I was inspired to write this story after reading one of my father’s criminal case files. My beloved father, who died this past July, was a police officer. During the Taliban regime, he brought cases home and I would read them to follow the stories. One of the reports contained the details below about a woman I will call Gulniz.
When Gulniz was four, her mother died in childbirth. Gulniz, along with her stepbrothers and stepsister, were raised by her stepmother. None of the family treated Gulniz well. She was forced to stay indoors as the family’s house servant; she ate the family’s leftovers and slept in the kitchen, covering herself with flour sacks. She was beaten every day by her father, stepbrothers or stepmother. Sometimes they beat her so much that the neighbors came to save her.
When Gulniz grew older, her stepmother lied and said Gulniz had had relations with strangers and that she brought shame to the family. If anyone asked about marriage, the stepmother replied that Gulniz had an incurable illness, that she did no work around the house, and that she didn’t deserve to be a bride. Eventually, the stepmother refused to let Gulniz leave the kitchen. She lived like a prisoner, enduring her beatings every day.
One day, when Gulniz was home alone, her stepbrother returned to the house. He was then twenty-one. He called for Gulniz and gave her a beverage to drink; it gave her a headache and she passed out. When she woke, her body was bloody and her stepbrother was next to her. She had been raped and felt terrible pain. The stepbrother warned Gulniz not to tell anyone what had happened or he would tell her father that she had invited a strange man into the house and slept with him.
Gulniz had tolerated every cruelty, but she could not stand for this one. She decided to leave home. One night around midnight when her father, stepmother, and stepbrothers were at a wedding party, and her stepsister was sleeping, Gulniz opened the door and left. She was in a panic and walked very fast, and in an hour she was far from home.
Gulniz did not know where to go but as she was standing on the street, an old man appeared on a bike. He asked Gulniz where she was going and she replied that she had no place to stay and that her parents had died during the war. The old man gave a sad smile and said he was poor and working in a bakeshop, that he had a wife and a son, and that she could come with him to his home. Gulniz had no choice but to accept accept the invitation.
The man’s house was indeed old and in a poor area. He introduced Gulniz to his wife and his son, who was about the same age as Gulniz and worked in the bakeshop with his father. The old man’s wife welcomed Gulniz kindly and asked about her parents, but Gulniz could not tell the truth so she said she had no one. She spent many days in that old man’s house and was very happy.
Eventually, the old man explained to Gulniz that his relatives and neighbors were talking, that there were rumors he’d kidnapped Gulniz. He said that if she married his son, there would be no more problems. Gulniz happily accepted his proposal. The old man brought a Mullah and Gulniz and the son were married.
Gulniz was brave and told her husband on their wedding night that she had been raped and was not virgin. Her husband promised to keep her happy and he did, but only for a very short time.
When Gulniz was at the hospital giving birth to her first baby, she saw her stepmother and the stepbrother who had raped her. Gulniz’s father went to the police and accused her husband and father-in-law of kidnap.
Gulniz tried to explain the truth, tried to tell the police that she was raped, but she had no proof. Her husband was sent to jail for kidnapping and Gulniz was ordered to return to her father’s house. This decision scared her. She had hemorrhaged during childbirth and now her heart stopped and she died. Perhaps she could not bear to see her husband in jail or to go back to her father’s house.
When I saw Gulniz’s photograph in the police file, I noticed that though she was only nineteen years old, great sadness filled her face and she looked closer to thirty. Her story agonized me, yet I know there are women who live in even worse conditions.
Only education and an improved economy will change the lives of Afghan people, and particularly of the women. When men believe that women are their property, they impose authority in brutal ways like beating their wives and daughters. Sometimes women inflict violence on other women in their family because they too have experienced this violence. But if we educate more women and men, if we create more and better jobs, then I think, one day, fewer cases like that of Gulniz will fill police files.