In the beginning

In the beginning, there was inspiration, and this inspiration came initially from my reading of Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column about Assiya Rafiq.  Her harrowing story, her determination, her courage, and her will to stand up against overwhelming odds educated me to the fact that ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances often end up doing the extraordinary themselves (to read about Assiya, see below).

I find it interesting that almost a year ago to the day, I found myself getting ready to host a grilled cheese fundraising dinner (suggested by my most excellent friend, Sandy) to raise money for Assiya.  That little endeavor brought in over $600.

And then I read “Half the Sky,” and read Ruchira Gupta’s story and the founding of Apne Aap.  And I started thinking of the all the young ladies in the world who ever stood up to their tormentor, and are trying to fight injustice without any resources to speak of and at great personal risk, and I found myself thinking, “What phenomenal people.  What can I do to help?”

And then I saw this on Oprah’s website

Apne Aap skill training

Young girls, in India, learning how to kick butt – how cool is that?  I saw this picture, and knew this was something I could do.  And now, six months later, it is soon to be a reality.  I am getting psyched.

So that is where this whole trip idea came from.

Assiya’s Story

Assiya Rafiq

Assiya Rafiq of Pakistan was sold at 16 by a female family friend to two criminals who were related to prominent politicians. The men beat and raped her for the next year, until they handed Assiya along with $625 over to police as a bribe. Assiya’s kidnappers had earlier been implicated in a gold robbery and decided Assiya would be a good candidate to blame the crime on.

Assiya was then beaten and raped by the four police officers, including a police chief, over the next two weeks. Reportedly, a female constable would leave in order to give the men continue their abuse in private.

Assiya’s family learned of Assiya’s whereabouts and attempted to get her back by bribing the bailiff, who was also accepting bribes from the police. Despite the police hiding Assiya and locking up her young brother as a threat, her parents finally got her back and helped her receive a medical exam and investigation, which proved her hymen had been broken and confirmed the existence of physical damage such as abrasions covering her body.

And then Assiya summoned the type of strength I can’t even fathom. She proceeded to prosecute both the kidnappers and the police, ignoring the normal process of rape recovery in rural Pakistan: suicide. Not only is this a girl who is taking hugely progressive steps, but she is turning her own awful experience into a beacon of hope for other girls, even despite the major adversity she will inevitably face. The president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan, Dr. Shershah Syed even stated, “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the police, because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”

And while the police have not raped her again, they have threatened to. They have also threatened to arrest or kill her and her two younger sisters lest she withdraw her charges.

The family is in hiding, but still in a lot of danger, and has accumulated thousands of dollars in debts. Assiya’s siblings have dropped out of school and will have trouble marrying because they are “dishonored.” Though Assiya stated she was inspired by Mukhtar Mai, a young woman who was gang raped in 2002, prosecuted her attackers and used the compensation money to start a school, women’s shelter, ambulance service, and legal aid program (which is now helping Assiya with her case), Mukhtar was very lucky in the results of her fight. Assiya has a long road ahead, and is still in constant danger.

She is luck, however, in the sense that she has an amazing family behind her. Her mother, Iqbal, said that she once thought God should never give daughters to poor families, but then, “changed my mind. God should give poor people daughters like Assiya who will fight.”

I’m so amazed by Assiya. There really aren’t adequate words. Whoever says women aren’t strong and resilient should take a look at Assiya, and Mukhtar for that matter.

I found this story through Nicholas Kristof’s column, and he gives an update on the situation here. Also, to help Assiya and Mukhtar, please consider giving to the Mukhtar Mai fund, set up through MercyCorps. Money is being used to help hide Assiya and her family and hire lawyers for her.

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