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Duped by her Pakistani husband, Indian woman Shabnam yearns to return home

PTI 28 Aug 2012, 9:29:57 IST
Karachi, Aug 28: An Indian woman, who left her country and religion to marry a Pakistani man but was betrayed and virtually imprisoned by him for 13 years, finally has hope of returning home, with the human rights commission here taking up her case.

Shabnam, who was originally called Shirley Ann Hodges, met Gul Khan in India, whom she married before travelling to Karachi with her new-born child to meet his family on a six-month visa 13 years ago.

However, in Karachi she was introduced to Khan's first wife and her six children, and was never allowed to return.

After her case came to light, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and noted human rights lawyers, Asma Jahangir and Ansar Burney, have started efforts to help her return home.

Abdul Hai of the HRCP and Burney confirmed they had been approached for help by the woman's family members from Ahmedabad and were now looking at her case.

According to details in the Express Tribune newspaper, the woman left her family and religion to marry Gul Khan, a money lender whom she met in Ahmedabad, and married in 1997.

"I was previously named Shirley Ann Hodges but changed my religion and name after meeting Gul Muhammad Khan in Ahmedabad in 1997 where we got married," the Indian said.

As soon as Shabnam landed in Karachi, she was abruptly introduced to the nightmare her life would become: she was introduced to Gul's first wife and six children; her Indian passport was seized; she was gifted a burqa and locked away on the top floor of her in-laws' house.

Thirteen years since, Shabnam remains confined at the top floor of the house in the Landhi area dominated by Pukhtuns and is not allowed any visitors.

Shabnam's only contact with the outside world is through the Internet and her mobile phone.

"I am a prisoner and this is a hell. For years, I have not gone out from my room. I want to go back to my family in India," she told the newspaper.

Shabnam said she still didn't know why her husband fooled her. "My daughters are not allowed to go to school. We are beaten with sticks and hurled abuses. Our life is very suffocating," she said.

For years, Shabnam was forced to hide her husband's cruelty from her family as she could only speak to them in front of him.

But a few months ago, she managed to get through to her family independently via Skype.

Speaking from Ahmedabad, Shabnam's brother Noel Hodges said he was shocked when he saw her after all these years.

"She weighs 100 kg now. She keeps crying all the time. We are very worried for her".

Since then, Shabnam's family has made frantic efforts for her "release".

They wrote letters to the Indian home secretary, the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan and human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir.

Meanwhile, the Quaidabad police questioned Gul about his wife and he filed a petition in the Sindh High Court last month, accusing them of harassment.

"We observe strict purdah in our family, which is why Shabnam is not allowed to go out," said Gul, a man of Afghan origin, who owns an electronics shop.

He further claimed that he had done a "great deed" by converting a non-Muslim to Islam.
"I am a heart patient. When I become alright, I will take her to India but for now she has to take care of me," he added.