Srinagar: During the summer of 2008, when the popularity of the social media site Orkut was at its peak, 24-year-old Mehnaz Sidiqui, a girl from Pakistan’s economic hub Karachi, ventured into the virtual world and created an Orkut account.
As time went by, she was enjoying her visits to the social media more and more.
It was during one of those visits that she received a friend request from a Kashmiri member, Abdullah Danish Shervani.
“More than anything else, I was impressed by his religious outlook,” recalls Mehnaz, adding that Danish would mostly send her religious material. He would forward Quranic tilawats and azaans recited in his voice,” she recalls.
Contrary to what most other metropolitan girls look for in a husband, Mehnaz was drawn to the religiosity of the man she had met on Orkut.
“I thought I would go to heaven if I married such a religious boy, not knowing I would have to live through hell in this world first,” Mehnaz says
As time passed, Mehnaz had made up her mind that if she ever married anyone it would be the religious and bearded boy Danish.
And to her surprise, Danish came to Pakistan on a trip in 2009.
“It was part of a Kashmir University programme; all his friends went back, but he stayed behind. Later he asked my parents for my hand in marriage,” she narrates.
Mehnaz recalls that her father had warned her not to fall into a “trap.”
“My father was against the marriage, and he had warned me that Danish did not seem to be the right man for me, but I was blind and didn’t listen to anyone. I was so dumbstruck that a mahar (dowry) of only 10,000 was offered by him. Yet, I married him,” she says.
Soon after the marriage was solemnized, she was to realize that it was not such a fairy tale for someone from a busy metropolitan city to settle in the Valley of Kashmir.
For Mehnaz, the move meant misery. A few days after she arrived in Kashmir, the going began to get tough as her in laws were not cooperative.
“Mahool pura different tha (everything was different in Kashmir), but I had such high hopes in my husband for whom I had left everything,” she says.
Having left everything behind, from her country to her parents to her relatives, Mehnaz thought her husband Danish would become her ‘everything’.
However, that proved to be a colossal mistake, as very soon Danish would start beating her.
“It started soon after his parents began having problems with me. Danish would beat me during the day and then at night he would apologize. I had no choice either way, because I had left everything behind in Karachi,” Mehnaz says.
As the abuse from her in laws continued, the husband and wife duo were forced to shift to a rented house in Rajbagh to get away from it all. “After I had given birth to my first child in 2010, we had to move because it was getting extremely difficult at my in-laws’ place,” she recalls.
But at Rajbagh things also didn’t go as she had wished. The now family of three struggled with money.
“We were not earning handsomely, so I had to sell off my gold to make ends meet,” she says, adding that the abuse from her husband intensified during this period.
“I had conceived again but suffered a miscarriage because of his physical abuse,” she remembers.
Later in 2012, Mehnaz gave birth to her second child, Ayesha, and after that Danish’s parents asked Mehnaz and her family to move back to their house.
“The societal pressure made them call us back; they feared being bad mouthed by society,” she says.
At her in laws’ place things once again fell apart, and Mehnaz became a victim of mental and physical abuse at the hands of the family.
“They would not feed me well, and no one even talked with me properly there. Instead of showing me some compassion, I became a victim of constant insults from his parents,” she recalls.
The ordeal didn’t stop there. Soon after realizing that she had to find a way to survive and feed her children, Mehnaz took up a job as a school teacher, where she initially earned 3000INR per month but which eventually increased to 20000 INR per month after changing jobs. “I had to work hard for my children,” she explains.
Just when Mehnaz thought things were getting better, Danish began taking her money.
“He would take it, saying since I was a Pakistani citizen I would not be able to have a bank account.”
As things didn’t improve at home with the in laws, the duo kept shifting from one rented apartment to another until Danish finally got a job as liaison officer at Kashmir University.
“The job came with an apartment, too,” she says.
Yet, things went from bad to worse at the apartment. “His torture was confined to the four walls of the room at the university,” Mehnaz recalls with tears rolling down her face.
“Even our kids became victims of the abuse,” she adds.
According to Mehnaz, the torture at times was so intense that Danish would run after her with knives and inflict wounds that would eventually lead to a miscarriage.
The torture was getting worse by the day.
“He wanted me to go back to Karachi, but I would have needed to leave my children behind. They have Indian passports,” she says.
Mehnaz decided to live with the torture because, according to her, that is how South Asians are.
“I left my family behind; I have four unmarried younger sisters. You know how society behaves in south Asia. I had no option but to stay here. And above all, I loved him with all my heart. If he had not gone public with our problems, I might have still kept it private,” she says amid sobs.
As Mehnaz’ abuse intensified inside the university flat, she found it increasingly hard to deal with the pain which once made her scream out so hard that neighbours heard it. And that is when the university decided to form a commission to investigate. It then directed Danish to stop abusing Mehnaz and stepped in to help her obtain an extension of her visa.
However, Danish didn’t pay heed to the commission.
“In December of 2017, I gave birth to a child, and during all this time I was alone. He only came to sign an authorisation for ligation without my consent,” she recalls.
The baby later died. Mehnaz claims it was because of the torture she had suffered by Danish.
After this, Mehnaz felt she had no recourse but to commit suicide.
“He threw me out of his car at Nigeen and told me that I was free to go ahead and kill myself,” she says.
It was after that she finally decided to seek help.
On February 1, 2018, she filed an FIR against Danish at the Nigeen police station, accusing him of domestic abuse.
“I also filed a petition seeking maintenance from Danish for my kids, as he was neither paying for their expenses nor their school fees,” she says.
Mehnaz now fears that Danish might kill her since he has harmed her in the past, and since he has been trying to falsely accuse her of working with Kasmiri pro freedom leaders.
She vehemently denies all the allegations levelled against her by her husband. “There is no truth in anything he is saying; he is a liar,” she insists.
According to advocate Arshie Zuhar, lawyer of Mehnaz, there are currently two court cases pending against Danish: one is for domestic violence, and the other is a demand for maintenance for Mehnaz and her children.
“Apart from that, there is also a criminal case under Section 498-A regarding cruelty by a husband and for which a challan has been submitted. Another one for the breaking the lock of Mehnaz’s apartment is in the lower court.” she told The Kashmir Press.
Danish is accusing Mehnaz of having ties with Pakistan’s ISI and Kashmir’s pro-freedom leaders. He sought help from the Ministry of Home Affairs through a series of tweets which he later deleted.
He also sought meeting with home minister Rajnath Singh in a bid to inform him about the “security threat”.
Danish also send a tweet to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and said there was a national security breach, apparently indicating that his wife was illegally staying in Kashmir.
When asked Kashmir university public relations officer, Faheem Aslam, to identify what kind national security breach was their employee, Danish, trying to communicate to the ministers, he said university has nothing to say in the matter.