“Kill me, but don’t marry me off”

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Looking for her missing daughter outside the gates of Panah Shelter home, Karachi 2012. Photo: Stephan Andrew/White Star

In a black abaya, her headscarf wrapped tightly around her hair, a middle-aged woman stands outside the gate. She is holding a photograph of her twenty-year old daughter gone missing for nine months. Someone at a legal aid office told her to check with the Edhi office and this women’s shelter. She says young women from her extended family often disappear. Why? Because they fall in love, then marry of their own choice.

When two watchmen open the gate to the shelter home, they say they haven’t seen her daughter. It’s a weekday when traffic gets heavy near Karachi’s Superhighway with cars honking for space and loaded passenger buses tilting sideways but we hardly notice the hullabaloo. The woman standing outside the gate with her sister, pleads with me to check if her daughter is taking shelter inside; promising she won’t ‘harm’ her if she comes home.

Tucked away on a residential street, Panah, a women’s shelter home has been around for nearly twelve years housing victims of violence seeking refuge because they fear they will be killed if they exercise their choice in marriage or divorce. When the Panah Trust was handed the Darul Aman premises, this government-run shelter for women was in a dilapidated condition says Justice (retd) Shaiq Usmani who is on the board of trustees. Legal activist, Zia Awan explains the very few government run shelters do not accept women victims of violence without a court referral unlike the Panah shelter home.

Panah housed 32 residents including 11 children when I visited last month: a daily routine for the fourteen or so women means the usual chores, cooking, cleaning, looking after their children, sewing, watching television. Usually they would never get the chance to learn computer skills, or learn to read or even study to become beauticians, but here the focus is to teach them skills that will serve them when they leave. The only thing is that they can’t leave the shelter until their cases have been resolved. But for most that isn’t an issue: they either fear they will be killed [by their male relatives] and even if they wanted to leave they’d have no where to go.

The sewing room is packed with women of all ages sitting against the walls, some with toddlers, some cradling crying infants. An embroidery class is mid-way and there’s a sense of eagerness. They want to learn to read and write as well, so that they can deal with their lives better, some say. Looking around this room, nineteen-year old Sagheera from Bahawalpur sits with her three year old son next to Badam Gul who appears sadder and more aloof than the rest. Shelter manager, Madiha Latif, a trained psychologist explains “When these women experience the kind of trauma that they do before they come here, we need to deal with them slowly. Counseling sessions for post-traumatic stress disorder are helpful. With cognitive behavior therapy we change negative thoughts to alter their behaviour patterns,” she says. They teach women how to use yoga techniques to release pain through deep breathing exercises and the tightening and opening their fists, Latif adds.

Badam Gul is in a white polyester shalwar kameez suit with bright silver sequins as if she were a traditional Pashtoon bride on her honeymoon weekend. Fists tightly clenched, her dangling amber earrings calling attention, she hides behind her chiffon dupatta. She has spent around a fortnight at Panah after running away from her husband’s home in Karachi. She went to the Malir court for help. Gul was regularly beaten, dragged by her brown hair, and strangled at night by her husband and his brothers. At twenty, Gul from Peshawar has been married for two years to Dad Mohammad, a fifty-year old suffering from severe mental illness. Gul was sold when she was eight years old because her father was unable to repay a 20,000 rupee loan. “My mother told him to kill me but not marry me to this man. But he was desperate so he sold me,” tears stain her face. She has seen her mother once since then and misses her. Now Gul wants a divorce and to return to her family home in peace. Her once carefree life haunts her present. I walk past the yellow marigolds in the garden and question why.

22 thoughts on ““Kill me, but don’t marry me off”

  1. A pathetic story. But how to alleviate hr misery? Would repayment of Rs 20K loan to her husband Dad Mohammad secure her divorce? If so, I am ready to pay.

    • Good thought, if the amount can secure her freedom, and even if it costs double the loan amount. I am going to match the amount.

    • Dear sir,
      I am very happy to note that everything is not lost on the other side of the border. We have kind hearted people like yoy who care for others. Even I too am ready to pay k20 /- to help the needy girl.
      Thanks.

  2. my heart bleeds when I read such painfull stories, poor child, how can’t his be happening in a Muslim society, savage animals. if 20,000 or 25,000 will secure her release and give her a new lease in life, please allow me to pay and make a small contribution in the name of Allah subhan o tala.

  3. The only guilt of these women being subjected to such horrible and inhuman, cattle like treatment is becuase they are women. So much for the rights given to women in Islam. Where are the mullahs on this issue? As always they will side with the oppressors.

  4. “The solution to almost all problems comes within a single word – and that word is ‘Education’. I’m speechless and really feel ashamed for ourselves. God plz help us in becoming a Human Being! :(

  5. Panah a ray of sunshine,people really doing something to alleviate the
    grievances faced by women. May Allah grant them more strength both financial and moral to overcome the fears which pervade our society. Please through
    such write ups educate and reform our brothers and as for the Mullahs I really donot think they have an enlightenment or love for Islam in their hearts to support the humane values espoused by the Noble Prophet of Islam and enshrined in our peaceful religion. All they seem to know is to foment strife among Muslims and spill blood.

