Love gone sour: Indian woman’s fairytale cut short

Published: August 27, 2012
Shabnam with her husband Gul Muhammad Khan. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Shabnam with her husband Gul Muhammad Khan. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: Once upon a time a young girl left her family and religion for the man she loved. After getting married, her husband flew her off to his land.

This land, however, was not far, far away and there was definitely no happily ever after: she, now, lives in Landhi, Karachi, locked away in a small room on the top floor of a house for the past 13 years.

All the terrible things that happen in fairy tales seem to be Shabnam Gul Khan’s reality.

Previously named Shirley Ann Hodges, she met Gul Muhammad Khan, a Pakistani money lender, in Ahmedabad, India, in the summer of 1997. They fell in love and got married.

Three years later, Gul flew Shabnam and their newborn daughter to meet his family in Pakistan, assuring her that they would return to India within six months.

However, as soon as Shabnam landed in Karachi, she was abruptly introduced to the nightmare her life would become: she was introduced to Gul’s first wife and six children; her Indian passport was seized; she was gifted a burqa and locked away on the top floor of her in-laws’ house.

Thirteen years since, Shabnam remains confined at the top floor of the house, and is not allowed any visitors. Her only contact with the outside world is through the internet and her mobile phone.

“I am a prisoner and this is a hell. For years, I have not gone out from my room. I want to go back to my family in India,” she said in a hushed voice.

Meanwhile, inside the five-story house in Landhi, Shabnam’s sister-in-law dodges questions, saying simply, “Shabnam observes purdah. She cannot meet anyone.”

“I don’t know why my husband did this to me; why he fooled me. What was my fault?” Shabnam told The Express Tribune by telephone. “My daughters are not allowed to go to school. We are beaten with sticks and hurled abuses. Our life is very suffocating.”

For years, Shabnam was forced to hide her husband’s cruelty from her family as she could only speak to them in front of him. But a few months ago, she managed to get through to her family independently via Skype.

Speaking from Ahmedabad, Shabnam’s brother Noel Hodges said he was shocked when he saw her after all these years. “She weighs 100kg now. She keeps crying all the time. We are very worried for her.”

Since then, Shabnam’s family has made frantic efforts for her “release”. Letters have been written to the Indian home secretary, the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan and human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir.

In Karachi, Abdul Hai of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says they have also received letters and are seeking legal help.

Meanwhile, when the Quaidabad police questioned Gul about his wife, he filed a petition in the Sindh High Court last month, accusing them of harassment.

“We observe strict purdah in our family, which is why Shabnam is not allowed to go out,” said Gul, a man of Afghan origin, who owns an electronics shop. He further claimed that he had done a “great deed” by converting a non-Muslim to Islam.

“I am a heart patient. When I become alright, I will take her to India but for now she has to take care of me,” he added.

Shabnam, however, knows well that her husband is not her knight in shining armour and his promises to take her back to India will be broken once again.

“I regret marrying him, and the day I come out, I will file a case against him and make him suffer the same way,” she said right before hanging up the phone, as the clock in her room chimed: it was time for her husband’s return and for her to get back to her less-than-a-fairytale life.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (65)

  • Mj
    Aug 27, 2012 - 5:00AM

    What a horrible and abusive ‘husband’. I hope Shirley/Shabnam gets justice, and gets it soon. The husband needs to be jailed for illegal confinement.


  • nomi
    Aug 27, 2012 - 5:48AM

    These leftovers of Afghans refugees have not only ruined Pakistan’s culture but are also using our resources ruthlessly.


  • pravin
    Aug 27, 2012 - 8:04AM

    This looks to be a repeat story of ‘not without my daughter’. At least that story has happy ending. I hope it happens the same for sherley’s case.


  • jism
    Aug 27, 2012 - 9:29AM

    He further claimed that he had done a “great deed” by converting a non-Muslim to Islam.
    one more reason why i don’t support the liberal visa regime or the strange fantasy talk of allowing people to cross border freely.Just a few minutes ago, i read an article on this was titled “i love Pakistan”, it was against stereotyping of Pakistan, reading it made me believe that there still might be some hope left for this society,but just a few minutes later,i was proved wrong.


