"In patriarchal societies, women are made to face the brunt of the ignorance of men. This society, my place of birth, has always made me feel I was born on the wrong part of the map. I was born in the village of Mianwali, but since my father was an ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) officer and my mother was an education official, I was raised in Wah Cantt, near Islamabad. My childhood took place in a fraught household that was all over the place, upside-down from the very start. As I grew up, I learned of the toxic relationship between my parents and this affected something deep within me. I hated the idea of tying the knot with anyone.
Even as my society touted marriage as a dream for young girls, I formed my own. I wanted to pass the CSS (Civil Superior Service) exams and become a Civil Service officer.
Years of hard work paid off when I earned admission into my dream university. I started to focus on my Defence and Diplomatic Studies, armed with a clear vision: I wanted to graduate and be able to fend for myself, an ambitious goal for a Pakistani woman. Since the university was in Rawalpindi, I had to shift homes soon after my admission. During my university years, I lived with my paternal uncle, a childless man. Having found an escape from my parents' fights, I was much, much happier. The more time I spent away from them, the more I learned of what it means to really live.
Unfortunately, the bad luck that has hounded me my entire life didn’t take long to strike again. Upon the completion of my first semester, my paternal aunt sent a proposal to my parents from Mianwali. She wanted me to marry her only son. This was a terrible blow. I hated the idea of being married off, and had serious concerns about my cousin, for I knew who my father was, and I knew the kind of person his nephew would be.
Circumstances sometimes push you to decisions that you regret for the rest of your life. Such was the occasion I faced: my father sitting at my feet, and begging me to marry his nephew. Moved by my duty to him, I said YES. It was a forceful yes, for, after all, he was my father.
A small wedding in the village became my fate, neither a choice I had made nor a dream I had ever dreamt.
But life didn't stop here; in fact, what followed was to be the most challenging chapter of my life. For my father’s nephew was crueler than I could have imagined.
The initial days of our married life went well; I tried to be happy for others’ sake. The trouble started when I came back to Rawalpindi to continue my education. My husband wanted me to stay with him, refusing to settle in Rawalpindi and demanding that I uproot my own life.
He wanted me to leave everything behind, my degree and my plans for a career, to live a housewife's life with him in the village.
More than ever, I felt the pressure of the patriarchy the day I had to choose between my husband and my career. What hurt me most was that my father was supporting him, opposing my educational goals. My mother took my side; she didn't want me to sit at home and handle only house chores. She didn't want me to give up my independence. This tussle degraded the ties between my parents even further. In this period, I used to visit my husband on weekends. His aggression was initially quite tolerable, but with time he made shows of his distorted masculinity by turning to domestic violence.
I remember one day when he beat me with such intensity that I rushed out of the house and literally screamed at the roadside. I had become agitated and fearful within two or three months of our being together. My studies became an afterthought as my health was put under duress, and all I knew was that I couldn't afford to live with this man. But what was a helpless girl to do in our society?
As time passed, my father and husband grew even more hostile. They insisted that I leave my education behind and commit to a life rife with abuse. I wasn't even allowed to meet my siblings or mother to ask them for help. I had seen my mother earning her own livelihood even while being a victim of domestic violence. Some simple cost-benefit analysis hence told me that the root cause of my dilemma was my toxic marriage, and I struggled to come to terms with this, delaying my abandonment of university. Before I could express my feelings, my husband sent me a notice of divorce. When I received the divorce notice, my father divorced my mother on the spot.
My father pushed my mother out of his house. At the same time, my husband pushed me out of his house. My mother and I found ourselves on the road, without a ceiling over our heads or food to satisfy our hunger.
All of our relatives showed their true colors, and we were left to fend for ourselves.
Somehow, we were able to find a place to live, but soon received court notices over false allegations put forth by our husbands. Since they were powerful and had the support of our society, they were also able to snatch all employment opportunities from us. Despite being at fault, our former husbands continue to live comfortable lives, while my mother and myself are left with nothing, visiting court over false allegations. Life is unjust. Our community supports the powerful, and I have lost faith in this system. Ultimately, Allah is all-powerful, and I believe retribution awaits these men in the hereafter.
But what of myself and my mother in this life?
From Afsana: Domestic violence is an ongoing issue for many women in Pakistan. Afsana recognizes its intersection with education and is committed to shed light on these personal stories of domestic violence, like the one shared above. Please continue to support us in our commitment, and if you also have a story to share as a Pakistani woman, please contact us.
Written by Arooj Saghir of Afsana
Edited by Adil Rahim Hyder of Afsana