I like to think I’m strong. There are decisions I have made about how I live my life that I know people in my culture and society would frown upon: the way I very openly voice my opinions, my inability to tolerate injustice silently or calmly, my refusal to sit and lie to everyone about where I’m going and what I’m wearing and who I’m meeting, my readiness to put people in their place, my decision to join the big bad TV industry… my God, I’m a rebellious little Pakistani girl. And it’s not easy. It takes guts to stick your middle finger up to the judgemental world and make the decision that, from now on, you will live your life only focusing on pleasing yourself and those closest to you – to hell with everyone else and their irrelevant opinions. It took a while but I finally realised that there was no point in attempting to please those people who were going to talk about me whether I was doing good or bad – those fake “aunties and uncles” who live their lives searching for a scandal to excite their mundane, chapatti-making existence. Why should we live in permanent fear of “what people will say”, making decisions not for ourselves but for the people who care about us the least?

So when someone very close to me told me they were in an abusive relationship, you can imagine my immediate response: dump him. Kick him out. Don’t think twice. Who cares what people say? You deserve so much better. You’re still so young. I will fully support you… etc etc.

A year turned to two… to five… to ten… but my words fell on deaf ears. I simply could not comprehend why a girl so strong, so beautiful, so independent, so educated would not just walk out of a “relationship” that was causing her so much grief. I watched her – I watched her for over thirteen years, deteriorating with time, her smile fading away along with all her childhood dreams of a Bollywood marriage. I watched him snatch away the sparkle she always had in her eye, now replaced with sadness and an endless questioning of why it was her life that had turned out like this. Every year she told herself that it was too late, she was too old now, she should have done it years ago – what was the point now? No one would marry her after the “divorcee” label had been stamped on her – plus, she didn’t want to remarry anyway. What if the second husband turned out worse than the first? Where was the guarantee that he wouldn’t be the same?

Plus, what would happen to her mum and dad? They put on a brave face, but how could she put them through the taunts and gossip they would inevitably face from a bullying and intrusive Asian community?

And how would her husband react if she said she wanted a divorce? Would he go through with his threats? Surely, he wasn’t going to leave without a fight.

And it was all these questions – plus a million more – that caused her to stay. It is these questions – plus a million more – that cause thousands of girls just like her to stay locked in an eternal cage of unhappiness and fear, left with nothing but memories of their life before this life sentence was passed on them, as a shadow of the girl they used to be.

I like to think I’m strong – but my battles have been nothing compared to this. I realise now, it’s not as easy as just “dumping him”. Even when the marriage is eating away at you day in day out, there is a part of you that always thought the word “marriage” had to mean “forever”, and to break those two words apart is to fight with the values you were brought up believing to be true.

I like to think I’m strong – but I’m not as strong as her. Because today, she told me she’s breaking free. She told me she’s leaving – and in her eyes, as she told me these words, there was a glimpse of the girl I used to know, the girl I grew up looking up to, who used to be full of life –

but this time, she was finally ready to live it.

He refuses to pay any of the solicitor fees (just as he refused to pay a single bill for thirteen years), so we’re crowdfunding to raise enough money to get her out of this marriage. If you know a great woman who has forgotten how great she is, whose life has been wasted, please donate to our fund on the link below and more importantly, share this blog. Let’s cause a scandal – together.

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