“Aap dono divorce kyun nahi le lete?”
Several years ago, at a social gathering, I naively asked my bickering distant relatives this question. I was taken aside by my visibly embarrassed mother and was told to not say such things in a civilized setting. I quietened down, of course, but I wondered why what I had said had been so scandalous, that I was met with such rebuke.
Perhaps I had been out of line. I was only a child and had no business interfering in baray logon ka maamla. Perhaps it was the fact that I voiced something I had been picking up on, every now and then, about the couple in question. Or, perhaps, it was the fact that divorce was, and still is, a taboo topic in Pakistani society.
Our society is not kind to those who seek to cut ties through getting a divorce.
There are stages of this disapproval, which swiftly takes the course of character assassination when the situation does not resolve. What begins with gentle reassurances about how things will get better, soon courses into stern disapproval in the form of log kya kaheinge. When this does not seem to work, more often than not, vilification is next in order. The mere news about the dissolution of a marriage sets tongues wagging all over. However, it is incredibly harder to be a divorced woman than a divorced man. Where a divorced man may be met with looks of disapproval or pity, a divorced woman is left to fight her own battles. She is left to fight for her children, her character and her right to exist peacefully without being considered a source of dishonor, simple because she wants to reclaim her life.
Safiyah,* a 33 year-old divorced single mom, recounts the emotional turmoil she had to face when she decided to opt for a divorce.
“When you ask for freedom, you apparently ask for too much. I was in an abusive relationship. I had bruises to prove my claims. My children had watched as I had been beaten. When these facts were put forward, my in-laws tried to make it seem like I had gone the extra mile and given myself these bruises. They claimed that I had brainwashed my children. Despite living with a man I had begun to fear, I was the one who was portrayed to be the monster.”
The question arises: if divorce is an act that liberates you from an unhappy marriage, why is it considered to be a taboo?
Why is izzat the most important factor?
“They kept telling me – khaandan ki izzat ka socho. Unki khushi ke baarey main socho,” Safiya states. “What about my self respect and my happiness? What about my mental stability?”
The term ‘compromise’ is thrown around every now and then. It is embedded in our minds that we must meet people halfway. We are told time and again that life is not easy. However, is there not a world of difference between compromise and being walked on all over? Our society applies this term to situations where there is no place for compromise. By doing so, we, as a society, enable the violent to stay violent in their relationships. It enables the unfaithful to continue with their infidelity. It makes a pathway for domestic violence, emotional unavailability and, in certain cases, marital rape.
When a woman is unhappy in an arranged marriage, she is advised to wait for things to get better. When she fails to find peace in a love marriage, the blame falls upon her shoulders for making the wrong decision. Divorce, in neither case, is seen to be a viable option.
When a woman is raped in a marriage, many of us denounce the idea of marital rape and look the other way. When she is subjected to abuse or watches helplessly when her children are abused, we let it pass, thinking aapas ka maamla hai. When she spirals into a pit of depression, we watch her fall silently.
When the woman seeks to liberate herself from this mental torture, we miraculously find our voices to oppose or disapprove of her decision.
The mere idea of staying in an unhealthy relationship is toxic. Unfortunately, this concept is deeply rooted into the minds of many. We tell people in these situations – men and women – that it will get better. We tell them to have sabr. Despite failed efforts at reconciliation, we keep pushing our men and women to stay in this toxic environment. We tell them that others have it worse and things aren’t that as bad as they seem. But things always have a way of getting worse. And when they do, our society unites to watch.
“It’s been two years since I walked out of that marriage,” Safiya says with a slight smile. “I had to fight for my honor, my respect and my sanity.
Of course, I had to get into a nasty battle for my children as well. I can see visible differences in the person I am today, compared to who I was when I was married. I’m happier, undoubtedly, despite all the backlash, but I am stronger as well.”
There is no honor or izzat in staying in a situation that affects your mental, and, at times, physical health. Divorcees are not meant to be looked down upon or be seen with pity. They are not damaged goods. They are leagues ahead of many in terms of strength and courage. They are brave for loving themselves more.
There is no dishonor in realizing that you are the sole master of your life, or that happiness is an emotion you deserve to experience. Misery is not noble or honorable. Perhaps, it is time for us to stop glorifying it by urging people to ‘make things work’ in a relationship that has run its course.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Cover image via: desipoetry.com