  • Saif
    Aug 27, 2012 - 10:27AM

    she has a mobile phone and internet connection and still she is a prisoner? :D


  • Ejaaz
    Aug 27, 2012 - 10:37AM

    He did do a good deed and saved her by bringing Islam to her.


  • Aug 27, 2012 - 11:29AM

    She is a Muslim now. How could she unhappy after coming to Islam, the only true religion in tge world.


  • jammy
    Aug 27, 2012 - 11:54AM

    The way the story is written is fantastic as it read like a very interesting story


  • Roti, kapra aur..
    Aug 27, 2012 - 12:12PM

    @ nomi your remarks are racist


  • spectator
    Aug 27, 2012 - 1:16PM

    He helped her revert to Islam and she is leading a chaste life. She chose to adopt Islam and came here of her own free will. Now it’s their private business and the state has no right to interfere


  • Indian
    Aug 27, 2012 - 1:32PM

    please give our lady back to us


  • Dushmann
    Aug 27, 2012 - 2:16PM

    Nothing new. Forefathers of most Muslims were converted like this.


  • Sir King Kong Bunty
    Aug 27, 2012 - 4:09PM

    I cannot understand why Indian women marry Pakistanis in the first place.


  • Someone
    Aug 27, 2012 - 5:58PM

    The man appears to be Afghan. Why does it say Pakistan then?


  • wat da eff
    Aug 27, 2012 - 6:02PM

    Are you crazy??? Yes she chose to come here but hey she didn’t know about his reality…he totally deceived her and now its no more a “personal business”…i hope this happens to people like you so you would know what it really feels to go through this situation with a liar and pathetic husband like gul mohd or whatever he is.


  • Assam Zafar
    Aug 27, 2012 - 6:24PM

    Surely there is some twist in the tail.


  • Zar Gulab Khan
    Aug 27, 2012 - 6:37PM

    Converting her to Islam is a great deed but confinement to a room and making her repentant is equally bad deed and violation of Islamic values…. Parda doesn’t mean imprisonment…….


  • wat da eff
    Aug 27, 2012 - 6:46PM

    thats because he lives + she is trapped in pakistan :/


  • Zia Zindabad
    Aug 27, 2012 - 6:57PM

    The guy has a tribal mentality. I request every Pakistani to raise their hands and dua for Zia for letting these tribal ignorant fools into Pakistan.


  • nomi
    Aug 27, 2012 - 6:57PM

    Zar Gulab Khan, Ejaaz, spectator

    Imagine this story being published somewhere in Europe with the title, Muslim Pakistani man imprisons his convert wife.

    No reason to explain why the Europeans would hate Islam even more.

    Islam is not viewed as a religion but as a fascist ideology in the west now thanks to people like this man and people like you justifying his actions.

    The anti islam parties relish such news items.

    Do not be surprised if some muslims are badly treated in a european city.


  • nomi
    Aug 27, 2012 - 7:02PM

    Roti, kapra aur

    Could be, but isn’t this a fact? Afghan refugees have caused a lot of damage. Since the 80s, they riots in Karachi, Kidnapping in Punjab and KP are mostly done by Afghans.

    Go to Peshawar and Karachi, they roam around as if the others are refugees and they are the citizens.

    Please try to understand, we must help them in their own countries.


  • Aug 27, 2012 - 7:11PM

    yes she is till she is put on a plane to India.


  • Aug 27, 2012 - 7:15PM

    The woman is at fault too? How did she trust him in the first place? And maybe she thought he was a rich man. Imagine the children not being able to go to school. Only Mamacita Sonia Gandhi can help her now. Provided Shirley appeals to her.


