Two weeks ago, a video clip went viral on social media, showed an outraged and eloquent young girl complaining about harassment at the hand of a policeman working at Police District 3. Massoma who has been selling honey on the street of Kart-e-Chahar, in the clip, says a policeman was harassing her and even threatened her life. The video pushed Afghan social media users to pressure the Ministry of Interior (MoI), urging for police accountability. On Wednesday, June 10, the MoI announced that the policeman accused of harassing Massoma, nicknamed as the honey seller girl, was under custody.
In a hot sunny day, around 03:00 pm, she was busy talking to two customers while holding a sandwich in her hand with a tired look. Massoma was hungry as since the early morning she was on official business to sign a consent letter to release the policeman. Upon repeated request made by the family of the harasser, Massoma signed a consent letter to forgive the policeman.
A look into her life story, however, reveals that “the honey seller” is a renowned teacher in her community. Known as “ustad” literally means teacher, she is a well respected young teacher in the remote Daikundi province. While studying her high school, she would teach low-grade high school students in the remote areas and literacy programs for the elderly women of the province. This is why she is respected by her community and they call her ustad.
Trying her first chance for the country’s Kakor exam – university entrance exam –, Massoma made a good marks and got enrolled in computer science faculty of Balkh University. A month later, she was dropped out for getting a severe illness. Trying her second chance, Massoma made a technical mistake which caused her not to succeed in her favorite field of study. Unlike of some of her friends, she remained undeterred and never gave up. “I work on the street not to be defeated. I want to continue my study up to Masters and Phd degrees,” says Massoma, who is now studying civil engineering at a private university in Kabul.
Massoma’s father is an 85 years old man who owns honey farms in the central Daikundi province. Bottling honey for sell he sends them to Kabul for Masoma to sell the products on a street in Kart-e-Char, a western neighborhood of Kabul. With the business, Massoma is providing the living cost for her 13-membered family in Daikundi and study costs of her own and her younger sister in Kabul.
The police harassment
Doing the business is not that difficult but the harassment by young and elderly men is what that makes her feel insecure. “They pass me by with a look thinking as if I’m a different creature. Some doubtfully says whether I’m really sitting here to sell honey or do an [immoral] business,” she recalls her experience with a howling sense for the male-passersby.
Even the policemen of the local police station have tried to establish a contact with Massoma firstly extending a helping hand. The police officer who was punished after her complaint had primarily handed his phone-number to Massoma, asking the girl to call him whenever anyone start harassing her. Later, however, the police officer went on to threaten the female street vendor. “He gradually went on to propose me. He asked me to become his girlfriend and he would pay me 20,000 afghanis every month for I send it to my family,” the honey seller retold the story, adding that she then recommended the policeman to do that help with someone else who was more in need.
The policeman keeps bothering Massoma to an extent which forces her to curse him. Then, the policeman starts to trace and threaten the honey seller. “Wherever I would go, he would take my photo. Whenever I would come to work, he didn’t have anything else to do and kept following me. He did threaten me of editing my photos, defaming me, and encouraging the people to stone me,” Massoma says, adding that when she warned the police of filing complaint, the policeman replied that the police district was under his control.
According to Massoma, all the policemen who had harassed her, were recognized by her after the MoI decided to punish them. “The police who harassed me was denying even my recognition. He went on to accuse me of defaming him in return for money paid by someone else. I told him that there are eyewitnesses who saw him harassing me. Then he [immediately] started to cry and asked for forgiveness,” she says.
After the news of the policeman’s arrest, another photo started circulating on social media. The photo is showing a man kneeling before Massoma and begging for forgiveness.
Massoma has now forgiven the policeman on a condition that he stops harassing women. “He cried a lot expressing regret and asking me for forgiveness. He even showed the photo of his daughter. It was heart-touching for me. I guessed the fault is lying with him. But her wife and daughter are innocent. I want to forgive him for the sake of his wife and small daughter,” Massoma denoted.
Strongly determined to have independence
With undertaking her study in a private university, Massoma started to try with different businesses. She worked for a while with two different cafes and then sold sandwich on the street. “I would have married, if wanted to live an easy but indebted life. It was too easy for me to marry and live in my husband’s house since I had many proposals. Then, I would have become heavily reliant on my husband’s pocket and would not have any independence,” she stated.
Massoma seems very determined to fight hardships. While talking to her customers, she tries hard to focus on building trust rather than just selling her products. Whoever approaches her to purchase the honey, Massoma convince them that the product is pure and has the best quality. To support her claim, she argues that the product is coming from honeybees who have served wild flowers in the remote areas of Daikundi province.
“Take this honey to home, I’ll pay your money back, if the quality was not good,” this is the ultimate assuring words she usually says to customers.