The story of one courageous victim whose family, rather than killing her for defiling “family honor”, supported her fight for justice.
The American government has just gone into the anti-honor-killing “business.” Given my extensive academic and legal work documenting and opposing honor killing, I support this venture. I do find it a bit odd that the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem has just launched such a campaign–but for Palestinian Arab women only.
I have written about honor killing among Palestinian Arabs and among Israeli Arabs; I also interviewed Palestinian Arab feminist Asma Al-Ghoul about how she was fired and then arrested for her anti-honor-killing advocacy both in Gaza and in the Palestinian Authority. Thus, I favor some U.S. intervention in the matter.
However, I wonder: Why not branch out to Pakistan or Afghanistan where honor killing and honor-based violence is, possibly, even more epidemic?
Last night, I watched an excellent and heartbreaking Frontline documentary by Habiba Nosheen about honor-based violence in Pakistan: “Outlawed in Pakistan.” Thirteen-year-old Kainat Soomro was chloroformed, drugged, kidnapped, and then gang-raped for three or four days by four men who threatened to kill or sell her.
Amazingly Kainat escaped, in her bare feet and without her headscarf.
I am very partial to a story about a girl or woman who escapes a life-threatening captivity in the “Wild East,” as I once did, in Kabul, long ago. I write about this in my forthcoming book, An American Bride in Kabul.
But, I was a foreigner, an American, and once I got out I had a second chance. Kainat is now and forevermore a ruined child, an “outlaw,” whose family was meant to kill her for having “dishonored” them.
Amazingly, her loving family refused to do so. Unlike so many honor-killing families in which parents and siblings are either hands-on perpetrators or collaborators in the murder of their daughters and sisters, Kainat’s mother weeps and kisses her. Her father and older brother proudly supported Kainat’s search for justice.
This family deserves a major prize for having the courage and the sanity to stand up to tribal misogyny.
The Soomros turned to the police who refused to act. Instead, they said to kill her according to tribal custom. “She has shamed you.” The police do no sperm or DNA testing, and do not secure the crime scene. They ensure that charges of rape are almost impossible to prove.
Perhaps the U.S. Consulates in Peshawar and Karachi can donate rape kits to the Pakistani police.
Instead of becoming a bandit queen, as the gang-raped Phoolan Devi did in Uttar Pradesh, India; instead of killing herself — Kainat wanted justice. She wanted these men “sentenced to death” because they ruined her life. And they have. Probably, no one will marry her, and Kainat’s plans to become a physician may be permanently on hold.
The death threats against this honorable family became so serious, that Kainat’s 18-person family was forced to flee their home for two rooms in Karachi.
Men who rape girls in tribal areas feel no guilt. Kainat’s accused rapists were enraged when their victim dared speak out. They hotly denied Kainat’s charges.
In Karachi, Sarah Zaman, of War Against Rape, a grassroots feminist group, decided to help Kainat and found her a dedicated pro bono lawyer. Zaman knew that powerful village men routinely rape girls and then have them killed for having shamed their families.
In Afghanistan, raped women are either honor-killed or jailed as criminals. Kainat bravely agreed to endure a 5- to 10-year legal process, one in which she will be grilled in humiliating ways. The pro bono lawyer who represented the accused men, is also representing the President of Pakistan.
Nevertheless, Kainat’s lawyer managed to have the four men jailed and held in jail without bail for three years. This, too, is amazing.
Nevertheless, the accused rapists prevail. We see dozens of their village supporters descend on the courthouse yelling that “Kainat is a whore.” Their winning defense is ingenious: They claim that Kainat married one of them and he produces her thumbprint on a marriage document and a photo of the two of them, smiling. Kainat repeats that she was drugged and does not remember this. Her presumed bridegroom demands that she return to him.
Kainat was only 13 and did not have the right to consent to a marriage under secular law. However, under Sharia law, if she has reached puberty, she can do so. Sharia law prevails in the matter and the accused are all freed.
Despite claims to the contrary, Sharia law and Sharia courts are dangerous for women.
Kainat’s story is a victory and like all such victories, the price is high and the risk is even higher.
For a poor girl and her family to have four powerful men jailed for three years is extraordinary. The price: They allegedly killed her supportive brother, Sabir. And despite national headlines, the police closed the murder investigation. Kainat quietly says that her “life is a living hell.”
Kainat and her family live under police protection. Again, this is extraordinary.
I suggest that the U.S. Consulates also consider funding Kainat’s education as a physician. Perhaps the entire family should be air-lifted out of the Pakistani Badlands and into America for their safety.
Prof. Phyllis Chesler
The writer is the author of fourteen books, including Women and Madness, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, and The New Anti-Semitism. She has published three studies about honor killing and is work on a fourth. Her new book, An American Bride in Kabul, (Palgrave Macmillan) will be out in the fall. Professor Chesler may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com