A story of an Afghan girl - Aesha Mohammadzai
Brutality is all around us. Recently, the Delhi bus-rape case has taken the country and the world by storm and there is a furore over the lack of safety for women. It is a tale of brutality that is not uncommon unfortunately. While this story has found a nationwide response, there are many such tales of inhuman cruelty which go unnoticed because they are not reported. As a society, it is our duty to point out any injustice so that a solution can be provided to the victim and the perpetrators of crime don’t go scot free. Another such story of extreme brutality took place a few years ago, but has recently made its way back into the news – for positive reasons.
In summer, 2010, Time Magazine carried a story that left many speechless – right from the time they gazed in shock at the cover picture on the magazine, till the time they finished reading the story.
The story was about an Afghan woman, Aesha Mohammadzai, or Bibi Aisha whose face was horribly mutilated by her husband. Her story was first published in The Daily Beast, in 2009 and many people and organisations came forward, offering to help her financially and by reconstructing her nose. Her terrible story affected millions worldwide, especially after the Time cover.
When she was 12 years old, Aesha’s father promised her hand in marriage to a Taliban soldier to repay debts. Apparently, according to reports, this is was a way to compensate for a murder Aesha’s family member had committed. Married at the tender age of 14 or 13, Aesha was subjected to constant abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws. She was made to sleep in the stables and treated worse than a beast of burden. To escape, the poor girl fled from this family but was unfortunately caught by the police, who, showing no remorse for her plight – promptly returned her to her husband. Her flight was treated as a heinous crime – she had misbehaved and shamed her in-laws in the eyes of society. To punish her, her husband, father-in-law and three other relatives took her to the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, mutilated her face by cutting off her nose and ears and left the young woman to die in the freezing, hard terrain. This was done with the permission of a Taliban mullah.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, UK, she told a CNN reporter that after she came to, she could not see because of all the blood covering her face. The same report states that she crawled to her grandfather’s house where her father managed to take her to an American medical unit who treated her grave injuries the best they could. After ten weeks she was secretly shifted to a secret shelter in Kabul and then flown out to America by the Grossman Burn Foundation to live at a shelter and later with a host family till her recuperation and surgeries were complete.
The young girl had a great deal of trauma to deal with and even though her life had taken what seemed to be a positive turn, she had miles to go before she could effectively live a normal –physical and mental – life.
A charity called Women for Afghan Women took her in and helped pay for her education and needs, but Aesha had a tough time reconciling herself to her new life. The deep emotional trauma had scarred her indelibly and she could not adjust to the new place and was extremely averse to showing her face to others. The Daily Beast, which first carried her story, followed her progress diligently and reported that though Aesha was prone to mood swings and was extremely disturbed psychologically, she soon started to open up with the help of a social worker who took her under her wing and spoke to her about fashion and jewellery to distract her. It is gratifying to read that she morphed into the most popular resident at the shelter and has forged friendships with others – even giving away her jewellery and other possessions to those who like them. She now lives with a family in Maryland and is progressing through multiple surgeries.
Aesha has had a prosthetic nose fitted by the Grossman Burn Centre in California and the doctors their hope to be able to reconstruct Aesha’s nose and ears by using cartilage, bone and skin grafts from all over her body. She is, at the moment, into six months of reconstructive surgery. Her forehead has ballooned because of a graft procedure to harvest skin and a smiling Aesha is not shy to show it off at all. She knows, as a result, she will one day have a fully repaired face. The process is a long and painful one, but she must tread this path of fire before she can emerge wholly repaired.
Initially hard to handle and prone to throwing tantrums and fake seizures, Aesha has taken very well to her new family in Maryland – who are hosting her while she completes her skin reconstruction surgeries. She snuggles up with them for photographs, makes tea, works on creating beaded jewellery etc. and has learnt how to speak English. One can now see a glimpse of her spirit –instead of the broken girl that she was.
Post reconstructive surgery however, it remains to be seen what will become of Aesha whose father has approached Kabul officials for help without avail. It seems that according to custom and tradition, since he gave away his daughter to settle what essentially a family crime/problem was, he has already renounced his rights to her. However, Aesha doesn’t seem inclined to follow orders of a patriarchy anymore and has decided to shape her life herself – she was quoted in an article by the Daily Beast as saying that she wants to wear Afghan clothes, keep a fast like all good muslims, pray and learn something in school.
The only suspect who was apprehended – her father-in-law Sulaiman who had confessed to being part of the gang, who committed the crime, has been apparently released. The reasons for this were as shocking as the crime itself – it is claimed that he was released because there is no one in Afghanistan who would press charges as the victim of the crime was now in America. Secondly, he was not responsible for the actual mutilation. The police have said that they cannot apprehend the criminals who did this to Aesha because the area is controlled by the Taliban and they cannot enter it. Unfortunately, it boils down to the same reason why many perpetrators of heinous and barbaric crimes walk free – if you have money and power then chances are you will go scot free without any repercussions. It is a sad picture of the justice system in Afghanistan and indeed, across the world.
We hope Aesha finally gets to live a life of peace and happiness, with the help she gets from the many concerned people and organisations. We also hope that there will come a day when those who seek to harm others will be given proper punishment. There are millions of people like Aesha and the 23 year-old yet unnamed victim of the Delhi rape case, who go through life carrying the burden of emotional and physical trauma. May they all find succour someday and may our society learn to stand up against brutality against humanity.