Forgotten Victims

It’s a story that shocked sensibilities throughout the globe when it first made headlines. Sadly, once the brouhaha settled down, so did the curiosity. After the voyeuristic world had feasted over her unsettling pain, the woman was left alone to fend for herself.

In June 2005, newspapers in South Asia published innumerable articles about Dr. Shazia Khalid’s tribulation and the injustices she faced in her own country. Shazia, a young woman physician was repeatedly raped and beaten viciously in January 2005, by a senior army officer. The following morning, when she tried to report the heinous crime committed against her, she was deemed mentally ill and admitted into a psychiatric ward and threatened by the police to keep quiet.

As is far too common, the victim was blamed for the crime and her husband’s father even demanded her death. But Shazia’s husband and her adopted son, Adnan, 18, stood by her.

Shazia’s only crime was that she reported her brutal rape to the local authorities and sought justice. Once the news caught sight of Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, he decided that too much press coverage of this issue was bad for the country’s image. Musharraf immediately ordered Shazia and Khalid’s arrest and had them flown to London on a chartered plane. No action was taken against the rapist.

Shazia’s incident received a great deal of attention five months ago from media worldwide. However, with time, Shazia’s recognition was fading along with her media coverage. For the past eight months, Shazia, 32, has been living life in a box-size room in London as a political asylum seeker. The physical outrage has now given way to mental agony.

Shazia never wanted to go to London. She knew no one in London; she had never been out of Pakistan before. Almost all of her family lives in Karachi. At one time, she thought she was going to be able to help Pakistani women as a doctor, but instead she found herself in this alien, foreign city with only her husband by her side; son Adnan being forced to stay in Karachi. All she and her husband have been doing is sitting in that small room, praying and waiting for help. Since she was told that she could not return to Pakistan, she had hoped to go to Canada where she does have a few relatives and return to her profession. But the Canadian immigration authorities have said that since she is safe in England, she should stay there.

Shazia believes her stay in London as an asylum seeker is equivalent to a prison sentence. “I used to work as a doctor in Pakistan; I had a family, a career, a normal life, and now all I do is sit around,” she says, her helplessness quite evident. “My husband, who is an engineer and had an excellent job in Libya before we were arrested and thrown out of Pakistan, is terrified for our future. We can’t work because we are seeking asylum and I feel like this is as bad as being in jail. I miss my son so much and don’t know if I will ever be able to see him again.”

Initially Shazia had the support of a few human rights organizations, but she now sounds disillusioned about a positive outcome. “I want to be like Mukhtaran Mai and be a voice for all my Pakistani sisters. Because of my incident, a large number of people lost their lives in Baluchistan when riots broke out. I will not give up this fight and want to see my rapist behind bars.” Shazia speaks with awe and admiration of Mukhtaran Mai who was gang-raped in Pakistan. Mai fought for her rights and once successful, she opened up a school for girls in a village in Pakistan.

Should asylum seekers be stuck in the country they first wind up in? These are people who have been hurt and abused; must they be made victims again? Shazia and her husband, Khalid, are waiting for justice to come knocking at their door. “My country has abandoned me; my own president threw me out when all I wanted was justice. People may have forgotten me, but I still ask my president to help me and arrest my wrongdoer.”

Shazia’s fate remains unknown and she is going through a rollercoaster of emotions at present. She’s terrified that she may have been deserted, by the media and her country. Nevertheless, Shazia says she won’t back down, “If I give up now then what will become of all the women in Pakistan that like myself, do stand up for their rights? For them I should keep fighting and waiting for justice.”