It was noon… The sun was shining brightly over head. Fatima and Mehroon were both sitting outside in the courtyard while the house was locked with Fatima’s husband inside.
Fatima stood up suddently. “Let’s go!” Saying this to Mehroon, once again she walked out through the gate.
Mehroon struggled to keep up with her mother’s pace.
Walking for even a few minutes under that hot sun was in itself the greatest punishment for any man. Yet, Fatima would not reduce her pace or give any break to her daughter who was in so much pain.
Nearly at a miles distance was the Panchayat office.
When they reached there, they could see that all the Panchayat members along with the Sarpanch (the village headman) were all seated under the gigantic peepal tree and prepared for the trial. A pretty big crowd had also gathered to witness this session.
Fatima and Mehroom walked through the crowd and made their way to the middle of the open ground where the session was taking place.
After talking among themselves for a while, one of the Panchayat members narrated the story to the entire audience just as he had heard it from the Sarpanch. It was exactly what Fatima had told the Sarpanch.
Hearing the story, the crowd started murmuring different possibilities among themselves.
“She must have provoked whoever the man was to rape her.”
“No no… Dr. Mukesh was telling how she slapped him because he said that he would come a little later to check her mother as he was busy with many patients. I’m sure she is going to put the blame on Dr. Mukesh. In reality nothing must have happened with her. It’s all a way to get some money from a good man.”
“Yes, she probably made out with that Asif kid she hangs out with all the time.”
“Roaming with a boy all the time. What else can be expected from such a girl!”
Mehroon kept standing there with her head bent low and Fatima kept staring at the Panchayat members.
The Sarpanch then asked Mehroon, “Did you see who the rapist was?”
Mehroon shook her head in denial, still looking down.
“Do you have anything to add to the story?” The Sarpanch inquired.
Mehroon looked up. “Yes sir…” she replied softly.
Fatima looked at Mehroon and muttered under her breath… “Shut up Mehroon. You have destroyed your life. Now do not destroy ours’.”
Mehroon looked at her mother with eyes wide open in disbelief and spoke out loud… “Sir, I think my father raped me!”
The soft murmuring of the crowd grew loud and Fatima looked at Mehroon in shock and anger and then turned her head away. Everyone began to look at Mehroon in a questionable and suspicious manner.
One of the Panch members spoke… “Some dark evil force has definitely entered this girl because of the incidence. That is why she is speaking such evil things. Blaming her own father… Shame shame… This evil should be taken out at once. The girl must be cleansed. Or who knows what she will do.”
All the other Panch members nodded in agreement.
Mehroon just looked down and did not speak another word.
The Panch members along with the Sarpanch then began to talk among themselves while the crowd continued their own murmuring.
After a while the Sarpanch spoke. “Silence everyone!”
The whole crowd grew silent.
The Sarpanch continued… “It is very much evident that some dark evil force has entered this girl and all of you must be in agreement with the Panch… Hence I, the Sarpanch, along with the Panch members have made the decision that this evil must be whipped out of this girl.”
The Sarpanch then looked towards Mehroon… “Girl… It is your choice now… A hundred lashing bare body or a thousand lashing with clothes on. Which do you ask for?”
Mehroon looked up at the Sarpanch and almost smiled… “A thousand lashings would be great sir.”
Fatima intervened quickly and started to jerk Mehroon… “Are you mad? A thousand…”
She then turned to the Sarpanch and clasping her hands in prayer form began to beg the Sarpanch… “Sir… You know my girl is not what she used to be. It is the evil within her that is speaking. A hundred lashings… bare body. She chooses that. Ignore what she said earlier. No way can she bear a thousand lashings. Please sir.”
“Your choice… A hundred lashings… bare body. So be it!” The Sarpanch spoke. “Get her tied to the palm tree.”
Mehroon did not speak any more. She had fought her last battle to try and save whatever dignity she had left, but her mother had taken that too away from her. She only stood there in silence like a statue with her head down and a smirk on her face which could have meant so many things if anyone would have cared to see it.
Two huge man came and caught Mehroon by the arms and dragged her to the palm tree which was standing tall at a few feet distance from where the girl was.
In one pull, they tore open the abaya which Mehroon had been wearing and threw it on the ground. Her wounds were still very much fresh. For the second time in twenty-four hours, Mehroon was standing completely naked. Only the last time her dignity was assaulted by one man, whereas this time there was the entire village doing the same.
Mehroon did not try to fight back or say anything. She had given herself up completely to whosoever wanted to do whatsoever with her.
She was then made to lean against the palm tree. Her hands were pulled behind and around the tree and tightly tied. Men of all ages ogled Mehroon to their heart’s content.
The two men got their whips. The crowd kept watching, almost enjoying. No one spoke a word. Only Fatima fell to ground crying silently as she turned her face away from her daughter.
Swwwissshhh… The whip made a sound as the two man lashed their whips in the air.
Mehroon could feel her heart skip a beat.
Releasing the evil had begun.
The first strike was made. The cracking sound that the whip made while hitting just below Mehroon’s belly going across her upper thigh raised goosebumps in every spectator present there. A clear red mark remained witness.
Mehroon only closed her eyes tight and took a gulp in. Not a word came out of her mouth.
The lashing then continued in uniform pace. Second hit… Third hit… Fourth hit… Hit after hit… Mehroon’s body could barely be seen any more. It was completely red… swollen… and bleeding. But yet, not a scream, not a word came out of that little girl’s mouth. She stood there as silently as a statue and only her tears told the tale of her pain.
At the count of one hundredth lashing, the two man stopped and left the place.
The Panch members then got up and the Sarpanch announced, “The evil has been chased out of the girl’s body. She should now be fine.” and left.
Slowly, the gathered crowd also began to disperse and eventually they all left in small or large groups talking and murmuring things among themselves.
Only Fatima and Mehroon were there. The sun had come down a little now and the heat had reduced. Fatima got up and ran to Mehroon. The girl was not moving. Fatima started to untie her daughter’s hand. Just as the last knot was untied, Mehroon fell to the ground. She was not unconscious, but she had nothing left in her that would keep her alive or awake.
She had lost her strength… She had lost her faith… She had lost her courage… She had lost her dignity… She had lost everything in the past twenty-four hours…
Fatima tried to pick up her daughter, but failed. She saw a wheelbarrow at a distance. Fatima ran up to the barrow and started pulling it. She managed to get the barrow up to the girl. She then opened her petticoat and covered Mehroon with it. Mehroon was not moving at all but only staring at her mother with drowsy eyes, while her mother kept moving around frantically trying to get her daughter on the cart.
After a lot of struggle Fatima managed to get her girl on the cart but her strength was not enough to pull the cart with the girl on it. She tried and tried, but the cart would not move.
Finally Mehroon spoke… “Ammi…”
“Yes Mehroon…” Fatima came running to the back of the barrow where her daughter was lying and sat next to her. “Everything will be fine dear. Don’t worry. I’ll take you to Dr. Mukesh. He’s a good man. He’ll save…”
“Ammi…” Mehroon interfered. “Is it a curse to be born a girl in this land?”
Saying this, Mehroon closed her eyes… slowly… forever…
Fatima did not get the time to reply, but even if she would, she did not have any answer to that last question her daughter asked her.
Fatima sat there… howling… crying… screaming… banging her head with her hands… banging her head on the ground… but it was all too late for anything.