On March 7, 2014, Sobia Bashir tied the knot with Mudassir Arby in Chicago, Unites States, in a grand ceremony attended by nearly 400 guests.
Bashir was a working woman with a Bachelor’s in marketing and an extensive work experience to her credit, before she was introduced to Arby in Houston, while visiting her sister.
Career-oriented and aspiring to make her own identity Bashir agreed to marry the vice president of Deutsche Bank in hopes of getting promising companionship but what she got in return was a lot of pain – both physical and mental.
Four months into marriage, Bashir was not only forbidden from working but Arby also limited her social interaction, forcing her to stay home while emotionally abusing her every day. “I had clarified to him that I would like to have a career and balance both home and work to which he had initially agreed upon,” says Bashir.
“However, after getting married, he refused to apply for my work permit or allow me to have a career, because he said ‘you will get wings’,” she recalls, adding that whenever she mentioned restarting her career he blatantly refused and ordered her to “stay home and win hearts” instead.
It took months before Bashir could seek solace in her younger sister, informing her about the ordeal she was going through in the hands of Arby and his family, who constantly berated and verbally abused her.
On July 27, 2014, after Arby physically attacked Bashir for not obeying to clean the room in the middle of the night, she Skype messaged her sister for help who immediately contacted the cops.
The only reason an independent woman like Bashir tolerated the torture was because of the way divorce is stigmatised in Pakistan. “He threatened to divorce me and send me back to Pakistan as a 30-year-old divorcee to teach me a lesson,” says Bashir.
“I was under immense mental agony envisioning my life being ruined because of the stigma and shame associated with getting divorced in Pakistani culture; along with the trauma it could cause my family,” she adds.
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There is always a way out
Despite the rise in divorce cases in Pakistan, women are still reluctant to file for dissolution of marriage says director Aurat Foundation, Mehnaz Rehman. “Especially when there are children involved, because the mother isn’t financially stable she feels the pressure to stay in the marriage,” adds Rehman.
Whether the woman hails from an affluent background or not, the class doesn’t deter the stigma attached to divorce as families force women to compromise rather than seek for khula, a woman’s right to seek for divorce in Islam, says Rehman.
Self-awareness about their rights has, however, led many women to opt for the dissolution of marriage. “Women can directly go to courts without having to file an FIR if they are looking to get out of an abusive relationship,” says lawyer Afsheen Aman.
In her 10 years of experience, Aman says she has seen a rise in divorce cases along with a comparatively speedy judicial system. “The khula ordinance has sped-up the process a lot,” she adds.
Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act entitles a woman to obtain a decree for the dissolution of her marriage.
She can claim khula on any one or more of the following grounds: Whereabouts of the husband not known for four years, husband has neglected or failed to provide maintenance, husband has been sentenced to imprisonment for a period of seven years or upwards, husband has failed to perform marital obligations for a period of three years, husband was impotent at the time of marriage, husband has been insane for two years, she was married when she was minor, husband treats wife with cruelty, leads an infamous life, attempts to force her to lead an immoral life, husband is diagnosed with a venereal disease, incurable form of leprosy, disposes off her property, obstructs her in observance of her religious practice or if she cannot live with the husband within the limitation imposed by the religion
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Unlike in the past, dissolution of marriage, depending on the reason, take up to three to six months today before the woman is free from the toxic marriage, informs Aman. However, many women only seek khula without pressing charges on their husband for the abuse.
But Bashir pressed charges to seek justice against the torture she lived through for months in a court in Chicago. The comments on the blog she posted on The Express Tribune website ‘I was never his wife, I was only his slave’ further encouraged her to keep fighting the battle against her ex-husband.
After battling the domestic battery charges for over six months, Arby pleaded guilty in April 2016 and was sentenced to 12 months of domestic violence classes and supervision.
Bashir now lives an independent life and aspires to highlight issues educated girls and women face. She encourages women to believe in themselves, and not to give in to abuse. She wants to emphasise on the importance of speaking up and not letting the abuse take control.