Human beings behave in strange ways. Their actions are sometimes inexplicable, lacking logic, and in certain cases, hideously cruel. One such case involves a woman of Indian origin, who has spent the last 13 years locked in a room on the top floor of a house in Karachi, alongside her daughters who are not allowed to attend school.
Shirley Ann Hodges, now called Shabnum Gul Khan, met and married a Pakistani money-lender in the Indian city of Ahmedabad in 1997. Three years later, he took her and their new-born daughter to his home in Karachi. Shabnum had no idea of the fate that would await her there. Though details are unclear, she seems to have been met with hostility by her in-laws, and also from her husband’s first wife and children. It is uncertain if she had known of their existence before agreeing to marry her husband.
Banished to a one-room prison, Shabnum has not been permitted to meet any outsider, with anyone making inquiries — including reporters from this newspaper — told that she is in “strict purdah”. It is unclear why this should extend to other women, as seems to be the case. Shabnum’s case has been reported to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which is making inquiries.
The story of Shabnum goes only to highlight the degree of suffering inflicted upon women. Perhaps, there are others in a position similar to hers, whose tales have not been heard. We do not know how many there may be in number. What is an unfortunate established fact is that the rate of domestic violence in our country has not fallen over the years. Past reports by international human rights groups have stated that a considerable percentage of women in Pakistan are subjected to violence in some form. The suffering Shabnum has borne for so long is just one small indication of what goes on in our country. We need to find a way to combat such atrocities — and also ensure that men like her husband are punished for their crimes and for destroying lives in the name of love.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2012.
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