August 2, 2011

Illuminations from Soraya M.

By Renee Copeland

I watched the film “The Stoning of Soraya M.” as research for last year’s production, Kshoy! Now, in this new project, Tushaanal, Soraya’s story persists in my mind, and I realize this is not a “new” project. Nothing is new when it comes to stories of violence and greed, told repeatedly with ragged breath by history.

Part of me will think of Soraya while I am dancing the closing section, “Fireburn.” Fireburn is a dance in which we envision lighting the whole stage on fire, embracing the destructive flames as the catalysts for regenerative energies. The intense rage and sadness I felt watching the dramatic depiction of a very real experience in Soraya M. will flicker in and out of my eyes, my hands, my breath, my chest, as I dance. Near the end I will sense Soraya’s ashes falling and floating around me. I will remember how her aunt calmly, righteously, burned her body and kept her bones safe from wild dogs.

We continue the fight after death. Below is a poem I wrote that reflects my reaction to Soraya’s experience.


Oh Soraya,
those stones are not holy.
God is great.
A God could be great,
unhampered by human traits.
Until then
stones are caught in unholy acts,
an avalanche of haram.
Small pebbles in children’s hands
click clack clack
a game, a sport:
their mother’s demise.
Good throw! Good aim!
God is willing.
Her father throws and misses,
and again.
Her father threw and missed.
Her father threw
her father
Move aside old man. I’ll complete the deed. 
You are unable. God is still willing.
The people nod, ignoring the sign.
A traveling circus interrupts for a brief moment.
Offering a real show for the village.
But the audience cannot recognize this sign either.
Signs are too concrete
visual and blatant in their form.
The only thing that seems to hold merit
is the opposite:
an ephemeral, ghost of a rumor.
A husband’s accusation tossed ever so lightly
into the open air.
Oh Soraya.
Those stones are not holy.
In the end
there is your hair, your blood,
your teeth, your brain, your bones,
and your children’s vomit, their heavy little stones thrown.
Strewn amongst the others.
Forgive them, Mother, for they know not what they do.

Below are some links to stories that have helped me understand the constructed links of
gold/money/wealth to female sexuality and to violence against women.

Dowry related abuses and murder:

In India:
Dowry Death and Murder
, various articles on topic
The Times of India, ongoing

In Bangladesh:
Bangladesh’s dowry-related violence
Aljazera – July,  2010

In Australia:
Cleric ‘must deny’ views on rape
BBC News – January, 2009

In Wales:
Wife jailed for ‘false retraction’ of rape to appeal
BBC News – November, 2010

Gold mining and sexual violence:

In Papua New Guinea:
Papua New Guinea: Serious Abuses at Barrick Gold Mine

Human Rights Watch – February, 2011

In Guatemala:
Mining and Violence in Guatemala: Indigenous Women Resist

NISGUA Working for Justice in Guatemala – 2011

Gold mining and sexual labor:

In the Caribbean:
Excerpt from Sun, sex, and gold: tourism and sex work in the Caribbean
A book by Kamala Kempadoo, 1999

In Burma:
Kachin teenagers are trafficked as sex slaves for Burmese authorities in a gold mine at Mali Hka River
Democracy for Burma Blog -May, 2011

In South Africa:
Selling sex in the time of AIDS: the psycho-social context of condom use by sex workers on a Southern African mine
Article by Catherine Campbell, Social science & medicine, 50 (4). pp. 479-494

In the Democratic Republic of Cogo:
Forty-eight women raped every hour in Congo, study finds
Jo Adetunji, Guardian – May, 2011