The young woman is in high school and also works at the hospital part-time, after school. Does she love her suitor in return? Probably not, but she doesn’t find him repulsive. He is twice her age and also her boss, but her family likes the idea of a marriage match with a doctor. The only obstacle in their eyes is his religion, for Dr. Pant (no I’m not making up his name) is a Hindu.
The dedicated Dr. Pant promises to change religions and does so, also changing his name to Himmat Khan. The Afghan family of the young girl, Sabra Ahmadzai, is pleased to have made such a suitable match. They go all out with a huge wedding attended by seven hundred people.
Oh, but then duty calls. After several weeks, Dr. Pant is recalled to India, reluctantly forced to temporarily give up his newly-wed status until he can send for his bride, Sabra, whom he nicknames “Cat”. Isn’t that sweet?
Tick-tock. Time goes by. Cat waits by the phone but the communication from the ardent doctor is infrequent.
After a year, it is plain she has been duped. The devious doctor calls Kabul and spills the beans to his true love: he is married with two children. Meanwhile, since she is young, he thinks she ought to get on with her life, etc. You can imagine, right?
Unfortunately for the Indian bigamist, he really doesn't know who it is he’d “married”. He knows she'll be shamed, though, and she is, publicly and often. Neighborhood boys make fun of her, offering brief marriages. Some people suggest she take the honorable way out for her family and swallow poison. No doubt Dr. Pant, having been in Kabul long enough, hopes she’ll follow the advice he knows she is sure to get.
However, our heroine had other ideas. She finishes high school, borrows money in the form of a loan on a plot of land owned by her uncle, and gets on the bus, Gus. Ahmadzai travels to India to find the lothario who left her in the lurch. She has her wedding certificate, a video of her marriage, and a steely determination to bring the miscreant to justice, whatever form it takes.
Sabra doesn’t know a soul when she arrives in New Delhi with her mother. She finds the elusive Dr. Pant at his new station in the Himalayas and confronts him in front of his wife and children. She demands that he return to Kabul and divorce her. He refuses, offering her money instead. Are you noticing a pattern of dumb moves by this doc?
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Having Ahmadzai show up at the door should have been a clue that things needed to change and that he was no longer in control of his own destiny. Without understanding it, Dr. Pant had turned his fate over to the hands of a very angry and determined young woman who has him by the short hairs. This man sounds seriously dim-witted.
Ahmadzai takes her case to the police and to the Army. You can imagine the foot-dragging going on in those quarters. If she had to depend solely on these bureaucracies she’d be an old lady before justice was done. And that is what she is determined to have: justice.
The nice thing is that lots of others now want to see justice done, too:
Overnight, her cause was adopted by local activist groups. A signature campaign began. Women and students waved placards and protested in support of her, and blocked traffic for five hours demanding that Pant be punished. Ahmadzai addressed the crowds. The city’s newspapers splashed her story on their front pages. Ahmadzai’s mother fell sick and returned to Kabul, but Ahmadzai came to New Delhi and met the home affairs minister and the National Commission for Women.
Pant could face charges of bigamy and changing his religion without the army’s permission, transgressions that could result in expulsion from military service. Under Indian civil law, Pant could face seven to 10 years in prison for bigamy, if convicted, according to Ravinder Singh Garia, Ahmadzai’s attorney in New Delhi.
So what will happen? Nothing at all for the moment. This will drag on and on as officials hope this young woman will give up and go home. Fat chance! Dr. Pant could tell them how likely that scenario is.
Ahmadzai’s appointments in New Delhi are now managed by the university students in the sprawling campus that is the font of India’s liberal politics. She communicates with her family daily on Google Talk, sits in on films and debates the Israeli war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Ahmadzai now says that if her case drags on, she may try to enroll in an undergraduate course. “I do not know how long my struggle will go on,” she said. “At least I will have a degree while I wait for justice.”
So there you have the real-life soap opera that Bollywood is sure to turn into a movie eventually. Meanwhile, the obedient young Muslim woman is going to end up with a college education while she waits for her day in court.
Justifiably, she’s already got an attitude. Combine that with some learning and Sabra Ahmadzai is going to be a powerhouse. Maybe she’ll go back to Kabul and run for office. Maybe she'll go to medical school. Now wouldn't that be poetic justice (the best kind next to actual jail time).
On the other hand, at the rate the Taliban is assassinating educated women, she might be better off staying in New Delhi and helping other victims.
Dr. Pant deserves…well, let’s see what the courts decide he deserves. Were I in charge of his case, I’d start with an IQ test and go from there to a forensic psychiatry exam. It's plain that the man is either dumb or crazy.
Hat tip: Zenster