I am now beginning to read this book called The Secret Son, by Laila Lalami. For the past year and a half, most of the books I have read and have included in my collection of “to be read” are of tales and events set in different parts of the world. I endeavour, therefore, to understand the place a little before plunging into the literary portion itself. This book was no different- I began by reading a little on Morocco at first, before opening the leaves of the book- which by the way, are enchanting, so far!
When I typed Morocco in Google, a news item that talked of a protest on Women’s Day caught my eye.
On the 100th Anniversary of the International Women’s Day, the women of Morocco were protesting the death of a young girl, only about 16 years in age, who killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist. Amina, the girl, was forced to take the drastic step after her husband brutally beat her. This ‘husband’ was her rapist. There were eye-witness accounts, which explained that Amina’s husband was so outraged when she drank poison, that he dragged her on the streets by her hair. She passed on shortly afterwards. Amina was forcibly married to her rapist, when her mother professed fears of her being unworthy of marriage to anyone else, and the court concurred with her contentions. Her father, though, had his own set of apprehensions. Which turned out to be true.
Growing up in South India, I have known that this kind of a predicament is reality for many girls in the rural parts of the region I come from. This, I gathered, is the true story of many a girl, through newspaper stories, news reports, and movies that hope to bring awareness of such an occurrence. My mind tended to believe that this was a product of illiteracy, or perhaps parochial considerations that forced literacy into hiding. The girl was anyway raped, what life does she have, now? Who will marry her, but for the man who raped her? I remember these lines as a dialogue in a random movie I saw playing while waiting at a doctor’s clinic. And he, she shall wed. The whole village applauded and cheered, and prepared for a wedding. Not one frame in that movie closed in on the girl’s face. Not one dialogue in that movie, afterwards, told the audience of what went on in the girl’s mind. I don’t know how that movie ended.
Never for a moment did I think that a literate populace, an urban society, would force a girl to marry her rapist.
Until I read this piece.
It turns out that Morocco’s Penal Laws were updated in 2004 in a bid to offer women greater ‘rights’. When I continued reading, I learned that Rape is punishable by five or ten years’ worth of imprisonment, which increases to ten or twenty years, if the victim is a minor. Not bad, I thought. As is in most parts of the world, the burden of proof for a rape case falls solidly on the shoulders of the victim herself. She is necessitated to prove that she was attacked, failing which she faces a possible prosecution for debauchery. Terrible, I thought. But here’s the deal-clincher. The rapist can marry an underage victim to preserve the honour of the woman's family. OUTRAGEOUS!
The first thought that occurred to me danced in my mind in Font Size 72, Bold, Underlined and Italicized. What kind of a warped, insane nut job could agree with this? The girl is raped, her modesty is lost, her honour is violated, and then you marry her off to preserve the family’s honour? Doesn’t that just sound so insanely ridiculous? What hope can a girl have in the law, when it decides to fail her anyway? Any rapist could get away so easily and walk away scot free by forcibly marrying his poor victim, while the rest of society attends his wedding and dances at it. And that “law” is continually failing the women in the society that it should rightfully protect, by creating more monsters who walk scot free. Today it was Amina.
Tomorrow, how many more?
It is brave of the women in Morocco to take to the streets in protest. A Facebook page depicted the antagonism that throbbed through the veins of these women. But is it enough, I wonder. Morocco is not the only country in the Middle East to be determinedly antagonistic to its women through the use of arbitrary means to sentence its women. They are shouting hoarse for what they truly deserve. But who is listening?
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar