A Young Woman’s Story of Adversity and Abandonment
You might think cruel mother-in-laws who make a woman slave all day, and neglectful husbands looking to secretly replace their wives, is the stuff of South Asian soap operas. But these things happen right here, even in the United States.
Twenty-five year-old Sara (name changed to protect privacy) has lived this life. Engaged at 16, while living in Pakistan, to a young man in New York, she had dreams of happiness, like any girl her age. During her four-year engagement, her in-laws were nothing but sweet and caring. It was when marriage brought her to the US that she uncovered their facade.
“My mother-in-law, who was the nicest to me, became the rudest of them all,” Sara said. “I couldn’t even have breakfast on my own time. They set a schedule for when I was allowed to enter and leave my room.”
Meanwhile, her husband’s aloofness very quickly revealed he had been forced into the marriage. Sara also discovered that he had been interested in marrying another woman, all along. She was stuck.
With tensions heightening, Sara’s husband booked her a ticket to Pakistan saying she needed to leave for a while. Once there, her family’s attempts to alleviate the situation with her in-laws were in vain.
It was during that time that Sara also discovered she was pregnant. “They were happy to hear that I was expecting,” Sara said of her in-laws.”My parents also thought that after finding out about the baby, my husband would get better and want to keep the marriage intact.”
Clinging to a ray of hope, the mother-to-be returned to the US. Little had she anticipated the outrage she’d face. “He wasn’t home when I got back, but when he found out, he called his parents, threatening to commit suicide if they let me stay in the house,” Sara said. “But I was ready to live in whatever condition my husband wanted just for the sake of my child.”
Her options exhausted, Sara reached out to another relative for some guidance. This didn’t sit well with her in-laws.
“All of a sudden I got a call from my in-laws saying they wanted me back in the house and that everything was okay.” Her in-laws even celebrated her return with mithai (South Asian sweets). However, what most surprised her was her husband’s request. “Let’s start over all again,” he said, blaming their issues on meddling family members.
A few days later, her husband called from work and asked her to pray for him. He worked with United Airlines and had been requesting a transfer to Dubai for a while. Today was his transfer interview, he said. Sara obliged, wishing him well. To her surprise, just hours later, he was asking her to pack a small bag. His transfer had been accepted! They’d be traveling that very night, to quickly scope out the city before moving, he explained.
“I was very suspicious about how fast we were leaving, but I thought he worked at United and since he has free flying privileges, arranging a quick flight would not be a problem for him.”
After a brief layover in Qatar, the couple boarded a plane to what Sara thought would be Dubai. “When the pilot first said Lahore, Pakistan, I thought I heard wrong because I was so tired,” Sara said, who was seven months pregnant at the time. “When I heard it again I confronted my husband and he said this was just a surprise for me to meet my parents for a few hours before we traveled to Dubai.”
The couple knocked on Sara’s parents door at 1 a.m. in the morning. “My husband greeted my parents well,” she said. “He chatted with them and put them at ease saying we’re just here for a few hours and then off to Dubai.”
He then went to freshen up but changed more than just his clothes. “He said I’m not taking her with me and I’ll tell you my final decision tomorrow,” he announced.
“My father was so fed up… He just couldn’t take it anymore,” Sara recalls. “He said, ‘Just leave! Take a week or more if you have to’.”
That was the last time Sara saw her husband. But that was not all. She soon discovered he’d stolen her green card, passport and credit cards from her purse, when she stopped at an airport restroom.
“Our daughter is safe; that’s enough for us,” her parents reassured her.
On June 17, Sara gave birth to a baby girl. “I can’t explain how I endured the months leading up to her birth. It’s a miracle that Allah gave me a healthy daughter despite all the stress I had to go through.”
After the birth of their granddaughter, Sara’s in-laws rejoiced and kept in contact with her. She did as they instructed — distributing sweets on their behalf to relatives and naming her daughter Maryam, as they advised.
Sara secretly hoped her in-laws would convince their son to keep their marriage alive for the sake of their baby.
It wasn’t meant to be. It was in Ramadan just before Iftar, that Sara received a notice of divorce.
“That really hurt me even though he had treated me badly and without any respect,” she said through tears. “Ever since I was 16 I never looked at anyone, I never imagined anyone else as my husband but him.”
Sara was hospitalized because of anxiety. “My parents really encouraged me to get over my depression by telling me that Allah’s tests whom he loves and didn’t His Prophets go through many struggles as well?”
Soon Sara found out her husband had married the woman he originally wanted to. “This woman, she found me and publicly shared her wedding photos on my Facebook account in order to humiliate me,” Sara said.
Although this act hurt her immensely, she now had some much-needed ammo. Her husband had never registered their divorce in the U.S. where they were still legally married. This was how Sara could seek some justice for herself and especially her daughter, whose father had abandoned her.
“I didn’t see any future for myself in Pakistan. I didn’t have any brothers to take a stand for me, only my aging parents.”
She contacted the U.S. embassy and by the help of Allah was allowed entry back into the United States after attesting to her painful story.
But she had to leave her 10-month-old baby girl behind in Pakistan, whom she hopes to bring to the U.S. as soon as possible.
“If I’m here, it’s only for my daughter,” she said through tears.”It’s my responsibility to fight for her rights. This is the only way I can give her a better life. In America, there is still some justice.”
Sara now lives at one of ICNA Relief’s 14 Women’s Shelters while she meets with immigration and divorce lawyers constantly.
“ICNA Relief helped me right away. They didn’t even let me finish my request and started helping me,” she said. “They gave me to eat and drink…gave me financial assistance, and the shelter manager has been so helpful. They gave me a roof over my head. What’s greater than that?”