JUSTICE AT LAST
Story by: Frederick. H
This time round, let me share a series of testimonies from two different friends, woven to make one complete story. The moral for me here is, “tickling our minds to see those aspects in our societies that hinder girl child empowerment”. Solutions must always come from within.
“At 24, Sharrifah Mariam graduated with a Bachelor of laws degree. A dream come true for her and a day whose memories she still holds onto despite of all the pain. Sharrifah Mariam could not hide her excitement as she took her seat.”
Her sponsors were in attendance, the full team sat in the visitor’s tent, and stood up time and again to take pictures of their ‘adopted’ daughter. Her sponsors made every minute of their presence count. Sharrifah Mariam a daughter of a popular local Moslem cleric, Sheik Noor. A brilliant girl with love for humanity and respect for all people regardless of their differences. After her O Level studies, Sharrifah had no means of pursuing her A level studies. Her father a local sheik instead started preparing her for marriage. Her mother a housewife ganged up with the whole family to push her into marriage. They went ahead to arrange it.
On one of her dark days, Sheik Noor came back home earlier than usual in the early evening of the second day of the first month of planting. He immediately called out for her distressed daughter. Sharrifah Mariam, had spent the last three weeks living under pain, torture and pressure because she was not ready to get married at a tender age of 17. Her dream was to have a successful career in the legal fraternity and fight for Justice in her country. She had just been released from the prison cells – still a child though. Her parents had forcefully and illegally taken her into prison, to force her agree to the forced early marriage at the expense of her studies. “Yes daddy,” she knelt before him. “Today is a day you and I should celebrate.” Sharrifah remained quiet for a while. The sheik continued. “I spent my day with Kassim, the rich Muslim from the north and he is ready to take you up as his third wife.” Cold shivers ran through Sharrifah’s body and her heart stopped beating momentarily, her heart was immediately filled with grave sorrow and her knees started shaking, but she chose to stay silent. The sheik kept piercing her tender heart with more horror. “Kassim has already given me ten million shillings as part of the dowry and we have agreed on your marriage.” “But but…but daddy,” she stammered. “Shut up.” He barked at her with his eyes wide open. Are you aware that you are just a girl, I can no longer waste any more money on your school dues, higher education is not meant for women, and you will get married that is a must. The sheik roared.
Having been through terror for the last one month, she chose to retreat into her bedroom and cry silently. The Sheik was contented and so eager to marry off her 17 year old daughter. She started reflecting on her life and her time in the police cells. While she was in police custody, illegally there was a young man who was nice to her, she recalled. “You are too young to be here, but if you ever need any help, find me in ‘the give a hand premises’, opposite St Louis community college.” Suddenly she composed herself and joined the rest of the family that evening. The sheik was so pleased and Sharrifah’s mother was so excited, they believed she had heeded to their awful demand.
During the 7am prayers at the main mosque, which are usually attended by many, she chose to leave earlier than the rest. With no money at all, she whole heartedly walked towards St Louis Community college, about 27 kilometers from the mosque.
“She was so determined to the extent that her safety was a non-issue, all that ran through her mind was talking to the young counselor she met at the police. At 10pm she knocked at the gate of ‘the give a hand center’ where many mistreated children found hope.”
She was well received, because management was accustomed with such circumstances. The superior mother of the center made her feel welcome and loved at that moment. “Can I talk to John Paul the counselor?” Sharrifah asked. “Oooh JP, has already left for his parent’s home, he only does his volunteer work during the day.” Sharrifah then closed her tired eyes, sighing heavily, as if she wanted the ground to swallow her. The superior mother was quick to add. “If you need any help from JP, I can gladly offer it as we wait for him.” Sharrifah then narrated her ordeal vividly and the superior mother so touched by her actions, took her in as a daughter of the center. The center took care of her and all her basic necessities of life. The community called them the sponsors. Whereas the Sheik tried all he could to reverse the events, his actions were no match for the law.
Sharrifah and John Paul became so close even when everyone was busy with their own job; they were partners, friends and lovers. They understood one another and made a humble family together. They were blessed with a daughter and therefore decided to formalize their marriage. Sharrifah had to involve her parents in order to finalize the marriage rituals. When Sheik Noor learnt of this, he got so bitter; he called it blasphemy and swore never to let his daughter get married to a Christian. The marriage was delayed but JP and Sharrifah stuck together, insults were thrown at JP from Sharrifah’s family members, his life was threatened and several times he was innocently accused of petty crimes, but he always came out victorious.
Sharrifah was heavy, pregnant on that fateful night when John Paul did not make it back home. His phone number could not be reached. She called the police and reported the circumstances. She kept pacing up and down in their bedroom. With her hair so scattered as though she was running mad. Sharrifah was not allowed to leave their home, but she never slept all night. Early in the morning, the police officer knocked at the door, Sharrifah opened it with anxiety. The officer was hesitant to say anything but she had no option but to deliver the sad news. John Paul was reported murdered in cold blood inside his office. When the officer passed on the sad news, Sharrifah’s eyes turned red, and the officer rushed to hold her, she fainted and fell into her arms. She fainted while she screamed. JP was no more. She was rushed to hospital where she received good medical attention and after 24 hours, she delivered her second child, a boy.
Given the circumstances that had surrounded Sharrifah and JP, the police never rested until they apprehended the murder suspects. Young men who seemed to have been sent to execute the crime, pleaded guilty. The trial had been ongoing for two years and John Paul Jnr had grown a little. On the day when the Judge was to pass sentence, the court room was full, Sharrifah, her children and sponsors, Sheik Noor and his four wives were also in attendance for the first time ever since the criminal trial commenced. Before the judge could read out the sentence, she addressed the accused, “you are three young men, and you did not have any grudge with the deceased, is there any possibility that some one sent you?” The trio looked at one another, and the pain of spending all their life in prison weighed so heavily on them. With confidence the shortest of them all spoke out. “We were just sent to kill him, we were paid to do so and the person who sent and paid us to do so is here in this room now.” People within the court room started looking at one another, some resorted to murmuring, and the judge called the court to order. The policemen stood at all entrances and exits and every one remained seated. “Can you single that person out?” The judge authoritatively asked. “Sheik Noor” the three spoke out in unison while pointing at him. The court room suddenly became silent while Sharrifah started feeling lighter in heart; it was as though her spirit was telling her, justice has been delivered at last. The Judge immediately ordered for sheik Noor’s arrest, he was immediately handcuffed and whisked away like a chicken thief in a remote village.
In a world that still treats girls like liabilities or property, can we have meaningful empowerment? Over to you.