In the last few days, I’ve learnt that life is about making choices. Recently, there have been a number of news stories displaying footage of me at a New York rally held on September 17, 2005. I was depicted as one protesting for women’s rights in Pakistan as well as being one that is anti Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Therefore, I would like to clarify a few things pertaining to my participation in the New York rally. I must begin by saying that I’m not anti-Musharraf. I’m anti-oppression of women, not specifically in Pakistan, but universally.
I have always been interested in women’s issues, whether in America, India, or Pakistan. However, being interested in women’s issues did not ever incline me to take an interest in politics. For me, those two are completely separate subjects, thus I must also clarify that I’m rather naïve when it comes to the political system in Pakistan. Politics has never been an interesting path for me, but standing for what is right has been.
I developed an interest in the Asian-American Against Abuse of Women (ANAA) organization after reading one of my favorite writers, Nicholas Kristoff’s article in The New York Times, about a Pakistani physician named Dr. Shazia Khalid. Shazia was raped and beaten repeatedly by a senior army official in Pakistan in January 2003. Shazia’s predicament, which got worst after the rape, had such a huge impact on me that I decided to contact Shazia and interview her myself. I wanted to write an article about her with the purpose of bringing more awareness and following Kristoff’s footsteps. It was during my quest for Shazia’s whereabouts that I came across ANAA. When I learned that ANAA was involved in helping the women of Pakistan and was also trying to have Shazia’s perpetrator arrested, I decided to be a volunteer for their organization and thus, attended the rally in New York.
While some have called me naive, I always believed and accepted what my family said about President Musharraf: That he was and still is the best hope for Pakistan. I continue to believe this or, as a few of my politically aware friends and family members have said, “It’s either the Mullahs, the corrupt parties or President Musharraf; we have no other choice.” I would nod my head and remained quite disinterested in the Pakistani political principles, knowing that President Musharraf was in a very difficult situation, given the past hostile governments, especially General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. But then I read about Dr. Shazia Khalid and some other victims of rape in Pakistan, and what officials in the government did to them when they tried to obtain justice, it appalled me.
Muskhtaran Mai was a victim of gang rape in a village called, Meerwala, in Pakistan. She was raped at the order of the village tribal council as a punishment for something her younger brother did and which did not suit the likings of the tribesmen.
Similarly, Sonia Naz, 23, was raped in Faisalabad, Pakistan by a police officer at the order of the police chief named, Khalid Abdullah. Sonia, ready to commit suicide, stopped herself from doing so only because she worried what would become of her two children after her death. And the police officer that repeatedly raped her and viciously beat her for 15 days is yet to be arrested. And Khalid Abdullah, the chief of police that urinated on Sonia’s face and ordered her rape also walks around freely. Sonia, like Mukhtaran Mai and Dr. Shazia Khalid, built up the courage to go public with the malevolent acts of her rapist.
What disturbed me the most about these rape incidents were the comments President Musharraf made related to these cases. He said the women of Pakistan intentionally get raped in order to obtain visas to foreign countries. I was shocked with his comments and developed utmost curiosity over why, “the best hope for Pakistan,” would make such bizarre remarks.
I still haven’t figured that out, but am working towards it. But I do know one thing for sure – Musharraf said that there are rapes all over the world. Yes, I agree, but in most parts of the world, women are able to obtain justice. Their perpetrators are arrested and punished for their crimes. Not in Pakistan! Dr. Shazia Khalid's rapist got away scot-free. And there are many more horror stories, be it Mukhtaran Mai or Sonia Naz.
While we have no idea how many rapes occur in Pakistan a year, since the victim often has reason to fear what her family would do to her if the rape became known, we know that the crime is as rampant as in almost every other country.
I was disturbed and appalled by another story I read recently about a rape victim in a village in Bihar, India. The victim was made to lick the spit of her husband when she confided in him that she had been raped by a man named Mohammad Ajaz on August 28, 2005. The victim’s husband, Mohammad Farooq, divorced her at the spot by saying, “Talaq, Talaq, Talaq.” The tribe council and her husband were not satiated simply by the divorce. They wanted to humiliate her even further, thus publicly made her lick her husband’s spit of off the ground. Her rapist, Mohammad Aijaz, was fined Rs, 15,000 and refused to marry the victim. Even after the victim filed a complaint, the police station refused to acknowledge any such report or incident.
These things will stop only when concerned people stand up and demand them to end. They will only stop when they are pulled out of the shadows and darkness and exposed to the light. To me, that’s a substantial start and hopefully through my shedding light on these cruel and sadistic acts, as well as other concerned individuals raising awareness, we can hope for a change.
I’m certain that the Mullahs won’t make any efforts related to women’s rights and the corrupt parties are absolutely apathetic when it comes to standing up for victims of rape or domestic violence. Rape is a universal offense and punishment for the sinners should be strong and severe. The issue is far greater than merely about certain individuals. And when you are taking it up as a cause, there need not necessarily be any political swing towards the decision. Just as I remain astounded by President Musharraf’s comments on rape, I also firmly believe that if pertinent change has to happen in Pakistan with regards to women’s issues, it cannot be successful without Musharraf’s personal attention and intervention.