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Aug 27, 2012 - 7:19PM

    She should be helped regardless what religion she belonged to, it is so unfortunate that the husband thinks he owns her. If she wants to divorce him,that is her choice and it should be granted with out any delay. I suppose there are millions of Pakistani girls who are suffering but can’t do a thing. What a society and we call ourselves Muslims.


  • THE
    Aug 27, 2012 - 7:20PM

    @nomi: There is absoutly nothing wrong in saying what you have said and I agree with you 100%. We need to send train loads of them back to their country even if there’s a war there for the next 50 years. Pakistan cannot sustain a population that has this vulgar mentality but my friend I am afraid that our tribal brothers in FATA and others in KP have some close relations with them and then there’s the politics of elections in KP as well. So, all in all, the right thing would probably never get done.


  • Super Star
    Aug 27, 2012 - 7:23PM

    I think the lady deserves what shes got ! This should be a lesson to all Non Muslim women who ” revert to islam “. I hope Indian papers should publish this as a warning


  • Imran
    Aug 27, 2012 - 7:44PM


    Good, hats off to the people to give Afghans our passports and they wreck peoples’ lives…
    All the bashing will go to Pakistan just because someone gave an Afghani our passport.Recommend

  • Fahad Zia
    Aug 27, 2012 - 7:54PM

    confined, tortured, abused, beaten and still weighs 100 kg.. she can kill her husband just by sitting on him.. i think its her husband who needs support. not her..


  • current
    Aug 27, 2012 - 8:10PM

    i cant believe ppl here havent caught up on the fact that she weighs 100 KG.. meaning she is clearly well fed… she cant complain in the food department..


  • Saadia
    Aug 27, 2012 - 8:30PM

    Even looking at Gul Khan’s picture I got scared, how she wanted to marry such a guy.


  • Aysha
    Aug 27, 2012 - 8:47PM

    @Zaid Hamid:
    Mr. Zaid, Follower of every religion belives their religion is a true relgion. If a muslim is unhappy after converting to christanity and a jew says the same thing as you are saying
    “how come he is unhappy converting to judaism, its the only true religion?”
    In that case what would you say?


  • Ayesha Mallick
    Aug 27, 2012 - 9:19PM

    Its odd that a visitor from India can go missing so easily, when they are supposed to register at police stations when they come. Another thing is why did a non muslim girl convert and marry a Pakistani..all very controversial in this age when people know what is happening around and with so much negative press about Pakistan in India…what was the motive of a supposedly educated, young girl to marry a middle aged Afghan? seems the money changers money.


  • Aug 27, 2012 - 9:58PM

    @Ayesha Mallick: It was money definitely, otherwise who will marry an old and ugly man.


  • Rehmat Raheem Sherazi
    Aug 27, 2012 - 11:13PM

    Unfortunately these sort of incidences are not a sign of human being . why this practice is so in islam and where is it mentioned that abuse to some one and giving mental retoucher is in islam.this is a practice of not a muslim.muslims should be very humble and blessing to any one particularly for human being.


  • Vikram
    Aug 27, 2012 - 11:41PM

    Islam is a way of life. If she leaves Islam, she may be killed for being an apostate. I am glad ET brought this up. I hope International media will get involved and save this woman’s life. I don’t think Pakistan government will do anything to help her.


  • G. Din
    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:29AM

    @Dr Priyanka:
    “The woman is at fault too? How did she trust him in the first place? “
    I think it is an unfair question. One doesn’t start marital life in bad faith and suspicions. May be she thought he could give her a good life. Isn’t that why most marriages take place!
    It is more a problem with Islam. In fifties and sixties of the last century when the cold war was at its peak, Soviet Union decided to court Arabs to its side. Towards this end, it invited Arab governments to send their young men to Soviet universities for higher education. Well, they came in droves and also fell promptly in love with beautiful white Russian girls in droves. In due course – a few months- there were a lot of weddings solemnized by the Soviet Palaces of Eternal Wedded Bliss throughout the country. At the end of their studies, Arab boys returned to their lands not only with a degree but a spanking wife, too. A couple of weeks into this wedded bliss, every one of those girls was persuaded/pressured into surrendering their Soviet citizenship, making them Arabs. And then, Islam descended on those poor girls. They all realized what a terrible mistake they had made. They went to Soviet Embassies for protection. But because they had surrendered their citizenships, Soviet government could do nothing. Eventually each one of those unfortunate girls was sold into white slavery. Thereafter, said the Soviets, if you really love this girl, come back and marry her after one year. That was a wise move. None of those Arab boys returned to claim any brides with whom they had ostensibly been madly in love.
    If a tough government like the Soviet government was taken in, what chance did this poor lady have!


