January 3rd, 2011
08:20 AM ET

Battling abuse from behind a mask

"I had so many dreams for my life, but when I saw him, they just disappeared." Saraya spoke softly, her hunched-over body and nervously twisting hands testimony to all she says she has had to endure.

"I told my father I didn't want to marry him: 'why are you doing this to me?'" She continued: "My father said 'you are of an age to be married and this is my decision, not yours.'"

Saraya says it only took three days for her to realize she had been married off to a madman.

Emotions and turmoil she never dared publicly speak of tumble out freely - concealed, along with her face, behind a mask.

Half the mask is pale blue, the color of the "chaudari" or burka, symbolizing the oppression of women; the other half white, representing innocence.

This is Afghanistan's new revolutionary TV show called "Niqab," meaning "The Mask."

Behind the concept is 28-year-old Sami Mahdi.

"I was always desiring to have something like the mask, like this show in our media," Mahdi said. "I was not very sure about the concept and the format, but I was very sure about the mask, you know. Because in Afghanistan, it's very difficult for women to talk about their difficulties and their problems, and the violence they are facing in their home."

Her identity safely concealed behind the mask, Saraya said she was forcibly married off to a known rapist, a man with an existing criminal record when she was 15 years old. He was 58.

"When my youngest was just four years old, my husband brought women to the house and raped them.

"My child asked me: 'who are these women?' I could not say anything to my child - my husband would just beat me."

She said she eventually ran away, fearing that he would harm their daughter. She said she firmly believes that if her husband ever found her and their three children he would murder them all.

But she says, she had to speak out for the sake and future of her children and other women.

"I am not sure we can make a difference for the victims," Mahdi said. "You know for the women who are coming here and talking about life, sometimes I think they are victims forever.

"But we can use the life of these individuals as an example to show the people, I am sure we can make some changes in the life of the women. And I am sure we can change in the minds of men in Afghanistan."

The studio audience is made up of a panel of religious and legal experts, as well as human rights campaigners, who offer their insight, opinions and advice.

"Your marriage at such a young age to such an older man is against Islam," a religious expert told Saraya. "His behavior is against Islam and against the law."

Mahdi said the inspiration for the show came from watching his mother.

"In the mind and eye of the people, her work is not worthy although she is doing much more than I. I am not talking just about my mother, I am talking about all the mothers in Afghanistan," he said. "Maybe there are a lot of mothers, thousands of mothers who are living in the same situation, they don't have a tongue, they don't have a voice to talk about what they are suffering."

Although the situation for women in Afghanistan has improved since the days of the Taliban's oppressive regime, women have been treated as commodities for centuries.

At least 59% of marriages in the most recent survey done by an Afghan non-governmental organization, Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, were considered forced marriages. Of these, 30% were "badal" or "exchange" marriages in which men trade their daughters or other female relatives for women or girls from other families for the purpose of marriage.

Another 17% involved a female given in marriage as compensation for a crime or other act of aggression committed against a man in another family.

"During the second episode, the victim, the guest, was a lady who was 12 years old when she got married," Mahdi said, noting this was a "badal" marriage. Her brother had murdered a man. She was given to the family of the victim.

As she spoke of the abuse and torture she endured, Mahdi says everyone in the control room broke down.

"They were crying ... they were crying," he recalled. "There are a lot of realities in Afghanistan, but when you talk about realities publicly, I am sure it will shock people. I was shocked."

soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. Walk_D_Plank

    ... what, their daughters are given away as a gift to the neighbors like a piece of meat, a leg of ham. What sick F@&K ever thought of that!!

    January 21, 2011 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. The Prophet Mohammed

    @ Tata- Amen!

    January 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Syed Husain

    These news are the best one, where American/western media is deceiving their own nation. Shame on them! lying to their own people. I am from the same area and these incident happened but may be one or two in a year.
    Check what is going in USA/UK/France and other countries but they don't want to discuses them. Male dominate society are using female as coke and they are as public as a soda. Use her and dump her. In east female have are the most respectable and owner-able role. They (west) are scared that if the true role displayed on the media they will lose the freedom of their own female abuse.
    Few months ago a movie was shown where female was punished for adultery publicly, got very famous but the local of that area didn't know the girl. No evidence of any event happened. Later found they that an NGO created that movie to get their goals. Woo their own NGO are lying to west.

