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My Aunt Said I 'Was Wicked'

spnadmin

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This story is about a Muslim family. But never mind. I have posted in Interfaith Dialogs, because it is a story for every religion, every country, everywhere.

Asma Khan grew up in Britain in a traditional Muslim family. She was excited about visiting Pakistan for the first time, aged 11, for a cousin's wedding. But her experience was horrific, and made her wary of family and faith


If you ask any Pakistani what holds us together, they will say family and faith, but what they won't tell you is that family and faith can also tear you apart. That's what crossed my mind as I sat, holding a photo of a dark-skinned, dark-eyed little girl. I have the photo turned over; I cannot bear to look in her eyes, even though she's done nothing wrong. It's because if I do, I will see the eyes of her father, my Uncle. The last time I saw Uncle, I was 11 and it was my first visit to Pakistan.

I was small and skinny and had yet to show any signs of turning into a woman, either physically or emotionally. I had little knowledge or interest in adult relationships, and things like that are rarely discussed in Asian families.

Although we knew nothing about sex, we all knew about shame, purity and family honour. We have just one word for it in our language, izzat. While there are dozens of words in English to describe its different facets, there isn't an equivalent. Ultimately, it means the worst sin is for a girl not to be pure – in other words, a virgin – before marriage.

Like most of my friends in the UK, our parents were, ironically, much stricter than those of our cousins in Pakistan. They were paranoid about us becoming too westernised, so they kept us cocooned at home. Culture became our religion, and most of our parents were fundamentalists.

Some days I'd be watching TV, and a romantic scene would come, and it would trigger a lecture from my mum. "It's OK for English people, but in our culture we don't have boyfriends, and you are having an arranged marriage, OK?" Sometimes I felt guilty of something before I had done anything.

One day I came home from school and my mum was talking excitedly on the phone in Punjabi. Her youngest sister's marriage had been arranged, and we would be going.

My parents hadn't been able to afford to return home for years, so my mum was excited about seeing her family, and I was looking forward to seeing the place where she had grown up. I was drawn by her wistful expression as she talked about stealing sugar cane from the fields, and holidays near the mountains. I was a misfit at school, and dreamed that I, too, would find somewhere I could belong. My mum's fantasy had become my fantasy also.

There is no more exciting place for a girl to be than Karachi in the run-up to a wedding. I was excited about wearing traditional wedding clothes for the first time, and my mum glowed with happiness as the sister of the bride.

The first ceremony, the mehndi – or henna party – was what we were most excited about, because that is when everyone dances, and the bride's sisters compete with those of the groom to see who can sing the loudest.

To prepare for the mehndi, we had parties called dholkis – after the dholki drum – which the girls played as the rest of us sang wedding songs from the latest Bollywood films. We used henna paste to decorate our palms, the muddy trails leaving pretty, spider-web patterns on our hands the next day.

A week before the wedding, Uncle arrived. On the death of my grandfather, Uncle had taken responsibility for the family and never married. He worked in the Middle East, successfully educated his brothers, and married off his sisters in respectable homes.

He was a large man, dark skinned, with a small beard. Always in white traditional clothes, with prayer beads in hand, he was able to quote lines from the Qu'ran on any subject.

He often cornered me to talk about religion, and how girls growing up in the west were already halfway down the road to sin.

My family was not particularly religious, and Uncle spoke with such authority that I thought Allah was hanging around waiting for me to mess up and prove what everyone suspected all along.

On the night of the mehndi, I fell ill. My cousins were upset that I wouldn't be able to join in and my mother said she'd take me home, but we could tell she was disappointed. "Don't worry," said Uncle. "Mehndis are for women. I will take her home."

It felt strange being at the house alone with Uncle. It had been so full of people and activity, but now it was silent. Uncle told me to undress for bed and he would check on me later.

I was half asleep and barely noticed him come in. He sat on my bed and placed his hand on my forehead to check my temperature, then began stroking my hair.

As he did so, he talked softly, his voice caring, yet menacing, like honey on a serpent's tongue, and his breath smelled sour, of old cigarettes. I felt scared, but didn't know why. My heart was beating swiftly and I couldn't breathe. He began to caress my back, then his hands slipped under my clothes ...

When the call to prayer echoed from the mosques at dawn, he said it was my fault for tempting him, and I would go to hell. Then he left to perform his morning prayers.

I spent the following day in a daze. I kept thinking I could feel Uncle's touch, like insects crawling over me, and showered over and over again, but no matter how hard I scrubbed, the feeling wouldn't go away.

During the day, he always seemed to be angry with me and I felt like I was walking on eggshells when he was around. Every time I looked up, his eyes were following me. As everyone excitedly dressed up in their sparkly outfits and shared jokes, I was at the edge of the happy picture, not quite a part of it. It was hard to pretend to smile when I knew, as each hour passed, it would be night again and he would return to my room.

Eventually, two days before the final ceremony, I told my cousin Nadia everything. Though I swore her to secrecy, she told her mum. Nadia's mum dragged me downstairs, hissing angrily that I was a wicked girl, and I burst into tears, partly of fear and partly of relief.


