SWAT: “I still wonder why they flogged me,” says Saira, the woman who was publicly flogged by the obscurantist Taliban in the Swat Valley of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa last year.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, Saira recalls the humiliation, the trauma she suffered when she was flogged by a self-styled Taliban vigilante squad amid jeers of a gun-toting crowd of militants. She was punished for “having an extramarital affair” with a man from her in-laws.
Saira, a resident of the Asharbanr area, in Charbagh tehsil, the erstwhile stronghold of the fugitive cleric Maulana Fazalullah, locally known as Mullah Radio, who had spearheaded a bloody campaign for the enforcement of his own hard-line version of Islamic laws in the valley.
Saira was married to Fazal Azim, a day labourer. And she was awarded 30 lashes by a self-styled Taliban shariah court for a crime she had never committed.
“Some relatives of my in-laws, who supported the Taliban, had blamed me to settle old scores with my spouse,” Saira told The Express Tribune with her little son in her lap.
“One day the son of Gul Nazar and Maulvi Abdur Rehman came to our house and accused me of having an illicit relation with a man in my in-laws,” she said. “I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe I’ll be charged with such a serious crime in a joint family,” she added.
Saira said that her husband was working as a day labourer in Hyderabad, Sindh, at that time. The Taliban sharia court “convicted” me without hearing me.
“An announcement was made from the loudspeakers of the village mosque about my ‘conviction’. And all villagers were invited to a local state-run school to watch the flogging,” Saira recalled the incident.
“It was unbelievable. I rushed to the punishment spot to convince them of my innocence. But they refused to hear me. They flogged me 15 times, right in front of a crowd of villagers,” she said, breaking down in tears.
As if it was not humiliation enough, the next day they took her to another place in the village and whipped her again.
“I wanted to drop dead. I wanted to end my life. Because I couldn’t face local villagers,” she said of the trauma she suffered after the incident.
But the reaction from the villagers, contrary to her fears, was sympathetic. “They condemned the Taliban for punishing me without hearing me out,” Saira said.
Ironically, after punishing Saira, the Taliban then asked her in-laws to call her spouse back from Hyderabad because they wanted to punish him too. “We were unable to understand why they wanted to punish my husband who was not even present in the village,” he added.
Saira said that she has left the matter to God. “We are poor and helpless people. We want to live peacefully. I wish for a divine chastisement for those who humiliated me,” she added.
Saira is not the lone woman who suffered at the hands of the loyalists of Maulana Fazlullah. Scores of other women were punished by the so-called sharia courts on the basis of hearsay during the ruthless and draconian rule of the Taliban.
Saira, who is expectant now, says she is waiting for help from human rights organisations to start her life afresh.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2010.