It’s been more than a year since young law student Khadija Siddiqui was stabbed mercilessly by her class fellow Shah Husain. The incident took place on May 3, 2016 in broad daylight on Davis Road, Lahore where Siddiqui had gone to pick up her younger sister from school. Despite 23 gashes to her body, including the neck, she miraculously survived. Siddiqui courageously fought for justice and late last month, a court in Lahore sentenced her attacker, who happens to be son of an advocate, to seven years in prison. She sees her survival and legal victory as a chance to live a more meaningful life. Sidiqui shares her story:

They call court proceedings a trial, and a trial it was. Not only was it a trial for the law to give due recompense for my ghastly wounds, but it was also a trial for my soul, a trial of my patience and, above all, a trial of my honour, dignity and character.

On the July 13 and 14, I was cross-examined by the defence council. Waves of nausea swept over me as I stood in a courtroom roiling with men, each day for six exhausting hours at a stretch.

As hard as it is to believe, the defence actually resorted to hiring men to stand behind me to giggle and heckle whenever the opportunity arose. Their base mentality and rotten souls were on display for all to see. Adrenaline rushed through my body, pushing me to flee.

But their hideous tactics only hardened my resolve in standing up to this lawyer boys club, and the voice inside my head steadied me: the truth shall prevail.

I was determined to fight for Pakistani girls and women who choose suffer in silence instead of baring their suffering in front of callous and heartless men, and the women beholden to such men.

But it wasn’t always so.

Larger cause

In the beginning, it was just me wanting to feel safe again – to put the man who hurt me, who tried to kill me, in a locked room so that I could walk the streets free of fear.

That all changed when the trial started.

I began to realise that this wasn’t just about me, that it was bigger than me. It was about every Pakistani woman who suffers from casual violence on a daily basis, and how she doesn’t get justice, how her soul remains forever scarred.

And so, I adamantly etched it somewhere deep inside me: He cannot get away with this; he must be punished for what he has done.

I wondered if the opposing lawyer had any moral values. Did he resort to mud-slinging to save his client because the trial had actually exposed deep-seated toxic masculinity?

Whatever conscience he had was swept aside as a minor inconvenience to win. Just to win a case for a man he knew was guilty, morals be damned.

As I stood before the judge and bore the brunt of his ridiculous accusations and desperate insinuations, I knew that he was launching personal attacks since he was out of valid arguments.

There were no lines that the defence did not cross, there were no depths of indecency it did not sink to. This is what awaits every woman who brings her pleas for justice to the courts of Pakistan.

Personal attacks

And so, the defence tried to portray me as a woman of “questionable moral character”, of having multiple “illicit” relationships. I have half a mind to pursue charges of slander as well.

Their questions revolved around my personal life:

“Is it true that you live in a posh locality of Lahore? Is it true that you are a modern girl?”

As if a “modern girl” living in a posh locality deserves to be killed or cannot bring her attacker to justice.

Oh and yes girls, beware if you have ever had pictures taken with your male cousins, actors or models, lest you be portrayed as someone with “loose character”.

I don’t want to be seen as a victim or a survivor, but rather as a strong woman who has the capacity and courage to overcome all barriers in her life and move forward. Not only am I rising above the challenges myself, I am gearing up to help others around me in similar situations.

My story, like other such stories, will always be an inspiration for people to never give up and stand firm with an unyielding spirit.

With every passing day, the answers to my youthful queries become clearer. I can see purpose to my existence as a woman. I now comprehend my duty as a responsible Pakistani citizen: to help the oppressed gain the voice they had either lost or never had.

Once utterly meek and suffering, I found strength in faith and rose with steely determination to challenge the status quo. I won and my voice was heard everywhere.

The landmark verdict for conviction of the assailant was given on July 29, 2017 after a painful 14 months.

The journey that led to this historic day was tough but worthwhile because the man who plunged a dagger 23 times into an innocent’s flesh will not get a good night’s sleep, at least for a while. His father, who fights for people not to be behind bars, now has a criminal son in jail.

So, what I did with my second chance in life was to try to make a difference. And I’ve only just begun.

This article first appeared on Dawn.