Warning: I usually try to keep my posts short, but I’m pissed off. Pissed off with the things that I read and see in the news. Therefore, who knows how long this rant will take.
The other day, I was sitting in the bank, waiting to retrieve some things from my safe. As I waited, I saw the national newspaper on the desk in front of me, so I picked it up to have a flick through. Politics, politics, politics… And then my eyes caught sight of a tiny box with the heading, ‘Brutally raped by mullah, 10-year-old Afghan girl faces murder by own family’.
First thing’s first – a little overview of the incident. Here’s the news article itself from The Indian Express:
It was bad enough that the alleged rape took place in the sanctity of a mosque, and that the accused man was a mullah who invoked the familiar defence that it had been consensual sex.
But the victim was only 10 years old. And there was more: The authorities said her family members openly planned to carry out an “honour killing” in the case — against the young girl. The mullah offered to marry his victim instead.
This past week, the awful matter became even worse.
On Tuesday, local policemen removed the girl from the shelter that had given her refuge and returned her to her family, despite complaints from women’s activists that she was likely to be killed.
The head of the Women for Afghan Women shelter here where the girl took refuge, Dr Hassina Sarwari, was at one point driven into hiding by death threats from the girl’s family and others.
The accused mullah, Mohammad Amin, was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Quran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.
The girl’s own testimony, and medical evidence, supported a rape so violent that it caused a fistula, or a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, according to the police and the official bill of indictment. She bled so profusely after the attack that she was at one point in danger of losing her life.
Photographs of the girl that Sarwari took in the hospital clearly show a pre-pubescent child, and the doctor said the girl weighed only 40 pounds. The girl’s mother said she was 10, and a forensic examination in the hospital agreed.
Such honour killings in rape cases are common in Afghanistan, and are often more important to the victim’s family than vengeance against the attacker. Human rights groups say about 150 honour killings a year come to light.
When Sarwari, who is a pediatrician, arrived to pick up the girl at the hospital, a crowd of village elders from the girl’s home village were gathered outside the hospital; the girl’s brothers, father and uncle were among them. Inside, Sarwari encountered the girl’s aunt, who told her she had been ordered by her husband to sneak the girl out of the hospital and deliver her to the male relatives outside. “She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river,” Sarwari said.
The first thought that ran through my head: typical how they reserve so many pages and large headlines for pointless, monotonous crap about corrupt politicians, and yet the paper decides to spare only a teeny, tiny box in the corner to announce this abysmal news.
The second thought that ran through my head: abysmal news indeed. How undue for an innocuous little ten-year-old to have to face an honour killing for something she had not wanted. NO ONE wants to be a victim of rape. It’s a repulsive act that deserves a much more ruthless punishment brought on to the perpetrator than the ones that, for example, already exist in India.
The question of morals is a problematic topic. No one really has the ability to correctly define what is right or wrong. It becomes a personal conundrum; what may be right for you, may be entirely wrong for someone else. And thus, challenges are brought about. Yet, I do believe there are some things shared among humans that we mutually believe is universally right and wrong.
It is also understood that multiple cultures exist within our common world. Honour killings have existed for a while, in which case a person is killed by their own family for having brought dishonour towards them in the form of being a victim of sexual assault or rape, seeking a divorce from an abusive marriage, refusing an arranged marriage… you get the idea. In some cultures around the world, honour killings are not deemed to be as serious as other forms of murder because they result from age-old traditions and cultures, which conduct as its justification.
Fair enough, I thought; you can’t really argue much with different cultures because as I said, we all differ between what we believe to be right and wrong.
But, I have to ask, where does the line cross from tradition to a violation of human rights? By no means have I done a lot of research on the matter – something which I hope to do once I’ve finished this post – but from various books and autobiographies that I’ve read, I just cannot seem to comprehend the logic of killing a family member solely through the reason that they have been a victim of rape, thus bringing ‘dishonour’ to the family.
How? How can one bring dishonour by being nothing but a fatality? Why? Why does the victim have to pay the price for something so uncalled for? In this case, a ten-year-old, who I can imagine is utterly in disarray by it all.
Rape is never, in any case acceptable. What’s even more appalling with regard to this particular case is that it had happened within a supposedly safe, consecrated environment – a Mosque. Similar incidents have also happened around the world within Churches and Temples. If nowadays we cannot even feel secure in a place of worship, I fear for our world and for humanity. What kind of sick, twisted reality do we live in where we now have to be cautious even when we enter Holy grounds.
I recently read snippets from a book that gives great insight into the matter of child sexual abuse in India, Bitter Chocolate, by Pinki Virani. In it, she notes of a case of rape reported by an infuriated father of a victimised nine-year-old to the police. The inspector on duty makes this claim in response, ‘what modesty such a small child could possibly have that it can be outraged’. The police thus recommended the father to not file a case.
It took me a while to swallow that down. Did he really just ask, ‘what modesty?’ Isn’t every human being born with the entitlement and rights to the decisions regarding their own body? If we cannot protect our modesty, what CAN we protect? A small child, regardless of its age, has every right to file a complaint. It’s this type of exploitation that leaves our society in a perilous rut. The exploitation of the young with the rationalisation that children do not know better; they are naïve.
Sex education, therefore, becomes so important. We have to make children aware so they can raise their voice instead of letting them be silenced into submission. It’s not okay to be a victim of any type of sexual assault, it’s not the ‘norm’ contrary to what the child thinks; it’s just not. It’s nauseating to know that there are people who are able and willing to take advantage of a young child’s innocence.
This brings me back to the notion of honour killings. What dishonour can a ten-year-old truly bring? This whole thing is only confounding to me. Killings of adults is bad enough, but a young child? A child that is likely to be living in complete terror and dread in the wait of her death. It doesn’t seem just to me; it doesn’t seem right. And it has got to stop.