August 2, 2005
A Pakistani Rape, and a Pakistani Love Story
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Rapes occur in Pakistan at an estimated rate of one every two hours, and the rape itself is only the beginning of the horror. As in much of the world, the victim is frequently expected to atone for her "sin" by killing herself, while her attacker goes unscathed.
But Dr. Shazia Khalid, through all her tears, guilt and self-doubt, pushed for something more: punishment for the man who raped her. In my column on Sunday, I described how local authorities reacted after Dr. Shazia was raped early this year: they drugged her and confined her to a psychiatric hospital to hush her up.
It didn't work, and the incident provoked unrest in the wild area of Baluchistan, where the rape occurred, because of rumors that the rapist was not only an outsider, but also an army captain. President Pervez Musharraf became determined to make the embarrassment disappear.
So the authorities locked up Dr. Shazia and her husband, Khalid Aman, keeping them under house arrest for two months. Then officials began to hint that Dr. Shazia was a loose woman, perhaps even a prostitute - presumably as a way to pressure her and her husband to keep quiet.
Dr. Shazia, mortified, tried to kill herself. Mr. Khalid and their adopted son, Adnan, stopped her.
Meanwhile, the family's patriarch, Mr. Khalid's grandfather, sent word that because Dr. Shazia had been raped, she was "kari" - a stain on the family's honor - and must be killed or at least divorced. Then, Mr. Khalid said, his grandfather began gathering a mob to murder Dr. Shazia.
"I was very angry because he must know that Shazia is innocent," Mr. Khalid said. "They treat a woman like a cow."
General Musharraf was finding this couple's determination to get justice increasingly irritating. So, Dr. Shazia and Mr. Khalid said, the authorities ordered them to leave the country, and warned that if they stayed, they would be killed - by government "agencies" - and that no one would even find their bodies.
When Dr. Shazia demanded that Adnan be allowed to accompany her, the officials warned that there was no time and that she would be murdered if she delayed. Then the officials forced Dr. Shazia to make a video recording in which she thanked the government for helping her. And, she said, they warned her that if she had any contact with journalists or human rights groups, they would strike back at her - or at her relatives still in Pakistan.
"They said, 'We know where your family is here,' " Dr. Shazia recalled. "I'm very scared and concerned about my family and their safety. But I believe we must tell the truth, and I have entrusted my family to God."
So the Pakistani officials put Dr. Shazia and Mr. Khalid on a plane to London, without their son. As soon as they arrived, Dr. Shazia inquired about asylum in Canada, where she has relatives and friends. But a Canadian bureaucrat rejected the asylum application on the ground that they were now safe in Britain. (Come on, Canadians - have you no heart?)
Dr. Shazia and Mr. Khalid are now living in a one-room dive in a bad neighborhood in London, while applying for asylum in Britain. Dr. Shazia dreams of someday returning to Pakistan to found a hospital for raped and battered women, but for now she is simply a lonely, fragile and frightened refugee who leaves her bare room only to make trips to a nearby Internet cafe.
With Dr. Shazia constantly tearful and unable to sleep at night, Mr. Khalid gave up his job to take care of her and drive home a message: "Shazia, you did nothing wrong. You are still pure!"
Dr. Shazia's voice broke as she said: "Khalid supported me. He showed me his true love. ... He showed me that I have committed no sin. I am pure today, no matter what the world says."
Half-sobbing, she added: "I stay awake at night, thinking, 'Why me?' My career is ruined. My husband's career is ruined. I cannot see my son. ... If I had died then, it would have been better."
But it wouldn't have been. Dr. Shazia's ordeal offers us a glimpse of life for women in much of the developing world today, and it's also a reminder of the one factor that gives me hope. That's the growing number of people who refuse to cower in the face of injustice and instead become forces for change. To me, Dr. Shazia is a hero, for her courage and determination - and, yes, her purity.
I'm sure I'll get inquiries from readers wanting to help Dr. Shazia and Mr. Khalid. Since they are lonely and isolated in London, but have friends and relatives in Canada, the single thing that would help the most is if Canada reconsidered its refusal to grant them asylum. You can suggest that by writing to Joseph Volpe, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1, Canada. You can send e-mail to Minister@cic.gc.ca. If Canada gives Dr. Shazia asylum, this love story can still end well; otherwise, I'm afraid it'll be one more tragedy.
Readers who want to help Dr. Shazia more directly, or find out more about her case, can contact the Asian American Network Against Abuse of Women, www.4anaa.org.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company