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You Don’t Shock Me No More!

April 5, 2013

To be Brave is to be Honest

The events from the last few weeks in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan serve as a sad reminder of how customary girl and woman abuse has become in South Asia.

On April 3, a college student, Isha Jahan, and her three sisters were walking home in the village of Shamli after taking their final exams when their faces were squirted with acid by three male youths on a motorcycle. I bet the spray-gun these criminals deployed on their victims had been used to celebrate Holi by spraying festive colors on their loved ones only a couple of weeks ago! While all four sisters received acid burns, Isha’s condition is more serious since she has suffered a permanent damage to her cornea.

The girls’ crime: they tried to prevent their perpetrators from cheating during final exams. By the way, Shamli is not a remote village in India … it is less than 90 miles to the east of India’s capital, New Delhi.

On March 26, in Pakistan’s volatile tribal belt on the Afghan border, a girls’ primary school principal, Shahnaz Nazli, was shot dead while her 14-year-old son looked on in horror as his mother’s blood spattered on his face. The shooting was a rude reminder of the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai barely six months ago.

Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who was named United Nations’ special envoy for Global Education, called on the Pakistani government to provide protections to school girls and their educators. Mr. Brown told the BBC that not having an education was a “silent emergency” because the damage it did to children was not immediately visible. I would be less muted. Denying education to girls is an “overt emergency.” The rot in society is for everyone to see.

Then there was this heartbreaking story in The New York Times last Monday. It was about an Afghan man who had agreed to give his 6-year-old daughter in marriage to pay off his debt to another man. The father, Taj Mohammad, who had been living in a refugee camp in Kabul, had borrowed $2,500 to pay for medical care for his wife and children. He had agreed that if he could not pay the money back in a year, he would give his daughter in marriage to the lender’s son. After hearing about the daughter’s case through earlier news reports, a donor offered to pay the debt but insisted that the donation’s origin remain private. The donor worked through Kimberley Motley, an American lawyer, who in an unusual move, chose to organize a jirga to undo the marriage commitment. For the residents in the camps, the jirga system is more expeditious and less intimidating than the courts. Kimberly acted as the jirga’s chairwoman, even though these councils are almost always convened and presided over by local elders. She made sure that each side signed the document. Those who could not read or write, like the girl’s father, signed with thumbprints. “This is as good as it gets,” she said.

As The New York Times notes, this jirga agreement may not be sustainable. The newspaper quotes Ahmad Gul Wasiq, a law professor at Nangarhar University, who specializes in family disputes in Afghanistan. “There’s no guarantee that two years from now the lender won’t show up with a bunch of armed men and take away the girl. Since the foundation of the agreement is unofficial, then everything is unofficial.” My heart cries out for this innocent six-year-old who faces such brutal uncertainty as she grows up.

What is numbing to me is how little public outcry these three separate incidents have garnered locally. The Pakistanis are busy organizing “free and fair elections” next month. The Afghans are worried about “power dispensation” post withdrawal of US troops same time next year. The six-year-old girl-commodities, the Malalas and the Nazlis are not shocking enough to merit attention anymore!

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