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Girls & Women

Pakistani Woman Survives Getting Stabbed 23 Times to Become National Hero

On May 3, 2016, a female law student was brutally stabbed 23 times in Pakistan by her male classmate.

Against the odds, she survived.

And against even higher odds, in a country rife with violence against women, Khadija Siddiqi spoke up against her attacker, and managed to have him sentenced to prison.

Siddiqi was 21 when she was assaulted and left for dead in the streets by a former friend who began threatening her after the two had a falling out. At the time of the attack, she was picking her younger sister up from school.

“This man - he just pushed me into the car and just started stabbing me," Siddiqi told NPR. “And I thought it was the end. Because, you know, there was no stopping. It was full of blood.”

Siddiqi’s younger sister attempted to call for help, and was stabbed in the back in the process.

Read More: Pakistan Takes a Step Forward to End Honor Killings

Siddiqi herself was stabbed 23 times all over her body. She remembers lying in the middle of the road, presumed dead by the men around her.

“It was sheer inhumanity,” she told the Nation.

Though Siddiqi’s recovery from this event was incredible, what was more incredible was the enormous hardship it was to bring her attacker to justice, despite his identity being known the entire time.

The assailant turned out to be the son of a prominent local attorney, a fact that made prosecution more difficult in a place where women often give up seeking justice in courts due to a plethora of stumbling blocks, impediments, and discrimination. 

Read More: Pakistan’s new law protecting women against violence may be a game changer

Siddiqi’s lawyer Salman Safdar told the Diplomat that the case looked like a longshot from the start.

“[The fact that] the attacker’s father was a leading lawyer made the task of prosecution literally impossible,” he said.

For months after the attack, Siddiqi’s assailant was let out on bail while the case was delayed over and over again. It seemed that his family’s status would allow him to skirt punishment indefinitely. It is entirely possible that this might have happened, had Siddiqi and her lawyer not taken a risky next step.

The two decided to go public, and put photos of Saddiqi’s injuries and her attacker online with the hashtag #KhadijaTheFighter. Eventually the story went viral, attracting attention from all over the country.

Within a month, a judge ordered the case to go to trial. This was far from the end of the battle however. During the proceedings the defendant’s lawyers tried to shame Siddiqi and call her sexual fidelity into question in an attempt to get her to drop the charges.

But as the hashtag suggests, Siddiqi is a fighter.

Eventually the court ruled in Siddiqi’s favor, and her attacker was sentenced to seven years in prison. For many in Pakistan, the case became symbolic of the struggle for women to earn equal respect under the law.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report on Pakistan that alleged the government did not do enough to protect women and girls from violence.

“Violence against women and girls—including rape, murder through so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remained routine,” the report read. “Pakistani human rights NGOs estimate that there are about 1,000 “honor killings” every year.”

Read More: Transgender Pakistanis Will Be Officially Recognized as Citizens for First Time Ever

As for the fighter, Siddiqi remains as committed as ever to enter the legal system that once threatened to rob her of her dignity and justice. Currently she is in her last year of law school.

“I am not a victim, but a strong, honorable woman who has the capacity and courage to overcome any hurdles or barriers in her life and move forward,” she told the Diplomat. “Justice for me is not only getting the perpetrator behind bars, it is to set a precedent case, so that next time no one even thinks of taking such a step.”

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