A slightly modified version of this blog was also published on the Express Tribune Blogs here.
Over the past couple weeks, countless blogs and articles have been written about Imran Khan’s recent marriage to British Journalist Reham Khan, where focus has been placed more on criticizing Mr. Khan’s wife choice, rather than the congratulatory aspect of the marriage itself. When it comes to celebrities and prominent public figures/politicians, marriage matters are no longer private; everyone wants to get a piece of that hot pie, and the bigger the pie the better. And Imran Khan’s marriage to Reham Khan has indeed been a hot topic of discussion, and much criticism I must add, as of late.
Much of that disparagement has especially been directed towards Reham Khan, and the fact that Imran Khan chose to marry her, out of all the prospective “chaste” women in the world. In addition to being a divorcee, which is often viewed with much disdain when it comes to re-marrying (usually in the women’s case, because, really, who cares if the man is divorced, right?), they reviled her for wearing short-length dresses and for dancing with strange men in public; they went as far as calling her a ‘lesbian’ (intended to be an insult, considering that homosexuality in Pakistan is greatly ostracized). Some vicious trolls even attacked her daughter, branding her a ‘pornstar’. And while some of these allegations against Reham Khan may be true, for the most part they are false; they are stories simply created out of detestation in order to defame her (most likely for marrying Imran Khan).
However, despite everything I’ve read thus far about their marriage, the dismaying part about this whole ordeal is that many people — Pakistanis, I must add — are not only willing to believe every single negative assertion against Reham Khan, but they are also willing to disbelieve whatever assertions that Mrs. Khan, herself, makes all the while completely disregarding the notion that she could just be telling the truth.
Yesterday, Express Tribune published a piece in which Mrs. Khan courageously revealed that she suffered from domestic abuse in her first marriage, which was why she was so hesitant at first to tie the knot with Mr. Khan. She further went on to say that the reason she never talked about it was because she didn’t want unnecessary media attention nor demean her ex husband at the same time, who happens to be working as a psychiatrist in a very senior position in Britain. As expected, her ex-husband denied the allegations, claiming that he has never hit anyone and has never been involved in any form of domestic abuse.
Mrs. Khan’s ex-husband is entitled to stand up for himself. After all, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, right? Nevertheless, the thing that disturbed me the most was not his denial of the allegations, but rather the response from the readers — the general public, so to speak — where many not only blatantly stated that Mrs. Khan is ‘lying’ about being abused but that she made this story up in order to both seek and divert the public’s attention from the more important issues currently in Pakistan.
It’s often quite tragic when I come across such gratuitous comments against someone whose life we know absolutely nothing about, except what we have read, seen, or heard about them in the media. Mrs. Khan should never have felt the need to provide reasons as to why she decided to stay in the marriage, despite the abuse she may have endured, because we, as outsiders, will never truly understand it. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have never experienced domestic abuse personally will never understand why some women choose to stay and why some choose to leave a marriage. Even those with lived experiences know that leaving a relationship is never easy, especially when the abuser starts making “promises” that he will change or that he will never hurt you again. Some women can’t help but feel hopeful that their abusers will actually change, turn a new leaf, and will never hurt them again. No doubt that blind hope is dangerous and self-destructive; yet, some women can’t help but fall into that cycle, making excuse after excuse for their abusive partner’s behaviour, until some finally find the strength and courage to leave.
Needless to say, not all women are fortunate enough to leave due to religious/cultural barriers, strong familial ties, lack of independence, lack of economic means, as well as the social stigmas associated with being a divorced woman. And Reham Khan, despite being a strong, independent and empowered woman, who lived in the liberal west for the majority of her life, is no exception. Domestic abuse is not limited to class or status, for it is rampant all over the world, and because it often happens behind closed doors, many of us never see or hear about it. And just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. We also need to realize that abuse is not limited to the physical, and that it can take numerous shapes and forms. The common misconception is that abuse isn’t abuse unless someone has been seriously hurt, or worse. Yet, any form of act that harms someone psychologically, emotionally, and physically is abuse.
Thus, it is truly unfair to judge Mrs. Khan for deciding to stay in the marriage, and that too for 15 years, when we know nothing about her personal life and the struggles that she, and so many other women like her, may have endured.
Reham Khan may have her flaws, but if she has in fact been a victim of domestic abuse, then I hope that as the new first lady, she sincerely takes the initiative to work towards this problem, because as she said herself,
Domestic violence is a big issue and no attention is paid to it in Pakistan. [It] happens in many shapes and forms.
So, let’s stop making brash assumptions about someone just because we don’t like her. Domestic abuse is a very serious issue and it takes a lot of strength and courage for someone to come out and speak about it in a country where such issues are normally either dismissed or simply swept under the carpet.