TW: Domestic violence
I remember I was 8 or 9 years old when I realised that my neighbourhood friend had a difficult life at home. I didn’t know what abuse was or what substance use looked like. All I knew was that my friend’s dad yelled at and hit her mom. I remember one day, the dad left, and based on the hushed conversations of the adults around me I had a basic understanding that he used to hit his wife and kids.
Once he left I thought that was the end of it until one day my friend's mom stood on our doorstep and explained to my mom that her husband's family and her own were pressuring her to get back together with him.
They said she was ruining her life by leaving.
They said she should think about the kids.
Eventually, the dad came back and my friend and her family moved away. We lost touch but I never forgot the image of my friend's mom standing on our front porch looking so defeated as she explained to my mom why she was getting back together with her abuser.
In the South Asian community, getting divorced is akin to walking around with a scarlet S. Except the S is reserved for women and it stands for shame.
There is stigma around getting a divorce as a South Asian woman because people want to shame you for not making the marriage work. Then there is shame around what led to the divorce and an expectation that you should have and could have tried harder. There is also blame. It must have been your fault as the woman. There must have been something you could have done to improve the situation.
There is also a toxic notion that you should take what you get because that’s what women of previous generations have been doing. For our moms and grandmothers, divorce did not feel like an option because of a lack of support from the community.
Very rarely does a woman in the middle of a divorce get the support she needs from her family and the community.
The story of Sania Khan has been all over social media this week. Sania was shot by her estranged husband at her home in Chicago. Reports indicate that her ex travelled from Georgia to the condominium where she had been living since the divorce and shot her in the back of the head before turning the gun on himself.
I'll be honest with you, I did not want to write about this tragedy because the story is infuriating.
It's not a surprise to see a disgruntled man inflict an act of violence on a woman. It's also not hard to imagine that his motivation might have been linked to their recent separation.
I imagine that people in the community might have uttered the same idiotic words to Sania about her divorce that we have all heard time and time again"
"lokh ki kahenge?"
I’m tired of women dying in our community at the hands of men who feel that they can do no wrong and that their behaviour is normal and should be tolerated.. These deaths feel preventable.
In a recent Tik Tok video posted by Sania she shared how "going through a divorce as a South Asian woman feels like you failed at life sometimes. The way the community labels you, the lack of emotional support you recieve and the pressure to stay with someone because "what will people say" is isolating. It makes it harder for women to leave [a] marriage that they shouldn't have been in to begin with."
As a therapist, I encounter countless women who are considering divorce and one of the barriers to walking away isn’t coming to terms with the end of your relationship or making sense of a betrayal or trauma—it’s knowing that the community will shame you and your children.
As a woman I feel angry every time I hear someone ask, ‘how could she leave her husband? She needs to think about the kids or she is only thinking about herself.’
The truth is, when a woman leaves her partner it is because she is thinking of her kids. It’s also because she is choosing herself and recognizing that her life is worth living and that she deserves to be happy.
I don’t know why choosing yourself, choosing your kids, choosing your happiness is such a shameful concept in our community.
I understand that the same people who shame women are the ones who have likely been shamed themselves but what I will never understand is why we let this pattern continue.
How many women need to die for our community to understand that divorce is a personal and heart wrenching choice, it does not come easy to anyone and we need to support the women in our lives instead of turning away.
Having support might be the difference between life and death for one woman. It might have made all the difference for Sania.
About the author
Manjot MannMore by Manjot Mann
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