Not even 24 hours after my parents left, I was evaluated on the dowry that I was given. My in-laws felt that it wasn’t enough.
“I maybe from a third world country but I have a heart like you do, emotions like you have, and dreams to pursue. On my first Eid as a married girl, I wanted to dress up and celebrate my new beginning instead of being in a hospital bed recovering from the effects of abuse.”
I got married in March 2014 in Chicago with dreams of starting a new life and a future built out on love and trust in my new home. My parents were so assured that they were giving me into the hands of an educated guy; someone who would value their daughter and appreciate her.
The day I got married, not even 24 hours after my parents left Chicago, I was evaluated on the dowry that I was given. My in-laws felt that it wasn’t enough – even though my dad had given all that he could. He had fulfilled every demand my in-laws had made and yet it did not satisfy them.
My husband, and in-laws, felt that all that I had brought in with me was not enough. The iron and ironing board were missing and there just weren’t enough comforter-sets to keep the entire family warm. They were so disappointed that they began scheming on ways to end my marriage.
My resistance infuriated my husband and then he became violent. I hid his brutality from my parents because of their heath condition. I never spoke of his foul behaviour in worry that it would affect their health.
My mother-in-law would summon me and make dowry requests. When I discussed this with my husband, he would say,
“Even our Prophet (PBUH)’s daughter got a dowry”
And then he would yell at me and say,
“If you won’t get anything, you can sleep on the mattress.”
I was shocked and horrified that someone who held the position of a Vice President at a bank, and who could afford a house was fixated on asking my father for furniture. As if this wasn’t deplorable enough, he demanded a 50-inch TV saying I was lucky he demanded only that because,
“I want a smart TV, but I will settle for the 50-inch TV.”
Finally, I resorted to asking my sister for help who paid for those things after marriage. I ordered everything my in-laws demanded on my sister’s credit card and went to pick them up with my husband. I was ashamed of being married to a man who was forcing me to take funds from my younger sister.
Despite succumbing to their requests, my husband and in-laws treated me akin to a slave. They would snatch away food from my plate if I did not finish cleaning the house. I would be forced to mow the lawns, while he would sit and watch. I was overburdened with domestic chores and on top of that, my in-laws’ attitude towards me left me emotionally and physically exhausted.
But my husband would brazenly vindicate this abuse by saying,
“I am giving you a roof, food and shelter.”
My health started to deteriorate with each passing day. I had become an emotionally torn person. I became deprived of my individuality. With each day getting worse than the last, my life turned into a living hell.
My marriage was completely devoid of any respect; I got none from my husband or his family. I was treated like a servant, was confined to the four walls of our house and was advised to ‘win hearts’ and not mope about my situation. Despite being his wife, I enjoyed no such place or position. There were restrictions laid upon me on going out by myself, cooking for myself, or my husband, and even staying in touch with my friends or family.
They wanted to exert control over every aspect of my life; I was forbidden from working or socialising, and bound to them in every way. I was to say I felt suffocated it would be a gross understatement. I was imprisoned in my own house and would cry to my sister about my pain, if I had the fortunate opportunity of talking to her. I would keep giving in to save my marriage and kept preventing the possibility of being a societal taboo; a divorced woman.
About a week before my six-month visa was expiring, he asked me to sign a postnuptial agreement. At that point, I was not aware of what that was. I was not even allowed to ask questions and was expected to blindly trust my husband. I was shown the document only minutes before reaching the notary office where I had to sign it. I was horrified to read the contents of the agreement. It stated,
‘The wife will not get alimony’
‘The wife will not have the right to contest divorce’
And the cherry on top of the cake was,
‘The wife has transparency to everything’.
In my five months of marriage, I had never had any transparency to his assets or his salary because he never considered me his partner. I was a slave from a third world country with parents far away from home.
Finally in Ramazan, one day before Eid in 2014, I was able to escape. I can never forget that day. He physically attacked me and then snatched my phone to stop me from reaching out for help. I thank God that I was able to find a laptop and use it to call my sister on Skype for help. I thought they were going to kill me, because when they snatched my phone, I had heard his mom say,
“We have to do something about her.”
I shudder when I recall the day I left their residence, bruised. I was 70 pounds in weight and shaking. On the day of Eid, I was in a hospital bed traumatised at my state, my health and my condition.
Since then, I have been going for counselling to bring myself, and my life, back together, and today, after months, I feel I have battled what thousands of women are still suffering. Every day thousands of girls suffer such form of abuse in silence and put up with domestic violence. Every day, thousands of parents become victims of threats and feel the urge to save their daughters from divorce.
To them, all I can say is, save your daughter. Educate and empower her, don’t allow her life to be put through hell. Her life is as important as any boys, it is as important as anyone else’s; don’t deprive her of the joy of living. I thank God for the support I have gotten from my family and friends, and they will thank you too. Please give them the opportunity to live. Be more vigilant. It is time that we stop using the words divorce and taboo synonymously. It is time we let our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and female friends know that they have the right to live their lives as they please as much any man has that right.
If my message and story has had an impact on even one person, I believe I have saved a life. Here is to a new year with hope of a better society that doesn’t oppress anyone’s daughter in any way. This blog contributed for Express Tribune