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Breaking Taboo, Afghan Director Tackles Subject Of Rape In New Film

Victims of rape in Afghanistan are often ostracized by society.
Victims of rape in Afghanistan are often ostracized by society.
By Farangis Najibullah
"All doors were locked.  There were many men.  I begged them not to..."

Breaking one of his country’s taboos, Afghan filmmaker Abdul Rashid Azimi has made "Akse Yadgari" ("The Keepsake Photo"), a movie about rape, a prevalent wartime crime.

The film had its premiere this week in the western Afghan city of Herat, where it was shot. It tells the story of a teenage girl, Nargis, who is raped by a group of armed men. The men are never caught.

According to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, moviegoers who attended the screening mostly welcomed the film. As one audience member put it: "It was a brave initiative to tackle one of the most painful issues in this country."

Azimi says his movie is based on the true story of an Afghan girl in the country's northern Sari Pol Province, as well as on other Afghan rape cases.

"There’s a scene in the movie where the media report a parliament member’s son has raped a 14-year-old girl.  It happened in Sari Pol," Azimi says. "In reality, those media reports prompted me to write this script and make the movie."

The movie shows how victims of rape in Afghanistan also become the victims of society’s prejudice and are unable to rebuild their lives.

Lifetime Of Shame

In the deeply conservative country, being raped can mean a lifetime of shame and disgrace for the victim and her family. Women almost always prefer to keep silent about the crime.

Even discussing the issue of rape is taboo. In fact, a word for rape does not exist in either Dari or Pashto, Afghanistan’s two main languages. 

It took a lot of courage to play this role. But if we don’t show the bitter realities of our own society, who will?
Rape has become one of the most prevalent wartime crimes in some Afghan provinces. According to women’s rights groups, hundreds of girls, women, and young boys have been sexually assaulted by warlords, armed men, and others.

Rights activists say there were 112 reported rape cases in Afghanistan involving underage girls in the first three months of the current Afghan year. Activists insist many more cases go unreported.

Mirroring Afghan reality, one of the main characters in the movie, Naser, a young man who is in love with Nargis, seeks revenge by trying to kill her assailants.

Under Afghan law, rape is an offense punishable by death, but Naser does not believe the Afghan system will ever bring his lover’s assailants to justice.

"That is the case in real life in our country," says Wahid Mozhda, a Kabul-based expert on social affairs. "Many rape victims’ families try to take justice into their own hands."

"Rape is an extremely sensitive issue here," Mozhda continues. "If victims’ relatives don’t have the power to punish the attackers, they will even consider killing their own daughter, the victim. Families won't go to authorities to complain about the crime because making it public would bring the family a lifetime of dishonor."

Rapist Marries Victim

As another "solution" to the issue, some families force the rapist to marry his victim. But this only happens when the victim's family has enough power and influence to do so. In most cases, attackers usually target women or boys from impoverished families and get away with their crimes.

Mozhda says some victims who can’t get revenge move far away, where they hope no one will recognize them. 

Afghan media started to break the taboo last year, giving extensive coverage to two rape cases in northern Takhar and Sari Pol provinces, where girls as young as 11 years old were gang raped by armed men. 

The coverage prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to meet with the victims and their families. He promised to crack down on rape and bring attackers to justice.

Women’s rights groups claim the police could not arrest one of the assailants in Sari Pol, however, because he came from an influential family.

Shukufa Murtazavi, who plays the character of Nargis, says she hopes the film draws attention to the plight of rape victims and their families in Afghanistan. 

"It took a lot of courage to play this role," she says. "But if we don’t show the bitter realities of our own society, who will?"

Azimi says he hopes his movie will help to change Afghan society’s prejudice toward rape victims. As things now stand, he notes, people’s attitudes further punish the victims, while those who commit the crimes usually walk free.

RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.
Profiles In Courage

"On The Front Lines" is a special RFE/RL project that spotlights men and women who have dedicated their lives to the causes of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, human rights, ethnic tolerance, and democratic values. More

 
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by: Sergey from: USA
January 08, 2009 19:16
Very good start to discuss gang rapes of women in Afghanistan and Islamic world at large. It is crucially important to mention that gang rapes of women is a widespread practice in the Islamic world. <br /><br />It is also important to mention that Islamic courts usually acquit male gang-rapists because Islamic thought is that women &quot;provoke&quot; these ugly acts by the way they dress, act and behave.<br /><br />We need to look at these horrors so many women are facing in Islamic world in a context of Islamic attitudes and beliefs about women--not in a mere context of one country--Afghanistan.<br /><br />Here are a few articles about the subject of gang-rapes of women in Islamic world and even in Europe and America where sizable unassimilated Muslim communities are not required to reject certain attitudes of the Islamic world due to &quot;political correctness&quot; and &quot;multiculturalism&quot;.<br /><br />&quot;Muslim Gang Rapes and the Aussie Riots&quot;<br /><br />http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=3DC049A1-CE0D-4557-A3B7-2AD9C7BED66B<br /><br />&quot;Chinese woman forced to watch gang rape and burning death of her sisters&quot; <br /><br />http://www.colorq.org/HumanRights/article.aspx?d=Indonesia&amp;x=Jakarta<br /><br />&quot;Pan-European Arab Muslim Gang Rape Epidemic&quot;<br /><br />http://www.iris.org.il/blog/archives/757-Pan-European-Arab-Muslim-Gang-Rape-Epidemic.html<br /><br />&quot;Norway: Muslim Gang Rapes Continue&quot;<br /><br />http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/005412.php<br /><br />

by: M.Azeem Ruhani
January 15, 2009 06:29
Mr. or Ms Sergey, what ever, although i condomn the act of rape in any part of the world whether muslim countries or non muslim coutries and telling you my brother or sister that islam never acquit male for any crime and deals with male and female equally and for your information islam acquit female in that type of cases. I ask a question from you that do you think that more then 1 billion muslims in the world are fool who are parcticing islam? if you think yes or no in both cases you need to know, if yes, then why you are that much clever to not be a muslim where millions of people practicing islam, and if no, still you need to know that why that large portion of the world community are mulims and you are not? Please dont judge islam from what you have heard about instead study islam to find the facts. Anyhow i am 100% sure that you dont know anything about Islam and as soon as you start to study islam and start to understand what islam says and what is the core message of islam as a mature person you will certainly convert to islam and if you are muslim then you will try to be good muslim.

by: Sahar from: The Netherlands
January 22, 2009 10:34
I really don't understand the second comment from Ruhani. When rape becomes a problem for muslim societies, it becomes an islamic problem, whether you like it or not. This has nothing to do with the core of islam. I don't see why you are being all defensive. Rape is a common problem everywhere, but I can not solve this problem everywhere, I could start in where I can and that is in Afghanistan.<br /><br />As a muslim it is my duty to fight injustice, and, my friend, that is the core of islam. Please stop talking about converting and what islam is really all about, you are taking the focus of the rape issue and putting it some where else. It sounds like you have more problems with what people think of islam then muslim women, your sisters, being raped by muslimmen. Start condemning malicious practices that is being done by our muslimbrothers that give us muslims a bad name. That will lead to something.<br /><br />Best regards,<br />Sahar

by: Susan from: U.S
March 27, 2009 22:09
It is very important and very good start. I hope Azimi's movie can help to change all of the world societies and Afghan society. I think you should show this movie to Afghan Government, because this is the problem the Afghan Government should know and answer for this kind of crimes. If crimes are happening and people can't get their revenge. Are there any police officers could help to hopeless families?

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