    Wake-up man kind wake-up

    January 17, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. Meghna

    This is the funniest one you have posted. We are rolling over here!

    January 14, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. A.Xavier Raja

    Safety science and “THE LADY WHO FROM DESERT “in

    January 13, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. Desty


    January 9, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gabi

    This is truly sad, listen to yourselfs, no wonder there is war, abuse in this world.
    Deeply sad to read fellow humans talk like this. Poloitics and religion should not mix. All of you please be
    in silence and say a pray for all those who suffer or die because of poor leadership! [and shortsidedness just like above]

    January 9, 2011 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. jamal

    Despite the "often negative" portrayal of Islam by media, thousands of westerners are adopting the religion every year.

    January 9, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      @ Jamal, yes, that's because people in general are stupid, not to mention the thousands of religious scandals we have seen on the news over the years. Hopefully they will wake up before they asked to strap on a suicide vest.

      January 21, 2011 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. anonymous

    Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition! The only verdict is vengeance; a vendettor held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. a teen girl

    stop arguing with eachother and just appluade this woman for fighting back against abuse toward women!

    January 5, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • a teen girl

      my bad, i mean "appluade this MAN"
      but seriously you guys, your missing the point
      women are getting the chance to speak up in Afghanistan, isn't that a good thing?
      (and i agree with you Lisa Albanese, they should take out identifiers)

      January 6, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  11. tony russo


    January 5, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LarryKegel(US Army)

    Dan: German was taken from the Hebrew Language!!!

    January 5, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan in Lafayette, IN

    I will tell you again, Jesus said forgive them they do not know what they are doing, but as for your cult of 360 you know exactly what you are doing. Like you said your cult gives you the right to be judge and jury and allows you to cast the stones against those who break your laws. Now if you know Jesus' teachings he had stopped men like yourselves from stoning a women to death for adultery by telling each man without sin to cast the first stone and one by one they all left and if you and your 360 cult are without sin that would make Jesus a liar but as the world can see you are murderers, suicide bombers, you dismember body parts of people all in the name of your truth of 360degree cult! This is Not God's plan or mystery but that of the devil and you have fallen into his trap! Save your hide and repent before it's too late!

    January 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Lusia Kuziw

    By the way, to all those folks talking about the Communists failing thirty years ago – they failed because we were supporting the poor mujahedden – who then turned our own guns and training against us. Try watching Sylvester Stallone's thrid blood movie – how he was saving the poor muhjahedeedn from the bad Russians. We as a nation still dont' get it. We should have let the Soviets finish the Taliban off thirty years ago.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Quite right,Lusia. Under Communism,Afghanistan would be properous if not free by Western standards. Anyway the Afghans would be living in peace today. Moreover,had the West along with several Muslim countries not helped the Muhjjeddin,the Communists would probably have won without Russian intervention.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
      • LarryKegel(US Army)

        Do You really think that Afghanistan would be better off today under Russia??? We can not let Communist take up 1/2 of the World!!! What do You think would happen after They won that??? Do You really think They would have stopped there???

        January 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      For one thing We could not afford to let Russia take over Asia!!! That is what They were trying to do...

      January 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
      • Dan in Lafayette, IN

        Wrong phony boy!

        January 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
      • The Prophet Mohammed

        @ Dan in Lafayette,IN- I guess the Russians were just there for the Vodka?

        January 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lisa Albanese

    These posts have gone off course into personal attacks. One great thing about where we live is the freedom to have our own opinions. There is no need to get baited and drawn into an argument that goes so far off course that it doesn't at all help solve the original issue. There are victims of all types, everywhere in the world and their voices should be heard so we, as humanitarians, can help them.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      FastFrankie: Until People start respecting the Other Peoples ways instead of trying to change them!!! You will have nothing but fighting going on... You can Educate These People to take care of Themselves... But You don't have to change Their way of the Country to do it!!! Who has the right to tell anyone That You are Right And They Are Wrong??? The only Country close to be perfect is Israel!!! They still have a ways to go to complete that!!!

