Abeera's Short Life

The tragedy of living as an Islamic woman

nislmAbeera's story reflects the 'new typical' for a girl living under Islam. Yet even though her short life was tragic, she knew life and never yielded to blind belief.  Most of the world has become familiar with the way that Islamic societies treat their women and the voices of the Mullah's in Saudi and other Islamic countries claim that women are not humans, but animals to be owned and traded.

Most people have also heard of honour killings and the fact that Muslims are not very big on education. The Islamic scholars protest that if the information is not written into the Koran, the Hadith or the Sira, then it's not worth knowing.  Islam is a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that is doomed to failure but many who follow this history are concerned that they will destroy the world as well as themselves.

But this is a story about the suffering of women and one girls fight for freedom.

My husband and I were driving on the outskirts of Amritsar when we saw this figure crawling on the roadside. Other people were avoiding this person and we didn't know the identity or gender but we can see that it was someone great pain. We discussed our options and then decided that we would try and help expected that we would take that person to hospital then pay for treatment and medication.

So we went to investigate and saw it was a girl who could scarcely speak. She was dressed in rags and smelled terrible so rather than put her in our car, we got a rickshaw wallah to help take her to hospital. Her condition was so bad the hospital did not want to know which made me really furious but finally they took her in and cleaned her up.

Then the doctor told us that there was no hope and it seemed miraculous that she was still alive. As she was conscious and behind the bruises she had such a divine expression that I decided to take her home so that she could at least die with some dignity. The wounds were horrendous and her lower abdomen and pelvis severely lacerated and infected.

So we took her home and put her on a cot in the garden. She drank some water but could not eat. Then a friend of ours who was a doctor called by and confirmed the opinion of the hospital doctors that there was little we could do but he gave us some medication to relieve her pain. I don't know why I felt such concern, but I gave her a wash and combed her hair. Had her face not been so bruised and disfigured from what I presumed was from many beatings, she would have been very beautiful and I guessed she was about 16 or 17.  She seemed to be comfortable with her fate but as I sat with her, she began to talk. I listened and although a few times I asked for clarification, she had difficulty putting events in place, so I have made a more chronological narrative from what she told me.

She said her name was Abeera and she was born near Chitral in Pakistan.  She spoke of her love for life and said she especially loved being with her father or one of her uncles but as a girl, she resented being confined away from the men. She hated that when she went outside the house she was covered from head to toe in a flour sack cut like a burqa, but once out in the fields with her mother and other women from the village, she was sometimes allowed to run and play with the other children.

Then her father went away and after being sworn to secrecy, her mother began to teach her to read and write. She was almost 5 when her mother took ill and she was put into the care of another family. Then unexpectedly one day she was left in the company of the man of the house. It was late in the afternoon and everyone was preoccupied with their chores when he raped her. Abeera said she would have screamed, not so much from the pain but from the crude way that he treated her. But it was all over in less than a minute and before he took his hand away from her mouth he threatened her that if she told anyone, he'd chop off her head. Having seen goats being slaughtered, she had a concept of death so she didn't tell anyone. Then almost every day for the next couple of weeks she endured his attention and was relieved when her mother came home. But her mother wasn't fully recovered and Abeera had to do lots of physical work.

For a while life wasn't too bad as her father was sending some money home from India. But her mother remained poorly and she was almost 6 years old when her uncle came to stay. He was a slob and bossed Abeera's mother about, and if she protested she got a beating. Within days of his arrival he began raping Abeera who in some ways didn't mind because it made her life more interesting.  But Abeera kept her wits about her and deduced what was being expected of her. She knew her biggest threat was being killed and the sex was somehow insignificant though she wished that her uncle had better hygiene. Here she paused and apologised for her condition then she want on to relate that she was taken to a house across town where she was made to dance and entertain small groups of men who would invariably have sex with her.

She knew how to behave like a proper Muslim girl, and when she went outside of the house she was always properly dressed although on occasion she wore nothing underneath. A few months into these activities, her mother made a fuss, not to stop her daughter being molested, but she got paid which improved the quality of their food but not much else.  Over the course of the year, her uncle acquired a few more girls and life was quite settled in and around the brothel. Through the men that frequented the place, Abeera learned about life and politics. She also learned about her own body as she paid attention to her feelings even though she had no one to discuss them with.

