Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

I was several months late in reading Mohammed Hanif's book. In June, A Case of Exploding Mangoes was all that anyone could talk about. After reading the book, I understand why. It is a truly a wonderful piece of satire. I have transcribed one of my favorite parts, Hanif's fictionalization of how Zia came up with the Hudood Ordinance, below. Zia is on the phone with his spiritual mentor, some religious judge in Saudi Arabia, and the following conversation takes place:

'Yes, Qadi, I wanted your guidance on this matter: what happens if the accused says that she was forced to fornicate? How do we establish whether she is telling the truth? I mean, sometimes you can look at a woman's face and tell that she is a fornicator, but we need legal procedures to establish it.'

Qadi spoke as if he had thought about this for a long time. 'Women always make this excuse after they are caught fornicating, but we all know that rape is not easy to commit. The perpetrator will need at least four accomplices. There will have to be two men holding her by her arms, two pinning down her legs and then the fifth one between her legs, committing the act. So the answer is yes, a woman can be raped and it's a serious crime.'

'So the woman will be required to recognize all five culprits in the court?' Zia asked.

'Our law, you know, is not set in stone, it encourages us to use our common sense. So the two men who are holding her down by her arms, maybe the woman would not be able to recognise those two and the judge can make an exception.'

'And what if she didn't see any of the culprits? What if they were wearing masks?'

General Zia could tell the old man was suddenly angry.

'Why would a rapist wear a mask? Is he a bank robber? Bank robbers wear masks. Kidnappers wear masks. I have never heard of a rapist wearing a mask in my forty years as a judge.'

General Zia felt stupid as Qadi continued, this time in a cold, admonishing, teacher-like voice. 'Rapists like to see their own reflection in the woman's eyes. That is one reason they'd never wear masks,' said Qadi.

'And what if the woman in question was blind?' General Zia asked.

Qadi clearly didn't get General Zia's drift.

'Do you mean morally blind or someone who Allah has not given the physical power to see?'

'Blind. A woman who can't see.'

'The law doesn't differentiate between those who can see and those who can't. Let's assume for the sake of legal argument that the rapist was blind in this case, would he be entitled to any special privilege? So the victim, blind or not, is entitled to the same scrutiny, same rights.'

'How will she recognize her rapists and the other people who held her down?'

'It can be done in two ways: if she is married, her husband will have to establish in the court that she is of good character and then we'll need four male Muslims of sound character who have witnessed the crime. And since rape is a very serious crime, circumstantial evidence won't do. "We heard screams and we saw blood and we heard the man hitting her" is not enough evidence; witnesses will be required to have witnessed the actual penetration. And if the woman is not married she'll have to prove that she was a virgin before this horrible crime was committed.'

General Zia felt much better by dinner time. He had already passed Qadi's legal advice to his Chief Justice and was now composing a speech in his head that he would ask the First Lady to deliver at the annual charity bazaar of the All Pakistan Professional Women's Association. He tried to test some of the arguments on the First Lady after reminding her of her promise to carry out her state duties. She listened silently at first, but when he reached the part about the victim having to establish her virginity the First Lady interrupted him.

'Are you talking about Blind Zainab's case?'

'Well, yes, but basically we are trying to establish a legal precedent that will safeguard women's honour. All women's honour.'

'I don't know anything about the law and I'll make this speech it that's what the law says.' The First Lady pushed her plate away. 'But how is this woman supposed to prove that she is a virgin if a bunch of men banged her for three days and three nights?' (138-9)

-- Excerpt from Hanif Mohammed, A case of exploding mangoes. Random House. New Delhi; 2008.

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