      January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
      • Dan in Lafayette, IN

        I am Baptist and I respect all people until they make up lies about God's word to make it sound like it was prophecy about their so called prophet and then say that Jesus was talking about the coming of this so called prophet immediately after His resurrection to comfort His disciples but instead meant to be for the coming of the spirit of truth some 500 years later who was born from a pagan family and an illiterate no less. But the worse is that Jesus did not die on the cross, Judas did. He was supposedly transformed before the crucifixion. Now how can you respect such insanity? And Larry if you are knowledgeable of the old testament in Isaiah chapter 42 there is prophecy of the coming of the Lord Jesus and in chapter 53 is prophecy of His fate. Please read closely.

        January 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  16. LarryKegel(US Army)

    Quit That!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan in Lafayette, IN

      your the phony boy!

      January 4, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  17. FastFrankie

    Why pay attention to stuff like this when you can just sit back, relax and let those people become the majority in N. America and W. Europe through immigration? Christopher Hitchens and people like will be desperately looking for majority-Christian enclaves to escape to.

    January 4, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      The problem is both the Catholic and Muslin want to change the World to Their Religion... If We start respecting each Others beliefs!!! We have a lot better World today...

      January 4, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
      • FastFrankie

        Hi Larry, how on earth would that help the brutalized women of Afghanistan? Why should anyone respect the horrific culture they live in. The issue here is not one of inter-faith respect.

        January 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
      • Snahedrin

        You are not in the Army and no very little about much. You are Sir, a fraud.

        January 13, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  18. atal

    Yakoubi...you are just stupid.....i wish some can stop you..

    January 4, 2011 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      A lot of what He says makes sense!!! It is just the stupid way He puts it make it sound Stupid...

      January 4, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  19. LarryKegel(US Army)

    Yes a Woman...

    January 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  20. LarryKegel(US Army)

    It is the Right Wing's that cause all the Problems in the World!!! Get rid of Them and all the problems would be solved...

    January 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  21. LarryKegel(US Army)

    The day will come when Woman will take over the Countries of the Middle East and it will be a better place because of it!!!

    January 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(US Army)

      That is what They said about a African American being President!!! But still it happen... They already had a Woman lead Israel and look what a good job She did there!!! It will take a Woman to make all the Countries better... That is Why I was hoping Hilary Clinton would be President today...

      January 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Warren

    Who's this Daniel-2 that the nutjob Bledsoe keeps talking to? Will somebody kindly tell me???

    January 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Sarah

    This is truly sad. So many women in Afghanistan are mistreated when they don't deserve it. Thank you Sami Mahdi, for helping the women of Afghanistan.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bledsoe

      The Communists tried that 30 years ago like Joseph already stated above. Had they won,there'd be no war there today!

      January 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      @ Dan in Lafayette, IN- Actually he needs to see a drone...

      January 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Lisa Albanese

    I applaud Sami Mahdi for shining a light on this abuse. The women in masks are to be commended for their courage. A suggestion: please have them remove any remarkable identifiers like nail polish and turn their rings around so they can be safe. Also, perhaps using a different 'name' would help. I would hate to see any of these women suffer the consequences if their monster husbands or in-laws identified them.
    Having the courage to speak about this abuse is the first step in creating change. Their daughters and granddaughters will thank them for the risks these women are being taken now.

    January 3, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Carla Urrutia

      I agree with the suggestion of lose the nail polish and the rings and any toher jewlery and give them slipper that are not there own so that no one can tell them apart.Couarge they have and wisdom to have the sense to take the chance to speak out against those who beat and mutalate them phyiscally, emotionally and spiritually and leave them wonder why me and what did I ever do to desearve this in my life and even question there GOD..I will keep you all in my prayers because like you, I too live with abuse everyday and I too look for my way out for me and my daugfhter....GOD Bless you all..

      January 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      I'm not sure we should call this Revolutionary TV but at least it's a small step in the right direction. No one should have to live like this.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |