Holding back tears, a woman relives the trauma of sexual assault, live on national television. A disbelieving man grills her about why she didn’t report the attack sooner. No, it’s not Washington. The extraordinary woman at the centre of this harrowing documentary is 7,000 miles away in Kabul, . She is Khatera, a pregnant 23-year-old who has been repeatedly raped and beaten by her father; he is the father of her daughter and unborn baby. And actually, Khatera did report him, to 13 religious leaders. One said he’d have her father stoned to death if the Taliban returned to power. Eleven told her to pray. The 13th advised her to tell her story on television.
The film follows Khatera’s fight against Afghanistan’s corrupt legal system to bring her father to justice. After receiving death threats from her uncles, she is forced into hiding with her mother and daughter. When their new landlord discovers her identity, he throws them out. The judge prosecuting her father accuses her of lying – the film’s most wrenching scene. Her own brothers blame her for bringing shame on the family. If her father is acquitted, Khatera herself may be arrested for having children illegitimately. Everything is against her; all the power is with the men. And yet she won’t give up.
The details are excruciating. Looking at her daughter, she says flatly: “Sometimes I think about killing us both.” But there is tremendous delicacy and gentleness in director Sahra Mani’s filming, mostly inside the family’s home. Where did Khatera find her voice, her grit? Why does she refuse to stay silent like the thousands of girls also – as she puts it – in her situation? “Because my daughter will grow up and become a woman. I don’t want her to go through what I went through.” The film is upsetting but, strangely, not bleak.