By Francis Ngige and Munene Kamau
It was one of Kenya’s most brutal cases of domestic violence.
It was mentioned by the Kenyan delegation to the 1985 United Nations Women conference in Beijing as an outstanding example to why violence against women must be discouraged.
Those who read about Piah Njoki may never have forgotten the ordeal she went through in 1983.
She was the Kirinyaga primary school teacher whose husband of 15 years, angry at her because she only had daughters and no son, broke a beer bottle and used its jagged edge to gouge out her eyes.
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On Sunday, November 8, Njoki died of diabetes at her parents’ home in Ndia, where she had lived ever since, bringing to a close an agonising 25 years of blindness. Njoki, a retired teacher who had returned to teaching using Braille, will be buried this morning at her father’s at Kirimunge village.
The brutal attack was carried out on November 4, 1983, and nearly never became a public issue as her husband, Jackson Kagwai, intimidated her family members and the victim and almost escaped justice.
Kagwai was arrested and charged with causing bodily harm, for which he was jailed for seven years in 1986.
To the shock of the court and Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA) who had pushed for justice, Njoki pleaded with the magistrate not to jail her husband, saying her children would suffer as she could no longer fend for them.
When he left prison, Kagwai sent emissaries saying he was remorseful and wanted to be re-united with her, but her family told him off.
Yesterday he was in tears as he was told she had passed away. He gazed into empty space for long as he said: "It is the biggest regret of my life. I was then a drunk but I have reformed. I wish I could turn back the clock."
He then went on to reminisce about their good times before he committed the beastly act.
Njoki’s marriage to Kagwai was solemnised at the Baricho Catholic Church on August 16, 1969. The then lovebirds cherished marital bliss as they envisaged a bright future for their children.
When they were courting and even when they married, it never occurred to them that the other would blind one of them, not by love, but quite literally.
Their marriage took a turn for the worse 15 years later, when Kagwai, in a fit of anger and quarrel over why she could not bear him a son, did the unthinkable.
Evidence adduced in court indicated he beat her up, then broke a bottle and grabbed a sharp shard. He sat on her and, as she and the children screamed, gouged her eyes out.
When The Standard traced him at Kiaga home in Kirinyaga, the ageing man looked troubled as he said he had not seen Njoki since leaving prison. He said he was not sure if he will be attending the burial. "I am still not sure because I was told never to step in that compound. They did not even tell me she had died. But if my daughters ask me to attend, I could ask elders in her family to let me bid her farewell," he said.
The couple had six daughters. One passed away while the rest lived with their grand parents then all got married.
Kagwai, a former banker, denies the attack was prompted by her failure to give birth to sons, as the court was told.
He says: "I over reacted because I saw the only woman that I loved drifting away from me. I could not imagine living without her. I could not hold my anger after Njoki indicated that she had no intention of coming back to our matrimonial home. She had run away to Kutus where she had rented a house," recalled Kagwai, now 69 years old.
The attack happened in the early hours of morning. On the fateful day, early risers in Kiaga village woke up to screams of a woman crying in pain.
When the neighbours at Kiaga Trading Centre entered a shop then owned by the Kagwais, they found a sight that many would never forget.
On the floor lay Njoki, with her eyes covered in blood and her five daughters screaming. She was then pregnant with their sixth daughter.
Kagwai who shocked both friends and foes was described by neighbours as a humble man whom they thought was doing well as a family man.
Njoki later healed, enrolled for Braille training and returned to teaching.
At her father’s home yesterday, her elder sister, Hellena Wachuka, said the family was still bitter 25 years later.