  6. This story makes me very sad. I don’t understand how people can even behave so inhumanely toward another.

    Honestly though, I’m so proud of how honorable some Pakistanis are; so far, every sad article I have read about women or others suffering, there are always comments by readers below saying “I am ready to help/pay anything to alleviate their suffering.” On any other non-Pakistani news site I read that come with viewer comments, no one ever offers to help like this; they either ridicule religion, culture, or talk about how sorry they feel for the people. We really are a charitable and honorable people, and I really wish more of those kinds of Pakistanis would come into the spotlight in rather than the small number of crazies out there.

    Just like the commenter said, I am also willing to pay anything necessary to help some of these women out. If only there was another article that can better describe how to do this!

    • It is heart-warming to see such comments as yours sir.

      But there doesn’t need to be another article on how to help these women. All you need to do is visit the shelter and talk to these women yourself. Talk to their families. See if you can do something for them or if the families are too ‘jahil’ to accept the help. Believe it or not, there are people like that too.

  7. What has happened to Gul is very appethetic. Flesh and blood can not bear such an injuctice to Gul. It is shameful for a father to sell her dear and sweet daughetr for money. One must try to feel what would be condition of the daughter who is living without parents. Till today the women in Pakistan are subjected to inhuman behavior. In an uneducated society men consider women a shoe of of their foot and they are treating women like a slave and beast. Still women are slain, their noses and ears are being chopped off, their heads are being shaved, they are being undressed and pulled onto streets, acid is thrown at their faces. People who are doing this have no right to be called men they are just beasts and they must be hanged at squares so that no body sould think of torturing the women.

  8. quit depressing story,many girls lyk her suffers in our country evryday…..no rule,no shelter,no security and no justice..

  9. To Rehan. with due respects, but your statement makes no sense.If these people involved in the treatment of these women have not learnt about Islam from the Quran and Hadiths to claim to be muslims,then from where did they acquire the knowledge?From third rate ulama,mullahs that spew a goulash of Islam.Can they then call themselves muslims?Pre Islamic culture amalgamated with the teaching of these mullahs has resulted in the rest of the world seeing Islam with suspicion and scorn.t is a pity that your country has no strong force to stand up against such people .End result,innocent female lives suffer.How a father can send his daughter to a living hell just to save his hide is beyond comprehension

  10. Is this really happening in Pakistan. These kind of stories bring shame on Pakistan. I live in England and I read the dawn newspaper online everyday it makes angry and sad to read news like this the government should not sit idle and let this happen it should help all theses women who are in this home. If can help anyone in this home then I am here to help….?

  11. Glad to see the responses to the above article, particularly those people who genuinely wanted to be a part of change. I would recommend going to the Panah Shelter website and making a donation, or offering your time to go “educate” these women rather than discussing what others should do or what could have been done. Furthermore, we should be activists for women’s rights and vocalize the immorality of treating women like possessions that can be bought and sold.

  12. The dhilema is that we are ready to pay the money or her loan after all that happened to her but we still dont establish such a system that could ensure our sisters and daughter`s life and future.. so that the stories that are not even highlighted get the benefits as well..

  13. I became very depressed when I read Guls story and it breaks my heart to say that this is a very common thing on the streets of Pakistan and I thank ALlah a million times for people that make shelters like PAnah. I am a teenagers myself and live in Canada and after reading this article I picked my hands up and thanked ALlah for the great life he has given me and the education and the fact that I don’t have to go through so many things that other people in this world have to go through. I pray and make dua for girls like Gul that Allah makes their life easier and they actually feel like their also humans on this earth that have the right to live and be happy. I also make dua that Allah puts sense into these girls families. InshAllah ameen.

  14. tribal system in major party of country is still existing, main reason for this destruction is tribal system such system does not allow general public to learn fundamental righs of common man, we need extra ordinary resolution in pakistan like turkey or iran

  15. Islam does not allow injustice or cruelty to women nor does it encourages. Its the present laws, leaders & so called scholars who having limited knowledge are defaming the image of our great religion. Our self created customs of different sects are responsible for all such cruelties, so its better either to read the Islamic history or refrain from taunting comments on Islam which you peple are always looking for an excuse to do so.

  16. Education is not the solution to these issues specially not the current
    education system.i know educated women suffering at the hands of very educated
    men because therez no law enforcement practised in this
    country that can let women live with dignity.you can payoff
    the amount to release her and she would go back to be
    sold again cuz her mother is another helpless slave of
    a man who considers his daughter a thing that can be sold off
    anytime without any one confronting him.a mind set
    of hundred if years can not be changed by current system
    atleast.

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