Author: Abeer Touseef
Sania Khan had an innate passion for photography. She was a warm person with infectiously positive energy who spread joy in the world, as said by one of her dear friends. She double majored in women studies and psychology and advocated for the rights of women.
Unfortunately, according to the evidence, her life was taken from her by her ex-husband Raheel Ahmed. In a distressing turn of events, he not only murdered her but then also killed himself, leaving behind a suicide note. As these violent crimes are brought into light, one asks themselves if only they had seen the signs, could they have prevented this tragedy from occurring?
And the answer is yes. The troubling signs were present long before the deed was performed.
In the period of six months, Sania concluded that the man she married was not who he initially seemed to be as he abused her on a regular basis. From lying about his age to showing signs of obsession, Sania faced it all. Instead of tolerating his belligerent behavior, she filed for divorce. Despite knowing the backlash she would face from family and friends, she prioritized herself. For the simple decision of choosing happiness, she was robbed of her radiant future.
Sania had gained a mass following on social media due to her post-divorce struggles. She felt alone and unsupported by her family as they abandoned her after her decision to legally separate from her husband. Even in the 21st century, divorce is taboo for many desi families who advocate for marriage problems to get fixed by themselves — they find staying in an abusive marriage to be more sustainable and convenient than the shame that comes with being branded as a ‘divorcee’.
Her family should have been there for her. They should have held her hand and supported her through her emotional turmoil. They shouldn’t have cast her aside for societal expectations. They shouldn’t have pressured her to stay in a failing marriage. Conversations about sexism, patriarchy and shame have sparked up on social media in the aftermath of Sania’s murder. The intolerant attitude of South Asian families towards divorced women only is troublesome and rewards toxic masculinity.
Sania Khan talked openly about the struggles of dealing with divorce as a brown woman. As posted on her TikTok account, “The way the community labels you, the lack of emotional support you receive, and the pressure to stay with someone because what will people say? It is isolating. It makes it harder for women to leave marriages that they shouldn’t have been in to begin with.”
Unlike Sania, many women who face abusive behavior at the hands of their spouses opt to stay with them. Many of these women are unaware of their rights and continue to sustain their current conditions, fearing tarnishing their honor and bringing shame to their families. This preservation of the family structure at any cost is a defining factor for the high rate of domestic violence in Pakistan.
Pakistan has continuously been rated as the lowest country in the Gender Gap Index in the South Asian region. Gender inequality plays an extreme role in undocumented violence against women behind shut doors. One must question the ‘happy husband and wife’ narrative and whether it is based on more sinister grounds. The tragic tales of women like Sania Khan and many more serve as a reminder of the fact that women themselves ultimately face the consequences of their abusers’ sins.
Furthermore, the recently overthrown government in Pakistan had no specific measures in place to protect women against patriarchal violence. This is troubling given the influence of charismatic leaders such as Imran Khan who, during his term as prime minister, infamously stated that men are not “robots”. This was not too long after he blamed “fahashi” (vulgarity) for the rise in cases of sexual violence across Pakistan; both cases arguably imply victim-blaming. Similar sentiments regarding the oppression of women are not only supported, but also strengthened after such incidents, as men take these statements as permission to further oppress women. When an authoritative figure condemns violence, nonviolence has the potential to become a widely accepted notion in society.
When will unrealistic societal expectations for women cease? When will the worth of a woman finally be realized and her value understood by society? We must ask ourselves these vital questions to bring justice for the condemned and to save countless others from the same fate.
Although Sania’s life was taken overseas, that does not mean Pakistani culture and society are not to blame. Ahmed could not and would not see her thriving, so he made sure to silence her voice once and for all as well as his own. He escaped justice; however, it is up to us to remember Sania for everything she stood for and be kinder to others and ourselves. For anyone struggling in their personal life, I would like to offer them these solemn words by Sania Khan to let them know they are not alone:
‘You are not a failure because your marriage didn’t work out. Be gentle with your heart during this stage. Time heals all things and it will get better.’
Source: How to Address the Gender Gap in Pakistan? – PIDE. How To Address The Gender Gap In Pakistan? – PIDE.
Featured photo credit: Social Telecast