I’ve been observing the rhetoric surrounding Imran and Reham Khan’s marriage with some interest. Readers of this column know I often dwell on language, and the way people have generally been talking about Reham Khan is worth noting. Half the discussion online—on newspaper comment boards and social media—revolves around her being a vampy weather-girl who phasao-ed IK. The other half scoffs at her speaking out about domestic abuse. What a bad mother, they write, leaving her little children at their father’s mercy and then painting him as some villainous abusive man. How can a doctor in England be abusive? Some people seem to think that domestic abuse doesn’t even happen abroad because it isn’t ‘allowed.’ Mrs. Khan’s ex-husband has issued a statement saying that he never hit her, and she had “every liberty.” How kind of him.
What we tend to do, culturally, is be unable to envision abuse as anything other than physical violence. Unless someone whacks you across the face, it just doesn’t count. The tragedy is that emotional and mental abuse happens all the time, all over the world. It is typical of the average desi to naïvely think that ‘such things’ don’t happen ‘there’, but of course they do. All the time. Reham Khan has herself apparently said her husband didn’t physically harm her, but emotional abuse is a very, very real thing. It is the slow chipping away of your self-esteem and mental health by someone who constantly makes you feel like you aren’t good enough. That whatever you do or wear or behave like, it’s never going to be worth anything. You don’t have to be taking a stick to someone to hurt them. You don’t have to be twisting someone’s arm to make them cry. The good Dr Ijaz Rehman has given his ex a week to retract her claims. That doesn’t sound dominating and threatening at all. I personally don’t quite know what to make of men who marry barely-legal girls in any case—Reham was nineteen when she married her first cousin. That’s barely on this side of finishing your A-levels.
In the wonderful old television show “Poldark” one of the female characters, Elizabeth, is wanting to leave her husband and is being berated by her sister-in-law, who nurses a heart broken in the line of familial duty. “Why do you believe you have an unassailable right to happiness?” she cries. The logic is that because one woman in the family had to sacrifice hers, then what makes any other woman in the family more special? Why should she be allowed happiness through rebellion if the other is not? This attitude is identical to the one we have, particularly women, to each other. Why should Reham Khan be young and free and marry whoever she likes? Instead, she is a harpy and a hussy who has abandoned her children—to the care of their father, not some Dickensian workhouse. Her children are probably living in the same house they always have, going to their usual schools and hanging out with their usual friends. They haven’t been uprooted from their normal lives to be dragged to this broken-down country, where we can’t even send our children to school because of fear, and now also because there isn’t any petrol for a car to to send them in. We are shocked that a woman would just leave her children like that, but nobody cares that Imran Khan’s sons don’t live with him and never have. Why not? Isn’t he their parent just as much as their mother is? Even Islamic law sees the custody of children reverting to their father after a certain age—because fathers are meant to support their children. But no, Reham Khan is some kind of beastly Medea who threw her children away with nary a backwards glance to ride off into the sunset. Some reports suggest her youngest is living with her anyway.
People call her ‘the weathergirl’ sneeringly. Really? She wasn’t the tea lady at some two-bit news channel, she read the weather report at the BBC at the beginning of her career. Working at the BBC doesn’t magically happen because your uncle knows the owner, or you look reasonably nice on television and can enunciate so you get the job. She has a graduate degree in broadcast journalism and by all accounts has been a professional most of her life. But she’s being trolled and called a lesbian, being lambasted for frying sausages by all and sundry. It’s been so, so easy for the army and the government to distract everyone from the constitution being altered and our civil liberties being seriously infringed upon: who cares about our rights, and how dangerous military courts are, Reham Khan was frying sausages! In a skirt!
What doesn’t surprise me in all of this is how nobody, even the IK haters, has made any noise about how a man gets to marry a woman twenty years younger than him with such aplomb. How easy it is for a B.A pass cricketer to marry a successful, educated and rather good-looking woman. Nobody is calling Imran a cradle-snatcher or doing haw-hai that when Reham was born, Imran was 21. The most we can muster is that Imran’s shoes at his wedding were atrocious. It is eternally frustrating that no matter what a woman does, at the end of the day she is so easily and instantly reduced to nothing but good/bad mother, moral/immoral, Madonna/saint. That’s it. On the one hand you have men like Jibran Nasir and people outside Lal Masjid day in and day out, and then you have Imran Khan piously eating qorma in a madrassah. Civil society is working to take back our mosques and one of our leaders is actively putting himself back in them. But luckily for him, he has the ultimate distraction at hand: a pretty, independent wife. Nobody likes one of those, and so we all will be merrily led by the nose tut-tutting at foolish nonsense about Reham while Imran gets booed out of schools and doesn’t sign bills to protect women, and we won’t care because the only thing that’s important to us is who fried the sausages.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore