KOCHI: For a whole month, no one knew that Meera Toms was in prison. All she remembered was walking into a police station in Ajman to file a complaint against her boss who sexually assaulted her. But the tables turned, she doesn’t know how, and suddenly, she was being accused of a crime she never committed.
She wanted justice. She wanted the perpetrator booked. She wanted a second chance at life. But little did she know that what went down at the police station was just the beginning of a nightmare — one weighed down by gross human rights violations, days spent in prison and a sentence almost as frightening as the one her assaulter received.
As soon as she filed the complaint, Meera was found guilty according to Sharia law and was charged with Zina alongside her perpetrator. Three months of imprisonment awaited her on charges of illegal sex (premarital or extramarital) under Sharia. Unlike democratic, civil societies that treat a violated woman as a victim and stand by her, the patriarchial law in the middle-eastern country locked her fate with that of a criminal.
And two years after the horror, Meera came out with her first novel where she stands up powerfully against the law that denied her justice. Titled Zinah, the book is an autobiographical piece on her experiences in the Ajman prison, and return to normal life. Each page narrates Meera’s agony, but it also makes you realise that she may not be the only one. Zinah is an ode to many women who were presumably denied justice under Sharia.
“All I wanted was justice. I didn’t get it. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try at all. Sharia is outdated. Many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported there because women are hesitant to approach the law, which will only categorise them as violators too. So they suffer in silence,” she adds.
A Kozhikode native, Meera was working in Bengaluru when she moved to UAE for work. When she was thrown in jail, she felt like her whole life is falling apart, like the sky has fallen, crushing her spirit underneath. But, in a few weeks, she gathered herself and realised she should get out of the prison. “I knew I had many dreams to fulfil. I needed a second chance at life,” says Meera.
After reaching India in January 2019, Meera started writing the book. She is bewildered that such a crude system still exists in modern society. “I was a victim. How does a victim get punished alongside the perpetrator?” Meera asks. While she spent three months in prison, the perpetrator was imprisoned for four months.
Though it has been therapeutic, it wasn’t easy letting all that darkness flow through the tip of her pen. “I would cry every time I think of what happened to me. But I had to get the story out. Writing helped me,” says Meera. The first draft took a year to complete. Although the book has been self-published in Kindle, the paperback version will be released by a publishing house soon.
During the three months, Meera made friends with other inmates at the prison. That is where she unearthed the stories of other women who were wrongfully punished under Zina. “I saw women who lost it all — those who were unjustly sentenced. I knew I had to tell the world their stories,” says Meera.
Meera affiliates herself to the strong sisterhood she found in the prison, which helped her pull through the darkness. Though it wasn’t all good, it was what she needed to survive. Among the women who influenced her, Zebo stands out. As Meera left the prison, all she took with her was a set of prayers that Zebo shared with her.
Given the current geopolitical situation prevailing in central Asia, Meera’s book that rebels against Islamic Sharia law and its unjust treatment of women stands extremely relevant. She believes that the book will create a butterfly effect. Though it may not bring in a drastic change, it could make people think. “Many people got in touch with me after reading the book. It has made people rethink their obedience to Sharia. Besides, I believe in telling my truth. That gives me power,” she says.