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An unwilling Afghan bride's defiance leads to death

COLUMN ONE

Frashta didn't want to marry her cousin, and she fled. In a land where tradition and family honor are everything, that sealed her doom.

March 25, 2010|By Jeffrey Fleishman

Reporting from Charikar, Afghanistan — A child of the provinces can never run far. She should have known this. Frashta, though, was headstrong. Two shots from a hunting rifle in the night, then they rolled her in cloth and tried to hide her, but some things cannot be hidden. She was found in the yard.

"A bad woman," said the cop.

"So beautiful that no words could describe her face," said her uncle.

No one had a photograph; a picture wouldn't tell the story of who she was anyway. A young bride who betrayed her marriage for another man. Or a woman who spent her short life peering through the mesh of a burka until one day she defied family and tradition and ran away from home after refusing to wed her cousin. In this land, both are dark, dark sins.

What would end her life began when she was a few months old. Word came that her father, a mujahid, had been killed in a battle with Soviet troops in the late 1980s. As is custom, Frashta's mother became the second wife of her husband's brother, Abdul. To ensure clan harmony, a match was quickly arranged for Frashta: When the girl came of age she would marry Abdul's son, her cousin.

The repressing years of the Taliban came and went with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The town of Charikar, divided by a canal and surrounded by mud-brick homes and fields that stretch across a valley, grew tense with crime and war. Machine guns appeared on the roof of the police station. The markets in Parwan province stayed busy, though, with buyers and sellers and boys hauling goods in wheelbarrows.

With each season, Frashta grew taller, twirling her long black hair into a scarf, drawing closer to the day she would marry Tor Baz. Like her, he had no last name. Most villagers here take one only if they enroll in a university or for other important matters, like a faraway job.

"I think she got as far in school as the ninth grade," said Dal, her mother's brother and an unemployed fruit seller. "She was fast and I think she was stronger than me. If we ever got into a fight, I'm sure she would have won. But she was living in a very bad family and did not want to be there and did not want to wed her cousin."

When she was in her early 20s, she did marry, according to police. Village elders gathered one day and blessed the union; what had been promised years earlier came to pass. A mullah read from the Koran and men hurried through the streets, delivering Tor Baz to Frashta for the couple's first night together. Doors and shutters closed.

Trouble quickly followed. Frashta's stepfather and grandmother, who had arranged the marriage, told police that Frashta had a secret life. They said that 45 days after the wedding, in the summer of 2009, she escaped with another man, a shopkeeper, and headed for Kabul, the capital, two hours south. Dishonor had befallen the family.

That is not the Frashta who appeared one day at a women's shelter in Kabul. This Frashta said she had refused her cousin and escaped after she was drugged by her grandmother and beaten by her stepfather.

"There was never a marriage, but the family was demanding one. Frashta told me that she kept telling them: 'Don't say I am engaged to my cousin. I hold him as a brother, not as a husband,' " said Parween Rahimi, a caseworker at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. "Her grandmother came into her room one morning and gave her drugs, some kind of tablets, and told her, 'Don't say these bad things again so your father doesn't hit you.' "

Frashta said that when she awoke, her grandmother told her that while she was unconscious her cousin had had sex with her, and she must marry him to protect her reputation.

Rahimi said it was a ploy to force Frashta to bend to the family's will; a medical exam, according to the rights commission, showed the young woman was a virgin. Documents are tough to come by in Afghanistan: the commission had no copy of the medical test and it is unclear who ordered it; the police had no proof that Frashta freely accepted marriage.

"Her grandmother came to our office and tried to convince her to come home, but Frashta sat very far from her that day," Rahimi said.

Police tracked her down and charged her with leaving her husband, a crime and an affront to the patriarchal order. The shopkeeper was also arrested.

Mohammad Iqbal Ahmadi, chief prosecutor in Parwan province, said Frashta's story to the rights organization was fantasy and that no tests were done to determine her virginity.

"Her cousin told us she had an affair with another and that she was receiving phone calls from men, and this proves she was not a good girl," Ahmadi said. "If she felt threatened, why didn't she make a complaint to police?"

The shopkeeper, Meir Agha, testified at a hearing that he had never touched Frashta and had only helped her travel to Kabul. He and Frashta were sentenced to five months in prison. Upon her release in the autumn, Frashta refused to return to the house of her cousin and her stepfather, Abdul.

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