A charming face with articulate expression and fine mannerisms, 19 year old Shahnaz sits calmly as she narrates her story. Daughter of a milkman from central Punjab settled in Karachi, Shahnaz is the eldest of seven siblings. She completed High School and dreamed of a better life.
Shahnaz became friends with Raza, a tailor from her neighborhood. Razds family approached Shahnaz’s father a few times to ask for her hand in marriage only to be rebu.. Shahnaz’s father, threatened by Shahnaz’s exertion of her choice, hastily arranged for her to be married to an older man from his community. Patriarchy, community tradition and ego shrouded her father’s judgment. Shahnaz, self-assured of her own convictions, refused to marry the man her father picked out for her. Her parents were unyielding and refused to compromise, so Shahnaz eloped with Raza. Her father, outraged and appalled by her defiance, filed a kidnapping case against her husband. Pretty soon, police found the couple, sent Raza to jail and moved Shahnaz to Panah shelter. With the help of lawyers assigned by Panah, Shahnaz fought a case and the judge ruled in her favor, stating that Raza and Shahnaz were consenting adults and it was not a case of kidnapping.
Shahnaz’s father, driven by rage and revenge for her insubordination, filed another case against Shahnaz and Raza, stating that she was already married, which was illegal, and in this case, untrue. This was a serious allegation of zina (extramarital sex, punishable by death. Her father was able to send Raza and his brother to jail. Shahnaz found sanctuary at the Shelter, where she was secure from her outraged parents and their threats.
Shahnaz and her husband are currendy fighting a legal battle, so that they can be reunited again and start their new life. Panah is helping Shanaz find employment that can economically sustain herself.
Without the resources of Panah, Shahnaz would have been another helpless voice lost amongst millions in this city.
Every evening, 18 year old Sana would shake with fear and despair as her husband would beat her, lock her in a room without food or water and in moments of drunken frenzy, would even electrocute her.
Sana is a fragile, young girl from the slums of Karachi, with an acne riddled face, framed by a white head scarf. Thick curly hair, pulled back in a bun, peek from beneath the scarf that she keeps pulling forward nervously.
Sana is the eldest of 10 brothers and sisters that she helped raise with her mother. As an 18-year-old who had lived in submission with her family all of her life, Sana did not foresee the unfortunate circumstances that lay ahead of her.
Sana wanted to marry a man of her own choice, but against her will, her father forced her into marrying a man who was nvenry seven years her senior and could payoff Sana’s father. This is when Sana’s worst nigh, mare of relentless torture began. Helpless and overcome by despair, Sana swallowed poison in a failed suicide attempt. Looking at her evident misery, her maternal grandfather rescued her and gave her shelter. Since there was an ongoing family feud between her father and her grandfather, Sana’s father made a case against her grandfather and called on Sana to testify against him in court. Sana’s conscience eating her insides, she was unable to testify against her grandfather, who had cared for her. She broke down and told the judge the truth about her father, her grandfather, her husband and the ongoing abuse. The judge sent her father and husband to jail and Sana to the Panah Shelter Home.
Sans lodged at the Panah Shelter Home for almost ten months. She was haunted by memories of torture and the guilt of sending her father to jail and leaving her mother and her siblings to feed and provide for themselves. She yearned for her mother and her family, though she had long accepted the bitter truth that she could not return to the same home she had left behind. Sana was counseled on a regular basis, and eventually regained the mental and physical strength to reclaim her life. She took the initiative to request if she could start working somewhere. The Panah Shelter authorities found Sana a job where she is now set to start her own life, gain financial independence and put the unfortunate past events behind her.
Her life is not over — on the contrary, it has just begun.
Maryam’s eyes shone with the awe of her own achievement as she nar-rated her story. The thick golden hoop piercing her left nostril con-trasted with her dark skin and the tattooed name of her husband on her right wrist peeked out from beneath her orange sleeve.
Maryam’s story is one of inspiration and remorse. Maryam was an aban-doned child taken in by a childless family from Larkana, Sind. At the age of 14, she Was married off to a man who was 35 years older to her, as a second wife. She became a domestic slave to her husband, his first wife and their family. Over the next 6 years, she gave birth to four boys, till the older wife forcibly got her tubalired (Tubal Ligation).
As a woman in a male dominated world, Maryam lived in the shadows of the dictatorial men in her house. She lived a life of oppression and indignation against her husband’s first wife and their children. Maryam always felt uncomfortable around her husband’s oldest son, whose advances made her uneasy as she continued to face the pressures of a hostile marital environment. Maryam’s suspicions about her stepson proved to be correct when one unfortunate day, he raped her. Distraught and haunted by this experience, she turned to her husband to protect her, when she was appalled to discover that her husband, instead of standing up for her, blamed her and beat her up, and threw her out of the house. Panic and paranoia gripped her as she left Larkana, seeking refuge from the insanity of the world she could not comprehend.
Maryam’s world began and ended in her courtyard. Once she walked out of her house that February day, the only sanctuary known to her was Bilawal House, the place where Benazir Bhutto came from, and where she was told, justice is dispensed. Driven by her own despair and by the generosity of a few strangers, she made the envelopment who made arrangements for her to be transferred to Panah Shelter Home.
At Panah, a lawyer was assigned to her and a custody case was registered. She was informed of her marital rights. She yearned for her children and eventually, with an unyielding spirit of determination; she got the cus-tody of her two younger children through a habeas corpus petition, and they were united with her at the Panah Shelter.
Through a court settlement, her husband agreed to a set of conditions for her return home. She was to be given a separate house and a stipend of 5000 rupees every month. He signed an undertaking to treat her with respect and dignity and report bath to the court every 3 months. For Maryam, this was a victory She hopes to rebuild her life and return back home with her children without fearing the violence that has haunted her throughout her life. One has to immerse in her world to understand how contentment can be built on a measly mound.