This story took place 10 years ago, but it could be true in Malaysia today. The details are sketchy because the person who experienced it is still traumatised by what happened.
Ahmad was a 25-year-old site manager at a local construction firm. He shared a one-storey house with three work colleagues. They were all from the same school, and their families knew each other.
They decided to share accommodation in order to cut down on expenses, so that their employer’s transport service could ferry them to and from work easily.
One of Ahmad’s housemates was going out with his younger sister, Salmah. Salmah was 18. The two had met during Raya celebrations the year before while Ahmad was still living at home.
Sometimes Salmah would hang out at Ahmad’s house after school while waiting for her father to pick her up. Sometimes a few of her school friends would join her and they would do their homework together. They only lived two roads away.
The week after they finished their Form Five examination, Salmah and three of her best friends decided to celebrate with a party. They cooked some food, put on a CD and danced to the music. They all had plans for the future. Two of them were going to enrol at a secretarial college in Kuala Lumpur. Salmah wanted to go on to Form Six. The fourth girl was starting work as a receptionist.
Ahmad worked late that night as he had to sort out the payroll with his boss, but his three housemates returned home and joined the girls in their celebration. Salmah’s father stayed briefly to have some food. The arrangement was that Ahmad would bring his sister home later that night. He advised the girls to turn down the music in case it annoyed the neighbours.
At around 10pm, there was a loud knock on the front door. They did not hear it at first as they were still dancing. When the banging continued, Salmah opened the door only to find several men staring at her. One flashed an identity card in her face, pushed her to the side and ordered the others to stand still.
To this day, Salmah cannot remember the details of that night. She only recalls being bundled into the back of a mini pick-up truck and taken to an office to answer questions. She denied that she or the others had been having sex. She told them about the celebration and that her father had visited a few hours earlier. She said her family knew her boyfriend. She explained that her brother had been delayed because of work.
None of the officers believed her. They did not say who reported them although Salmah suspects it was a neighbour who probably thought they were indulging in illicit activities. She has not spoken to the other girls to this day as their families forbade any contact after the incident.
Salmah claims she was thrown into a cell and released the next day, when her father was summoned. She received a letter saying that in the eyes of the shariah law, she had committed an offence of a sexual nature. She denied the charges.
For months, until the trial date was set, her life was a nightmare. People stared at her as if she was guilty of a heinous crime. Her examination results were satisfactory, but the threat of prison made her depressed and suicidal, so she declined further education.
Her boyfriend had been similarly warned. In the end, to escape the fine and prison, they decided to marry. By this time, his employer had terminated his services because of the negative publicity.
Salmah said: “To marry was the worst decision of our lives. We may have been girlfriend/boyfriend, but we were still young. We had our lives ahead of us. He felt stifled by being a husband. I could not pursue my studies. We had a child. We drifted apart.
“Today, my daughter and I live with my father. He is divorced and we take care of one another. I help him in his sundry shop.
“I wish I could turn back time. The officers refused to believe that there was no hanky-panky that night. Things could have turned out differently. I wanted to go into higher education. He wanted to become an engineering technician. My daughter deserves better. I now have a multitude of health problems. Depression caused my obesity.
“The raids are wrong. We did nothing illegal. Did a neighbour report us? Was it a practical joke by a passer-by who saw us having fun? Whatever the reason, the khalwat squad has robbed us of a future.”
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.