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Some of us slit wrists to escape them: Yazidi women who escaped the jaws of ISIS seek India's support

Publication: Indiatoday.in
Date: January 31, 2018
URL:   https://www.indiatoday.in/amp/msn-mail-today/story/some-of-us-slit-wrists-to-escape-them-yazidi-women-who-escaped-the-jaws-of-isis-seek-india-s-support-1157954-2018-01-31?__twitter_impression=true

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmaavat has sparked a raging debate on whether the Hindu custom of mass self-immolation, “Jauhar”, was “honourable exit” for a woman facing abduction and rape at the hands of a conqueror.

Now, 18-year-old Nihad Barakat Shamo Alawsi, a Yezidi girl from Iraq’s Shinghal town who was sold to ISIS as a sex slave and managed to flee after 15 months in captivity, recalls how hundreds of Yezidi women even today choose death over rape — slitting their wrists or jumping off buildings.

Nihad, who had herself attempted to take her life on several occasions to escape the brutality of ISIS men, told Mail Today how young prepubescent Yezidi girls taken as sex slaves would lock themselves up in washrooms hours before being forcibly married off to Islamic State fighters, and try to slash their wrists or devise other ways to end their lives.

“My younger sister, who was just 13 years old then, was repeatedly raped in the adjoining room and her screams still echo in my ears. In those dark hours, several other captive Yezidi girls, who were brought in from different camps, first told me that many chose suicide to escape rape and torture,” recounts Nihad as her glassy eyes remain fixed on her restless hands.

Nihad arrived in India last week as part of an eight member delegation comprising other ISIS rape and persecution survivors to attend the Republic Day celebrations in the national capital and draw support from the Indian government for the Yezidi community. The trip was facilitated by philanthropic groups such as Sewa International, Yezidi Human Rights Organisation-International.

On this sunny morning, as the delegation planned to take a tour of the Capital, for Hanifa Khalaf, another ISIS abductee who escaped before she could be sold off as a sex slave, the world came apart yet again. She received a call from her family informing her that the terror group had demanded $16,000 (Rs 10,20,400) for the release of her younger sister.

Two of Hanifa’s younger sisters, aged seven and seventeen, too had attempted suicide. While both of them were lucky to escape and are now in Germany, Hanifa lives in northern Iraq, hoping to rescue other members of her family still in captivity.

“The first man, who took me, died soon after and his family then sold me off to another ISIS fighter in Mosul. Months later, I heard he was planning to pass me on to his cousin... The neighbours saw my plight and took pity on me... they helped me connect with my family, who got support from Steve Mamman, a Jewish brother from Canada, and sent a smuggler paying $800 (Rs 51,020) to rescue me.

On October 15, 2015, when his family was sleeping, I was smuggled out of Mosul. It was a five-hour walk to freedom and family. I still remember seeing my parents waiting impatiently for me at the border of Zamar,” said Nihad, her face lit up at the memory.

Nihad had to leave behind her three-month-old son and has not heard of her younger sister, who was taken captive along with 27 others from her family on August 3, 2014 in an ISIS attack on Shinghal.

The sun-worshipper Yezidi community has close links with Hindu cultural traditions and is reaching out to Hindus and the Indian government for support.

Mirza Ismail, (44), chairperson of the Yezidi Human Rights Organization, who himself fled persecution by ISIS in Iraq as a 16-year-old and walked barefoot for 19 hours traversing rocky mountains, said, “Even today over 3,500 people are held captive in Iraq by Islamic State of which majority are women and children from the Yezidi community. Here in India, we met minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj, who was extremely warm and promised us full support. Many of my fellow Yezidis live in pitiable conditions in refugee camps in Iraq and are in need of desperate financial help.”
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