My name is Anam; I am 20 years old, having a 4 years old son – Fahad. I have gone through a lot in past 5 years. Let me tell you my story.
I was studying in 10th grade, and living, by and large, a happy life. I would go to school daily, work hard, play with my classmates, and come back home. At home, I had to help my mother with household chores as well as in taking care of the few buffaloes we had.
I clearly remember that sunny day of December, when I returned from school, and found that my maternal aunt was about to leave our home. I greeted her, and she was being unusually kind and loving towards me. She hugged me, kissed me and said, ‘you have had enough of school; too much of education is not good for girls’. She was against girls’ education, and would always offer unsolicited advice, which I did not like – ‘girls should not wear such clothes, girls should focus on household chores, girls should cover their heads properly, and so on and on.
She gave me some unusually loving looks, and left with happy expressions. I was quite uncomfortable though did not know what fate had in store for me. As she left, I asked my mother why made aunty so happy, and her answer shattered me completely. Aunty wanted me to marry her son Basheer, and my father had already agreed to the proposal. Nobody bothered to ask my opinion. I was silent, but a storm of anger was raging in my head. I heard nothing of what mother said afterwards. Perhaps she was talking about how the marriage would go on, what arrangements were being made, or don’t know what else.
Then suddenly, I burst … ‘what the hell you are talking about mom, you know I am just 15 years old, I have yet to complete my education… and Basheer… he is 20 years older than me… It is so cruel of you… how can you do this to your daughter’. I ran to my room, cried there for hours, and did not have my meals. I had severe fever. Mother forced me to eat some boiled rice with milk.
I heard my father talking loudly in the courtyard. He was arguing with my mother. He said, ‘how dare she defy me. I have already given my word. What people would say if I take my word back… Rab Nawaz has no control over his own daughter… no this can’t happen… Anam would not go to school from tomorrow… tell her to get ready for her marriage… that’s all… I wouldn’t hear another argument on this’.
Mother came to me. She tried every possible way to persuade me. I resisted as long as I could, but nobody in the extended family would support me. Everyone came to put some sense into my head. Finally I had to give in. I could put only one condition. Marriage would take place after my exams for 10th grade. It was accepted.
I got married within next 6 months – as soon as my exams were over. First few weeks were very exciting. Lots of relatives and friends invited us for dinners. I went to so many places. I had plenty of new shiny, colorful clothes, shoes, and jewelry. I felt really high, but the honeymoon was short lived.
It was the third week of our marriage, when my husband came home late. I felt he was not all right, and there was a really bad odor about his mouth. I ignored it that day, but it became a routine matter. On third occasion, I asked about it, and that proved to be another turnaround in my life. He used abusive language, and told me it was none of my business to ask such questions. He told me to live as an obedient wife, or he would teach me a lesson. He started to teach me a lesson every day.
He would hurl abuses at me right from the moment he would enter the house. He would beat me on one or the other pretext. As it became unbearable, I sent a message to my parents through our neighbors, but parents advised me to learn to live with it. That was the last nail in the coffin. I thought I should commit suicide. There was no escape from abuse – physical, sexual, emotional – every kind of abuse.
In the 6th week of our marriage, I decided to confront my husband. As he entered the house, and hurled abuses at me, I retorted in the same language. He beat me excessively, and in the moment of extreme uncontrolled anger he divorced me verbally. He was drunk, and such verbal divorce had no legal standing, but I decided to leave. I thought over it all night, and left his house early in the morning and reached my parent’s house.
As I reached there, I felt so liberated. I could think, I could feel, I could talk my heart out, I did not have to fear anyone. I stayed with my parents, and, in a few days, I managed to convince my parents that I should not go back that hell. My aunt came again to take me back, but my parents refused. Though I was very clear in my head that I did not want to go back to that hell, yet I did not know what I was going to do with my life.
In the meanwhile, Bedari – an NGO – arrived in our village. It wanted to establish a network of volunteers (men and women) who would support women and children facing violence. They planned to provide necessary training to the volunteers on existing laws, rules and regulations, procedures to access law enforcement agencies, and courts, and counseling the survivors. I approached them, and got selected immediately for being the most literate girl among the applicants.
When I shared my story with Bedari staff, they held counseling sessions with me. I also participated in many meetings, training sessions, and seminars organized by them. I learnt a lot about women’s rights, laws, rules and regulations, and what provisions there were for women protection in the system. This opened my eyes, and I learnt that there were ways to deal with the problems I was facing. I think the biggest change was that I started dreaming again – the dreams I had before I was forced into a marriage.
I decided to get formal divorce. Though my parents were reluctant, but I was not going to take chances. Bedari introduced me to a lawyer who would provide his voluntary services to women survivors of violence. The lawyer put up a case for my divorce in the local court. My husband was summoned, but he did not appear before the court for three consecutive hearings. It made life easier for me, as the judge announced the decision in my favor on the 4th hearing.
I was a free woman again albeit with the stigma of divorce. I knew life would be very difficult with that stigma, but I was ready to pay that price for my freedom. On the way back from court, I felt sick. I was taken to the local hospital, and soon the doctor announced that I was expecting.
I had a son – Fahad. He is four years old now. I have done my graduation, and plan to have a degree in law. I want to spend my life supporting women and girls who face violence. I am already part of Bedari’s volunteers raising awareness against child marriages. I tell women and girls that they should stand up for their rights. They should insist on getting proper education, their due share in the property, and their right to marry the person of their choice at a time of their choice.
Sometimes when I am in a reflective mood, I think what would have happened if Bedari people had not come to our village… I might have got rid of one Basheera, but would have been tied to another Basheera. Thank God, that is not the situation. I have not thought of remarrying so far. I may get married again, but would marry a person who has some respect for me.