Women’s Rights: When Honor Terrorizes, Burns and Kills
My family and I used to live close to the world in an area called Kotli in Kashmir, in our poor village stuck between high mountains. In our village the kids, young girls and women knew two things very well: fear and pain.
Cowed with fear. Tamed with fear. Taught to be quiet with fear. Fear and pain were so rich that in order to wander away from these feelings, all that was happening, experiences, oppression and pretty much anything would become normalized. We were the ones to obey quietly, if we could support each other or we couldn’t. Fear and pain were so rich, we the young girls looked like deaf, mute, thick skinned scarecrows.
Our every colorless, pretty much the same, days became chaotic when people found out that my big sister was talking with a man from our village. The fury bursting out from my parents was so heavy, so thunderous. My brothers and I were frozen in the corner of the house, hiding, for a long time. Flashes of thunder ready to burn everything.
My parents left my big sister starve for days: locked her in her room. The fury possessed my parents and turned them into monsters. We were even afraid to look at each other, with my brothers in the house. One day, while everyone was asleep, my sister broke the window and ran away, and this made my parents even more angry. They never forgave her. “She tainted our family’s honor, she is no longer our daughter, she is dishonorable!” Their words stuck on me and my brothers.
When my sister ran away from our house, I began to walk outside looking at my feet. I didn’t care what the other girls were saying behind me. At the age of 15, I learned to cook pretty much anything. I’d made up my mind, I was going to be a bride. I was going to bring honor to my dad and my little brothers with my wedding. Just like the other women of the village, my mother was also going to be proud of her grandchildren.
My sister came to the village a couple of times to talk to me, but I refused to talk to her. She always sent me messages, but I never replied to any of them. “If you talk to bad women you would become one,” said my mother. I was going to be an honorable, good woman.
If that noise had never been made just outside the house. That wheezing noise.
I ran to the window and looked outside. As soon as I realized that a motorcycle had stopped in front of our house, and two men were on it, I immediately closed the curtains. If not for the noise, I wouldn’t have looked outside the window. My father’s angry voice mixed with the sound of the motorcycle.
“What are you looking at? You turned twice and looked.”
I was so scared! My father’s thunderous fury.
“When I heard a noise I went to the window to see…”
My dad shouting at me while beating me and throwing me from one corner to the other.
“How dare you look at them? Are you going to be like your sister?”
“I didn’t look at anyone, I don’t even know who those people are. I don’t even stay at home alone, how could I possibly know who those people are…”
Mom entered the room.
“Mom, I didn’t do anything, mom please save me,” I begged her, “Mom…”
My mother ran next to me, and all of a sudden I started to feel burning from one side. All of a sudden a fire started to spread inside me. All of a sudden I felt as if my bones were melting and my body fall into pieces.
I didn’t know what my mother threw on me was actually nitric acid. While screaming at the top of my voice in agony, I didn’t know how much our neighbors had ignored me. I didn’t know that they locked me in a room on the stone floor alone in pain. Only the flames… the flames within flames inside me.
I didn’t know what my parents told the neighbors was that I had killed myself. I didn’t know that I was left in that room for three to four days in pain. I didn’t know that my big sister didn’t believe the story and came to the house with police.
The only voice that echoed in my ears was my mom’s: “I wish I had given birth to stones and not you! Dishonorable…”
When my big sister came to the house with the police, even the surface of the stone floor was damaged with the acid thrown at me. I didn’t see that my parents were handcuffed. According to the doctor, 60 percent of my body was burned, and the people who did this to me were my own parents. Within that fire inside me, I could only understand that I didn’t mean a thing to my parents. What was important for them was not the daughter they gave life to but their honor. Honor…
While I was in deathly agony at the hospital for two days, my big sister and her husband never left my side. My little brothers who were left alone back in the house never understood what had happened.
My parents, the honorable and good people tried to kill me but my big sister, the dishonorable and bad woman tried to save me.
I understood within the flames of the fire burning inside me that dishonorable was just a name, a name that people think fit you and tag you with: not valid in reality, just a name. I looked at my sister for the last time, but she never saw my eyes. I apologized to her, told her how much I loved her, but she never heard my voice. I am no longer scared of dying honorable like my parents but dishonorable like my sister.
After my father was locked behind bars, he said that my mother was the one who threw the acid at me because she was scared of our family’s honor being tainted. On the other hand, my mother said that she didn’t regret her actions, and that dying this way would be my destiny.
It was only my big sister who felt regret for not helping me at the right time. If my dishonorable sister hadn’t been there for me, you’d never hear my story.
Once I was called Anusha, but now my name is dishonorable.
Editor’s Note: This essay by Meltem Arikan is not fictional but the narration of a true life story. Photographs one and four by Saga Olsen; photographs two, three, five and six by Ole Holbech; photograph seven by Hani Amir.