My mum couldn't process what had happened and began wailing loudly as her sisters held her. Another aunt asked me if I was a virgin because if not, they would have to marry me off straight away, so I lied and said he had only touched me. Although my aunts were sympathetic, I could tell by their eyes that they were relieved that it wasn't their daughters. I think my mum could tell too.

That night, the elders talked about what to do, but everyone seemed more worried about protecting the family's honour than what was best for me. They worried that any scandal could ruin Nadia's chances for marriage. Everyone decided the best thing would be to pretend it never happened and never to talk about it.

When we returned, my dad hugged us at the airport, thinking we'd had the time of our lives. Looking back, I wonder if he sensed my mum's unhappiness. But I couldn't get the memories out of my head. I couldn't tell anyone because I was ashamed. I stopped writing my diary because the words felt too dirty to be put on the diary's clean pages. My school work suffered and my friends thought I was moody. There was a guy in my class who liked me, but I was horrible to him. Once he touched my shoulder in the canteen and I shouted at him in front of everyone.

At university I became friends with a girl who wore a hijab, who told me she had been abused. I told her what had happened to me and asked how she could stay devoted to her faith after a thing like that. She told me it was her faith that had got her through. I discovered I'd got it all wrong, that in the Qu'ran it says people like Uncle are the sinners, and in Allah's eyes I was as chaste as a virgin. But nobody ever tells you that. All that time, Uncle had used religion against me and I had let him. My mum became less strict too. What had happened to me had unlocked a repressed memory she had of an uncle abusing her too. She also said she believed me from the start, and regretted not confronting her brother.

I heard rumours about Uncle over the years, that he had reluctantly had an arranged marriage to a woman much younger than him. My aunts and cousins all knew what he had done, but they all still danced at his wedding and painted their hands with henna.

After I graduated, my parents also arranged a marriage for me. Though it was a traditional setup, my husband was brought up here, and he's kind and gentle so we get on well. I am certain he suspects, and has for a long time, but he doesn't ask and I will never tell.


Asma Khan is a pseudonym

by Asma Khan

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/may/07/asma-khan-uncle-sex-abuse?INTCMP=SRCH
 

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Ishna

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But the thing is, if nothing changes in their culture, she'll do exactly the same thing if her own daughter is abused. It's a cycle that no one seems prepared to break, so they're bringing it on themselves in a way.
 

Ishna

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I would say the focus on honour and purity is a cultural thing. The fact that if you speak about it or take action against the sickos who do this stuff, you're bringing shame and dishonour to your family, so everyone just hushes over it to preserve the dollar value of their daughters.

Sickos are part of every culture, religion, group, organisation, whatever. Yes, basic human flaw.
 

Kanwaljit.Singh

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Yes in most eastern cultures, a person is very much attached to their family. So such things are said and meant. But when the person committing the crime didn't think about shame and dishonor of his soul (and also the victim's), why is the family so concerned now? I also find this part really sad:

My aunts and cousins all knew what he had done, but they all still danced at his wedding and painted their hands with henna.
Leave alone talk of justice, police or arrest. No one in the family boycotted that person!
 

Ishna

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Exactly! And they can't boycott that person, because if they do, it will become known that their daughter is now worth less than she was before. Pfft.

Leaving aside the worth of the female in this example, and going back to human nature, there are plenty of men who are raped in prison, but they never tell. Even when they're promised protection, they don't tell, because of fear of revenge and humiliation.

I guess it's an across-the-board human consciousness thing.
 

Ishna

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Even if you didn't go to the function - questions would still be raised.

But it's easier for most people to just go along with it. Sometimes I wish I had because it sure does tear families apart (mine is totally different culture, different situation, but same core issue of assault).
 

spnadmin

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ishna ji

This is not a matter of any one culture changing. The same dynamic is true in the West. A "conspiracy" of silence and blaming the victim takes hold. The cycle of family silence and shame for the victim is very much alive in the West. The only difference is that perhaps the West is one generation ahead in braking the code of silence.

Cultures do not change by will, unless the change agent uses demonic measures (Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao).

The young woman's mother opened her eyes. The friend who opened a door for her was a Muslim. They were all from that "culture." And this conspiracy will end one person at a time, one incest victim at a time. As long as there is someone to give support.
 

Ishna

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Spnadmin ji, if cultures don't change by will, how do they change?

The burden might lesson if such emphasis wasn't put on the purity of women like that, I think. If contributes to the cycle of guilt and worthlessness on the part of the victim.

It is an across the board human issue which speaks volumes about the baseness of our race. It's just more complicated in some areas of the world I guess, and in cultures and religions which blame women for evil and see them as property which, once used, is devoid of value.
 

spnadmin

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Cultures change gradually, one person at a time. Forcing cultural change is based on an idea that has never worked. I.e., Perfect humans by perfecting the environment. This was tried by Mao Tse Tung and the Gang of Four, by Pol Pot in Cambodia, by Stalin. HIstory teaches this lesson; I did not make this up in a personal reverie.

