When a girl was gang-r*ped by four men at the age of 13, her village named her a “black virgin” and ordered to kill her.
According to tradition, in the rural village of Dadu in southern Pakistan, Kainat Soomro’s own family should murder her, as her sexual assault had made her a token of disgrace.
Four years later, Kainat is alive and a documentary about her story is premiering on television in the US.
But that doesn’t mean she or her family is safe. The movie, ‘Outlawed in Pakistan’ shows Kainat Soomro is still destined to be killed because she took the step of fighting for justice.
The film is a testament to her family’s strength and endurance in a life which has only become more difficult the longer they have stood up against the tradition.
The Soomros have faced isolation, fear and intimidation from the four men Kainat accused of raping her, and from the members of the small village who were afraid of challenging moral laws which have been in existence for centuries.
By virtue of making the rape accusation, Kainat is an outlaw in her own country.
The film, which was selected for screening in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, retells the story of the young girl’s attack while walking home from school down a narrow village street by a shop where Kainat says the owner, Shaban Saikh, and three other men including a father and son held her down and sexually assaulted her.
The village declared her “kari”, meaning ‘a black virgin’, and ordered her family to carry out an honour killing to end the shame a rape victim brings to a family, according to Pakistani culture.
The rapists beat her father and one of her brothers. Her older brother went missing for three months and was found murdered.
But Kainat’s parents refused to kill their daughter, instead deciding to take up her cause in a legal system which places the burden of proof on the victim.
“They told me I am not a real man,” Kainat’s brother, Sabir tells the film-makers, Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann, ” that you failed to follow your tradition, you failed to kill your sister.”
Meanwhile, threats of death and further violence have forced the Soomros from the house they owned in Dadu to the city of Karachi, where all 18 family members now live in a two-bedroom apartment.
The men are unable to find work, so the women embroider fabrics to pay rent and they often have to resort to asking charities for food.
Her father says the family has “lost everything” pursuing the case in which neither the police nor government authorities have taken any responsibility.
Whenever Kainat attends court proceedings, she undergoes a barrage of “nasty” questions, up to 300 at a time, including “what part of your clothing did you remove?” or “who raped you first?”.
The presiding judge is affronted that Kainat has brought the charges, and rules against her in part because she has accused a father and son of a gang rape.
“In his view,” the film’s narrator says, “he said that would never happen in Pakistan” and describes Kainat’s accusations “as a product of her own fantasy”.
The men are acquitted, and, in an interview with the film makers, appear bewildered at why their accuser didn’t just stay at home “and keep quiet”.
They see their acquittal as proof Kainat does not have good character. If she was a decent woman, she would have sat at home, silent.
The film portrays Kainat’s persistence in her quest for justice, hiring an attorney, making television appearances, appealing court decisions and her unwillingness to back down in the face of continued adversity as heroic.
Even as Kainat and her family say they will fight on, perhaps for years, her lawyer suggests the future will be difficult.