Asking for forgiveness from God is just a part of religious teachings. In Islam, to receive forgiveness from Allah there are three requirements: (1) Recognizing the offense itself and its admission before Allah; (2) Making a commitment not to repeat the offense; and (3) Asking for forgiveness from Allah.
In Dinajpur, Golam was a self-proclaimed religious leader and our God. Therefore, forgiveness was asked only from him.
The words ‘amaka maf koro’ (forgive me) echoed throughout the village as I watched women line up in rows and beaten to a point of unconsciousness. These women were naked. Their bodies almost skeleton like, they could barely handle the beating. I do not know what they did to warrant the punishment nor did I ask. I just watched in fear knowing that I would be next.
Children were beaten with twigs and barbwire that caused our skin to rip and bleed. At times, I would see the inside of my skin as my blood oozed out. We would all remain still on the ground. Some of the kids would say ‘amaka maf koro’ in hopes that someone would have mercy on us. No one had mercy on us. After the beating was over, the women filled buckets of water mixed with salt and poured it on us. The salty water stung my body and caused my eyes to burn. I would cry but the words ‘amaka maf koro’ never left my mouth. Eventually, my skin would heal until the next time I found myself being punished.
The reasons for our punishments varied. Sometimes I think that we were beaten just for the hell of it. Sometimes not doing our chores was enough of a reason. My chores were very different from the rest of the kids. Since I was Golam’s ‘chosen one’, I was responsible for cleaning after him; cleaning him; feeding him…the list goes on. Golam’s wife taught me how to serve him. If she wasn’t pleased or if he showed dissatisfaction, I was punished.
Golam also had strict rules for all of us at the compound. Perhaps, it was his way of controlling us. One of Golam’s rules prohibited us from leaving the compound unaccompanied. We were also not allowed to share our food with anyone especially since starvation was a form of punishment. I never followed the ‘rules’. I shared my food with the starved kids all of the time. It was my way of saying ‘fuck you’ to Golam and my mother.
My disrespect for Golam was never tolerated. If I cried too much or resisted his sexual advances too much, he would slap and kick me. After which, he would signal someone to escort me to solitary confinement.
The light would escape through the cracks above me as the water flickered below. I would hang upside down inside a water well for hours at a time. My feet were strapped to a rope and hung from a pole above. I do not remember how long I hung there as the well was covered and didn’t allow much light to enter.
My arms would dangle as I swayed around. My body would be drenched with sweat due to the closed-in space. I didn’t know how deep the water was below me. I didn’t care, I so desperately wanted to jump and splash in the narrow pool.
The well wasn’t the only place I found myself alone. A small hole underground was often my second home. I didn’t mind the solitude. I sat there with a stick or used my finger and drew pictures on the dirt. In the hole, Randall, my imaginary friend and I played for hours on end. He told me stories and made me laugh. I have always preferred to be alone with Randall, I was safe with him. My solitude would end at sunset. I would bathe and put on my nightgown. With no food or water for hours on end, I found myself on my back once again for Golam.
I wanted Amma to ask me for forgiveness for giving birth to me and for not loving me. I wanted to hear ‘amaka maf koro’ from Abba, my father, for leaving me when I was five and again when I was fifteen years old; from Golam for taking away my innocence; from Dhrobo Mama, my uncle, for belittling me; and from everyone for not loving me. Most of all, I wanted God to ask for my forgiveness for allowing evil to surround me.
In 1995, after my suicide attempt, I went to Memphis against my therapist’s advice to hear the words, ‘amaka maf koro’ from Amma. At my sister’s house, Amma and I sat alone and spoke in Bangal. “Amma, why did you let things happen to me?” Amma looked at me as if I had offended her by asking such a question. I didn’t speak and patiently waited for her response. She finally spoke, “what do you want me to say Shama, amaka maf koro? OK…fine, amaka maf koro”. I said nothing. I got up and left. Once again, my mother failed me. I left feeling empty.
Upon returning to Austin, I went to see Charles, my therapist. I never cried in front of him so we just sat in silence for almost the entire hour as I tried to keep my tears away and my voice from quivering. “You were right Charles, she didn’t ask for my forgiveness.” Again, we sat in silence. Charles spoke, “Shama, some things can’t be forgiven.” I got up and left Charles’ office. I sat in my car and cried.
I am no longer waiting to hear the words, ‘amaka maf koro’ from my mother or from anyone else. I am just working on forgiving myself.
Shama Shams is a mother of two girls, wife, children's activist, and writer of fiction and memoir. She was born in Bangladesh lived there until she was 10, when she moved with her family to Memphis, Tennessee. She now resides in Dallas, Texas. Much of her creativity stems from her childhood in Bangladesh. She has a masters degree in women in Islam from Florida State University and plans to complete a memoir within the next two years.