  • Domlurian
    Aug 28, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Ha ha ha! What was she expecting after marrying this guy? A trip to Disneyland?


  • Naeem Siddiqui
    Aug 28, 2012 - 6:39AM

    This story Look like cooked up :)

    She was ‘locked up’ in a room for 13 years with mobile phone and internet!


  • salman
    Aug 28, 2012 - 10:41AM

    usually this kind of news is picked by Indian media to warn Indian girls for felling in love with Pakistani guys.


  • naive
    Aug 28, 2012 - 2:02PM

    @salman : “usually this kind of news is picked by Indian media to warn Indian girls for felling in love with Pakistani guys.”

    Is it possible to warn half a billion Indian women. An easier option is visas to Pakistani men.


  • Anwer Chughtai
    Aug 28, 2012 - 3:10PM

    Thrusting Islam on someone is neither a good deed nor any service to Islam.


  • Aziz
    Aug 28, 2012 - 4:06PM

    How did Gul Muhammad get into India ? I thought India had super strict visa requirements.


  • shiv
    Aug 28, 2012 - 6:01PM

    islam pple cant force anyone to be locked…he betrayed her…


  • Khalid Aziz
    Aug 28, 2012 - 6:02PM

    These Afghan refugees are leading lives of 1st grade citizens, being “strategic assets” and well connected to the deep state. They have green passports and cause lots of shame n insult for Pakistan all over the world due to their shady n illegal busineses.Recommend

  • ethicalman
    Aug 28, 2012 - 8:06PM

    I read a similar story in TOI where a muslim guy deceived a hindu girl ..

    ofcourse muslims would have celebrated if he had converted they converted pakistanis, afghanistani, kashmiris, Indians (Hindus and Buddhists) It’s high times muslims should think of life is more than converting and destroying..


  • Utkarsh
    Aug 28, 2012 - 10:36PM

    I’m sure I need much more than internet and a mobile connection to be called free. Freedom to travel where I wish being the first.


  • Aug 28, 2012 - 11:33PM

    she married and got converted to islam of her own free will.and what did she expected.a bed of roses and daily dance and tours???????? the pakistami married her only to get points for his after life…………she can always file a complaint against her husband before the local mullah or she can get a divorce as per islamic law……..


  • Aug 29, 2012 - 10:58AM

    @mano: I think you have forgotten about the famous story of Rinkle.Recommend

  • Gratgy
    Aug 29, 2012 - 12:01PM

    She married an animal and has thus been treated like an animal herselfRecommend

    Aug 29, 2012 - 1:40PM

    what else you expect from ” THEM”?


  • saad ahmad
    Aug 29, 2012 - 1:46PM

    I think its a false and well crafted story. My simple question is that she had mobile phone and internet why she didnt call police? Her husband remains with her 24hours? ……. And most importantly she had mobile phone and contacted her family using skype…. If she cant call she can text….


  • Aug 29, 2012 - 7:30PM

    Vienna,August 29,2012
    It is normal a Muslim comes to India to lend money at
    high interest rates taking the first installment of interest
    cut in advance before the 100 percent loan is given! This
    way capital turn over and accumulation is rapid.Then he
    comes to Karachi where he feels at home with other
    Afghanis, to open a shop and keep sleeping with different
    wives hidden by curtains called veils.No wonder.Ms.Hedges
    should have known it but but but blood is hot! She gets
    fatter. He has no problem on that score.
    Taravadu Taranga Trust for Media Monitoring TTTMM India
    –Kulamarva Balakrishna


  • DevilHunterX
    Aug 30, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Stab him in his sleep?


