One shudders to think what would happen if his or her daughter suffered the unspeakable crime of rape. For most parents, thoughts of bringing the perpetrator to justice, combined with determining how best to care for their wounded daughter and nurse her back to mental and physical health would top priorities. For rape victims in many Islamic countries, however, it is quite the opposite, with the female victim often becoming the pariah, and later, a potential target for an honor killing.
For 17-year-old Pakistani girl Kainat Soomro, who was allegedly gang raped four years ago, that fortunately was not the case. Her family resisted widespread pressure to kill their daughter for supposedly disgracing them by falling victim to the heinous crime.
Soomro has become a kind of local celebrity in her struggle for justice in the Pakistani courts while she and the entire family is allegedly under a near constant threat of death.
Her father sat next to her as she recounted the 2007 incident. Atlantic Wire reports:
“I was walking home from my school and I went to the store to buy a toy for my niece,” she said, staring at the floor of the office. “While I was looking at things a guy pressed a handkerchief on my nose. I fainted and was kidnapped. Then four men gang raped me.”
As she shared details of her days in captivity and multiple rapes, she kept repeating, “I want justice, I will not stop until I get justice.” After three days, she was finally able to escape she said. As she spoke, her father gently tapped her head. He said he tried to get Kainat’s alleged rapists arrested, but instead he was rebuffed by the police.
According to the Kainat family’s account, the tribal elders declared her kari, (which literally means black female), for losing her virginity outside marriage.
In Pakistan, as is the case in most Islamic countries, women who lose their virginity before marriage, or even those who are raped, are “shamed” and therefore run the risk of falling victim to an honor killing — often at the hands of their own family members.
“These are matters of honor and the leaders call a jirga and they declare that the woman or the couple should be killed,” said Abdul Hai, a veteran field officer for the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan. These acts of violence are most commonly labeled as “honor killings.”
According to AW, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a 2009 report revealing that roughly 46 percent of all female murders in Pakistan were committed in the name of “honor.” The actual incidences of “honor killings” in Pakistan are likely much higher, however, as many cases go unreported.
Fortunately, Kainat said that despite the pressures, her family refused to murder her:
“It is the tradition, but if the family doesn’t permit it, then it won’t happen. My father, my brother, my mom didn’t allow it,” she said.
And that defiance has left the family fearing for their lives. The family’s new home in Karachi has been attacked a number of times.
But, according to Abdul Hai, Kainat is lucky: “The woman or the girl usually gets killed and the man gets away,” he said. “Over 70 percent of the murdered victims are women and only 30 percent of victims of honor killings are male.”
Meanwhile, Kainat and her family now share one room in a dilapidated apartment building in Karachi, relying on charity for basic sustenance.
“We go hungry many nights,” Kainat’s older sister said.
According to AW the family’s fight may never yield fruit as a local judge has already ruled against Kainat.
“There is no corroborative evidence available on record. The sole testimony of the alleged rape survivor is not sufficient,” the judge said in a written document.
Without medical tests to corroborate her story, it remains Kainat’s word against the alleged rapists. But even having lost her case at the local court, Kainat insists, “I am not giving up, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
Sadly, while the struggle continues, perhaps there is some solace in the fact that they do so together, as a family — and are united in a common goal. Such is oftentimes, not the case in lands where “honor” reigns supreme.