At the core is a utopian image that is nothing more than the creation of some other human mind -- "with a great idea." We have to take a look at history to see how faulty these movements have been. The roles of oppressor and victim are simply shifted, oppression and victimization continue nonetheless. Usually carnage accompanies forceful efforts to change things to suit the new ideology.

It is not working in India where Naxolites have given women equality with the right hand, but with the left hand are terrorizing villagers who do not cooperate.

Supporting a democratic process that introduces laws, which that enfranchise and offer workable alternatives to cultural mind sets has a better track record. But that takes time and patience, and brave people who are willing to buck deeply entrenched norms.
 

Astroboy

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Spnadmin ji, if cultures don't change by will, how do they change?

The burden might lesson if such emphasis wasn't put on the purity of women like that, I think. If contributes to the cycle of guilt and worthlessness on the part of the victim.

It is an across the board human issue which speaks volumes about the baseness of our race. It's just more complicated in some areas of the world I guess, and in cultures and religions which blame women for evil and see them as property which, once used, is devoid of value.
It is the women mindset to blame the girls for getting into such a situation. In the victim's case, the Pakistani aunt did not approve of foreign cultural influence in the first place. Anyone coming from UK brings along the western accent and this alone can be a sign of disapproval because it triggers the behavior patterns which come along with it. So in other words, the victim did not have a chance to prove her innocence.
 

Mai Harinder Kaur

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Cultural change is possible, but never easy. I have seen the USA go from a country of segregation and accepted racial terrorism to one where an African American is the elected President, where domestic violence was a `family problem`and not a police matter to one where domestic violence (especially against women) is taken very seriously and police response is absolutely mandated. (This is also true in Canada.) Women have gone from being the brunt of political jokes to being politicians, with two women figuring prominently in the last Presidential election. (Again, women have risen to positions of power is Canada.) Much change is still needed, of course. The point is that these are major cultural shifts.

The situation in South Asia is more difficult in that it is much more entrenched, both culturally and religiously. Islam and Hinduism are both notoriously anti-woman. North American countries are much younger and more flexible, and the older countries of Europe have been lurching in this direction for a long time. South Asia has a cultural morass of millennia to overcome. The anti-woman culture of the Middle East far predates Islam, as well. As difficult as it is, I think spnadmin ji is correct. It has to be one person at a time refusing to go along with the immoral cultural norm. Women doing this will be persecuted and probably prosecuted, and male allies will be ridiculed, but I know of no other way to do it. This is an evolutionary process using revolutionary means. At some unknown point, someone will be the hundredth monkey and the culture will pick up on the change.

The first change needs to come in the minds and hearts of the women. They will need to be incredibly strong and determined and never give up however difficult the struggle.There is much truth in the words:

"Yes I am wise,
But it`s wisdom born of pain"​

And it's very important to remember the next words:

"Yes, I've paid the price,
But look how much I've gained!"​
 

kds1980

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It is not working in India where Naxolites have given women equality with the right hand, but with the left hand are terrorizing villagers who do not cooperate.
Spnadmin ji

From where you read that Naxal give equal treatment to women?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Why did she surrender? "I want to lead an ordinary life, a life that all normal people life," she told reporters. Earlier, she had told TOI she had been wanting to run away from day 1. She had alleged that she had been raped by senior Maoist leaders, including key Maoist leader Bikash. When she complained, she was isolated and threatened with dire consequences if she protested again. "They commit injustices against which they claimed they are fighting," Uma had told TOI.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-08-28/india/28285615_1_naxals-woman-leader-senior-maoist-leaders
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Even in earlier story of a woman Naxal which I posted sometimes back has report of sexual abuse and even forcing women Naxal to marry male bosses
 

spnadmin

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Thanks for that information, kds ji. My source came from TEHELKA. But the point is not worth an argument. It would take us off the topic of incest.
 

Ambarsaria

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Astroboy ji I agree with your post but one comment as highlighted in the quoted below,

It is the women mindset to blame the girls for getting into such a situation. In the victim's case, the Pakistani aunt did not approve of foreign cultural influence in the first place. Anyone coming from UK brings along the western accent and this alone can be a sign of disapproval because it triggers the behavior patterns which come along with it.
Note: My comments below are not directed at Astroboy ji but more on the sentence which is not the first time in many family situations that I have seen it as though the most vulnerables have double jeopardy.
Astroboy ji states,
So in other words, the victim did not have a chance to prove her innocence.
Comment: I find the above sentence abhorrent and a show of chauvinistic male view of female children, girls and women. I say,

  • Why should a girl in her situation and her age have to prove her innocence.
    • So she is guilty (till proven innocent) because she told the truth as to what her uncle did to her.
  • The uncle is the guilty party and the other elder men, women and relatives are the accomplices.
    • They need to come clean not the little girl.
  • Guess what the next step will be,
    • So called "honor killing" as only elders and families" have honor, children and single members don't count!
    • What a disgusting mindset!

Sat Sri Akal.
 

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