There'd been some discussion that she'd overheard about arranging for her to be married, but she suspected that her uncle would not like it if she had to leave the brothel because she was everyone's favourite. Then one evening as she was dancing some strangers arrived. The girls were told to put on a nice show to impress the strangers. The mood was nice until one of the newcomers pulled one of the girls into his lap and then opened her legs and examined her genitals in front of everyone. The room hushed and then he demanded to know why the girl had not been castrated.

No one dared cross this guy and as the girl screamed in pain, Abeera slipped out of the building and ran for her life. Her mother was alone so she quickly told the story, but already she could hear the men calling for her. Abeera's mother said that she could choose to live or die and Abeera said she wanted to live.  Moments later as the sound of voices approached, Abeera helped by her mother scrambled over the wall of the compound with a burqa and a handful of chapatties. She fled through the fields and then sheltering by day and travelling by night, she made her way to Peshwar.

Travel at that time of year was fairly easy as there was food in the fields. When she arrived Peshwar, She got to know some street kids, but because she was pretty, it wasn't long before she was having sex with men for a few rupees. But a few weeks later to avoid the police and some men she thought were up to no good she fled to Islamabad.

She hung out with some street kids for a few weeks and then she got caught by a couple of men who put her to work in a brothel. There was no way out and she endured that life for a about six years. Then she escaped and street life was even harder than what she remembered. She got by through begging and with the help of some nicer men she made her way around the country. But she was tired of the men until she met one night in man who helped her to get a job in the fields. He was a good lover and they talked about building a life together but his family had other ideas. They caught her, 67 men raped her and after a beating the left her close to unconscious, they dropped on the roadside.

She begged and did a few menial jobs and as she recovered her health, men became her main source of income although some men wouldn't even give her the price of a meal and she was beaten up a few times. She decided that she no longer had a future Pakistan and made her way to the Indian border. But without documents, there was no way she could get through. But she met a man who said he could help. In effect he became her pimp but he had a little honour and six month later he smuggled her across the border.

But when she got the other side, it was her father who helped her out of the truck. He did not recognise her and she was too stunned to speak but she was immediately put to work in another brothel. She was the only Pakistani girl and she learned that this brothel was really staging post . When a girl had settled in to the routine and become totally subservient, she would disappear and it was rumoured that the girls were being sold to traders in Pakistan and then on sold to places like Saudi Arabia.

Abeera through her beauty and good nature was a hit the local men so her father and his cronies were in no hurry to sell her. But in the course of that experience, the father was also using her for sex and she knew that if she protested she would simply get beaten. Then she said that a month ago that she and some other girls escaped but she got caught by another local gang. They were just undereducated thugs surviving day-to-day. For about two weeks they all took turns raping her and she thought that if she hadn't been swallowing some of their ejaculate, she would have starved.

One day she tried to escape and one of the lugs thought she needed to be castrated is a lesson. They held her down and as they were about to cut her, she managed to free her leg and kicks a guy so hard that she felt his jaw break and he fell down stop but she couldn't fight them off and they stabbed her many times. She said that she didn't remember screaming but she remembered seeing some other people watching and her attackers fled. But no one offered her any help. She was in great pain but somehow she went away from there and climbed on the back of a truck stop apparently the driver had stopped for some reason and put her off near to where my husband and I found her.

Then she said that life has the potential to be so beautiful but people are so stupid and blinded by their beliefs that they cannot see the wonder. I think what has kept me going this time is my mother's love not the woman gave me birth, but the earth mother that gives life to all and asks, the mother who gives her all everyone does such terrible things to her. Abeera fell silent, I knew exactly what she meant.

She was glassy eyed and shed a few tears as she gazed up into our mango tree, it was in full flower and illuminated by our house lights. Jassi who'd finished her chores and my husband came down from the house. But as I sat there holding her hand, a serenity came over the garden and five minutes later she was gone.

In that deep tragedy, those few minutes of intense beauty seemed to absolve so much and yet it seems the whole world is doomed to perpetuate needless suffering.



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