That's eight-year-old me perched on top of my mother's head and that eight-year-old says, me too!
This is eight-year-old Zainab who was found in a rubbish dump on Tuesday, 9th of January 2018. She was raped and strangled in Kasur, Pakistan.
I have been seeing Zainab's picture all over the internet. Each time I see this picture, I think, she's so young. And so today I went through my pictures and found one of myself at that age and once again, I was amazed at how young and happy I look.
'"How young he was, how amazingly young we all look at that age!" Like one of those miniscule new leaves found at the tip of a branch, the ones that can be crushed into a watery green smear between thumb and forefinger-so unformed, so...resistanceless.'
The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
The picture above of me was taken in Karachi, Pakistan. My sister and I usually attended tennis lessons together every afternoon, but one particular afternoon, my mother kept my sister home; she had fever. The tennis instructor instead of having me practise in the tennis courts lead me into a squash court, where he molested me.
That was the first time I was molested by a grown man. It happened again and again and again. More times than what I care to remember, but the truth is that I cannot forget.
I wrote the very first story I ever wrote to purge some of the demons that haunt me. That story is called, "This is Our Secret" and it is part of the collection recently published by Mawenzi House.
Another truth is that I am the luckiest person on the planet. Two men walked in on my tennis instructor and he had to step away. Truth also is that the other later encounters, were far more violent, more traumatizing. A cook in a rest house we spent a summer in, an elderly man with rotting teeth and wiry hands, made a game of it; accosting me each time my mother insisted I run an errand for a multitude of elderly relatives, each of whom were perfectly capable of fetching water and tea for themselves.
Now, that's another truth about us South Asians-all young girls and women are viable domestic slaves. The worst perpetrators of this crime are, very interestingly, elderly women. If you are a young girl or woman, watch out, cause our elderly ladies will run you ragged!
Another incident, this on a hill in Abbottabad, involved a young man with a machete, who repeatedly told me that he would slice off my breasts. I still remember, even in my fear, feeling incredulous. I was nine and did not have breasts. I lied to him. I told him that my father was walking right behind me and that he was in the police. My father was in the navy and away at sea.
There are so many others. I don't want to talk about them. I am not ready. But here's what I want you to know if you are reading this. When a person is assaulted, child or adult, I have experienced both and they come to you to share their pain, please listen, without judgement or advice. It is not helpful to get angry with the person. It is not their fault and they will be wracked by guilt anyway. They don't need you to heap more on top of it all.
Please don't curtail your children's right to experience the world. Do not lock them in, in order to keep them safe. They will eventually have to leave your cocoon in order to live, in order to breathe.
Please do not teach them foolish nonsense about how to keep themselves safe by being assertive/aggressive,etc. That implies that if they do get molested then it is their own fault for not doing a better job of protecting themselves. The onus is on other people to behave like decent human beings. It is not the child's job to walk around, ever ready, to defend and attack.
I am lucky. I was not raped and strangled. My body was not dumped in a garbage heap. I am alive and well and able to tell bits of my story. But Zainab is not. Her last moments were full of terror and pain. We all have a responsibility to the children around us but also to each other. Be kind. Be attentive. Be vigilant when you see someone being taken advantage of. Do not be complicit. Speak up, because children like Zainab cannot.
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.
May you rest in peace, Zainab.