  • Iron
    Aug 30, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Why these Indian women go after Pakistani men ?…is there shortage of men in India…Pakistani men have super natural powers…?


  • ahmer
    Aug 30, 2012 - 9:55AM

    just like the state has no right to interfere in any persons religion which is also a personal matter, like ahmedis, shias, barelvis, christians, jews etc.


  • Shue
    Aug 30, 2012 - 12:10PM

    Wow ! internet and mobile ! that sure seems like an odd set of provisions one can have as a prisoner! what was her husband thinking?


  • from India
    Sep 1, 2012 - 7:14PM

    Quite common …nothing new in such kind of stories. Have been witnessing these since childhood.


  • bharat
    Sep 3, 2012 - 8:54PM


    The Afghans have ruined Pakistan.

    Pakistan gave millions of Afghans refuge from war and what did the Afghans bring to Pakistan ?

    Lawlessness ,or in other words they brought Afghanistan to Pakistan.


  • T Shah
    Sep 3, 2012 - 9:18PM

    This Afghan should be arrested for impersonating a Pakistani citizen, these Afghans have destroyed Pakistani culture, they are the ones comitting crimes and robbing and kidnapping people for ransom, we never had this problem until these Afghans came over.

    Why is our govt sleeping? Why are we allowing these Afghans to destroy our culture and our nation, allowing them in our society means we are allowing them to destroy it.


  • T Shah
    Sep 3, 2012 - 9:20PM

    by cheating and fooling her, you think this is Islam? This is how Islam will spread? you and the 7 who recommended your post should be ashamed.


  • T Shah
    Sep 3, 2012 - 9:22PM

    if she is trapped like a prisoner then it is not only the states responsibility but the duty of every Muslim to rescue her, tell me if this was your sister or daughter, would you remain quiet?


  • T Shah
    Sep 3, 2012 - 9:25PM

    hang the Pakistani officials who took bribes to give this Afghani a Pakistani ID card and Passport.



  • Super
    Sep 6, 2012 - 5:17PM

    Flimsy story to be honest. She’s using the ‘Burqa-up’ card pretty well. This entire story has nothing to do with converting to Islam or the veil. Its a domestic squabble and she is being held against her will. A simple case of human rights abuse.

    Come on, don’t baby girls get buried, burned and aborted in India all the time? women get trafficked across europe to be sold as sex workers? It has hardly anything to do with religion. Its simple human rights abuse.
    What we have here is a domestic dispute involving two nationalities on the soil of a third country. Let Asma handle it.


  • Muhammad Abdullah
    Sep 7, 2012 - 12:12PM

    Some thing is missing in this article.
    If her husband is that strict then how does she have access to the internet and mobile phone?
    Secondly, how can an Indian Christian women fall in love with a strictly religious Afghan on first sight? (sounds absurd) and what was this Afghan/Pakistani doing in India? The relationship between the two countries is common knowledge and it is not easy for every pop and john to get Indian Visa.
    She has stayed locked for 13 years? during this time she never fell sick or went to the doctor? even during pregnancy? absurd
    I would say that this article has too many questions under its glaring headlines. There should be a thorough investigation into this issue to bring out the true facts.

    One more comment, Islam allows a women to take divorce from her husband if he is not treating her well, this is done through the court where the judge orders the husband to divorce his wife. It is the responsibility of the walis (family members and witness of the women’s side during her nikah) to make sure that she is being treated well. If they feel that she is not being treated well then they should go to court.


  • Yasir
    Sep 8, 2012 - 3:17AM

    I think this matter should be properply investigated and whatever comes out of it, she has every right to make decision about her. If man is found to guilty, he desrves strict punishment for ruining her life.


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