Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 33-year-old mother of two, will have an audience with Malaysian royalty next week when she will ask to be caned. Malaysia’s royals (the country has nine sultans, one for each state on the peninsula) don’t usually grant audiences to commoners, even part-time models such as Kartika, to discuss corporal punishment. But the Malay royal families are officially in charge of religious affairs, and Kartika was convicted two years ago in an Islamic court of drinking a beer.
She’s already paid a 5,000 ringgit ($1,469) fine in a case that has sparked a raging debate over the powers of Islamic courts to issue such rulings, because federal law shields women from such punishments. She has said repeatedly that she just wants to be caned and be done with it. (And perhaps in the process take a bit of revenge given the storm of controversy over the case?)
It’s not as if it’s going to some horrific dungeon experience. Kartika is due to receive six strokes, administered by a woman policeman using a thin rattan cane, while crouched fully clothed on the floor of a prison.
But for all sides on the issue, it’s the principle that matters.
Kartika’s unwanted celebrity resulted fromthe fact that she was going to be the first woman ever caned in Malaysia, a country whose 27 million population has a small majority of Malays, and subtantial minorities of ethnic Indians, Chinese and tribals. She will no longer have that distinction. Malaysia announced last week that it had quietly caned three women in December and January for having illicit sex. One of them told local media that it didn’t hurt.