Kankar: Was Kiran right or wrong in divorcing her husband?

Published: December 9, 2013
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Kankar, with its protagonist ‘Kiran’ being a woman who chooses ‘honour’ over a damaging and abusive marriage, seems to have hit a raw nerve with people and raised many questions. PHOTO: KANKAR OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE

The first slap is the worst – red, hot searing pain across the face. But what sears through is more than a slap. Something breaks inside. A feeling of helplessness, vulnerability and a shattered sense of self-worth takes over which is why, a woman’s first reflex reaction is always disbelief; shock. It is an instant realisation of the painful reality that she will never forget that moment. That she will never be able to unlearn this blow.

Sanam Baloch depicted a battered woman’s experience beautifully in the recent Hum TV serial Kankar which ended on December 6, 2013. The serial, with its protagonist ‘Kiran’ being a woman who chooses ‘honour’ over a damaging and abusive marriage, seems to have hit a raw nerve with people. Its popularity lies in the fact that this play has managed to raise some important questions.

Sanam Baloch, who plays the role of Kiran in Kankar. Photo: Kankar Official Facebook Page

With more and more research unearthing the fact that many Pakistani women get beaten in urban cities and a lot of them are educated women – it is not surprising then that a debate has ensued because of this play. I encountered a sample of that debate on my Facebook wall, at dinners and with close friends.

It was fascinating to me that Kiran’s character is that of a lower middle-class girl. The abusive but handsome and rich husband (played by Fahad Mustafa) claims to ‘love’ her and so is her ticket to a better, more affluent life.

In reality, a lot of urban and affluent women stay in abusive marriages, even suffering domestic violence, to maintain the social status and a standard of living.

But Kiran chooses to leave all of that behind.

Fahad Mustafa, who plays the role of Sikander in Kankar. Photo: Kankar Official Facebook Page

She remarries a man who takes her around on a motorbike and she is busy with household chores all day. She leaves behind a life of luxury, simply because this man will potentially respect her more.

Mind you, she doesn’t leave Mr ‘I-love-you-means-I-can-beat-you’ right away. She gives him warnings and chances. It is after she miscarries when he hits her that she realises she has had enough.

But the responses I got to the question ‘did she do the right thing’ were a mix of encouraging and disturbing.

Cast of Kanker. Photo: Kanker Official Facebook Page

One friend said,

“Life is not a bed of roses; you have to compromise at some point. No one gets a perfect life, so one should see the positives and then decide.”

This response made me think. Compromise is a good thing, but one can only compromise so much. And is it ok to compromise on things as serious as getting beaten up without reason? This was the view of another friend, a male, and I just listened, at a loss for words.

“But the reason she was beaten up was because she was a very headstrong woman! She argued too much. Women who don’t learn to keep quiet end up suffering. See, in this serial, he is fine with his second wife because she doesn’t argue.”

Arguing to legitimise a beating? The logic somehow escaped me. However, as it turned out, in the next episode once the initial phase of the guy’s second marriage was over, he meted out the same treatment to his second wife.

Photo: Kanker Official Facebook Page

As expected, Kiran was stigmatised by society and even discouraged by her sister and parents to take a divorce. But here’s the catch: To her, her izzat’ (honour) is more important than just her ‘ghar’ (home). Thus, the play shows a paradigm shift. It shows that for this strong woman, honour in fact lies in NOT accepting abuses, demeaning behaviour and violence. That to her, izzat is not in staying in a marriage which has her known as Mrs Someone socially but also has her reminded of her poor family and slapped when in the privacy of her bedroom.

A friend agreed when she commented,

“It’s about whether we give more importance to money or izzat. If you give someone loads of money but no respect, is that a happy compromise?”

To this friend, it was a no brainer that Kiran did the right thing. To others, it was not.

One reason women stay on in such marriages is the often unrealistic hope that the person will change.

“You cannot change a person (completely). Many a women have wasted their lives in the hope… [while] a vicious cycle of abuse which only gets worse. And children brought up in this environment are more prone to psychological scarring,” said one friend on Facebook.

But another felt, and not without solid reasons, that everyone deserves a chance, and with counselling and effort, many couples are able to break the vicious cycle of abuse.

Kiran and Sikander as played by Sanam Baloch and Fahad Mustafa in Kanker. Photo: Kanker Official Facebook Page

An interesting dynamic, as a young friend pointed out, was how this strategy of ‘controlling’ a woman via abuse is passed on like a family heirloom for generations.

Kankar makes for such an engrossing watch because of the complexities of each character. Sikander is the product of an abusive relationship and classical conditioning plays an important role in his upbringing; if the wife argues or says anything that might remotely resemble anything as having an opinion, give her a good whack. Whereas Kiran is the quintessential headstrong girl of our times –somebody who knows her rights and does not shy away from demanding them. She is not willing to be treated as a doormat, and rightly so,” she concluded.

This friend rightly pointed out that the serial also shows the dichotomy between the earlier generation(s) and ours.

Sikander’s mother didn’t think her self-esteem was at stake when she was physically abused by his father, because she lived a life in which complacent acceptance of her secondary position and denial that this is a serious issue is a norm. Perhaps women today are more open to the idea of ending a relationship on grounds of self-respect.

Perhaps the best and most succinct comment came from a man, who believed that,

“Violence inflicted on a spouse (in particular) is never justified, unless it’s in self-defence or to protect another.”

This might be an especially good time to re-examine the debate that Kankar has managed to trigger. On the Human Rights Day that falls on December 10, 2013, a 16 day global campaign ends. This campaign started on November 25, 2013 which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Relationships are sacred. But a person’s honour is even more so, may it be a male or a female. How we choose to protect our honour on the crossroads of life depends on many factors. In the climax of the serial, one woman chooses to leave an abusive relationship, though she loves the man. The other woman chooses not to because she does not find in herself the strength to do it.

It is not about who made a better choice, but about the fact that one must make careful and informed choices. It is time our society accepted that Pakistan has a growing number of women who will make the tougher choice.

If some of us do not have the strength to do that, we should at least support those who do.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SamarYz

    Arranged marriages = forced relationshipsRecommend

  • zahid bukhari

    An objective analysis, i appreciate that you have covered each and every aspect including realities of human relations and sesitivity of our societyRecommend

  • zahid bukhari

    An objective analysis, i appreciate that you have covered each and every aspect including realities of human relations and sesitivity of our societyRecommend

  • Sami

    I once handled one abusive case and the girl’s husband was rude to her and according to her account he slapped her three or four times as well. The girl belonged from Lower Middle class but the guy was from one affluent family. I advised the girl to get the divorce. Somedays ago after a hiatus of many months she met me again. I asked her what about her life and relationship. She told me that she have decided to live on with her husband as it is better to cry in a Honda Accord than to live in a decrepit house while doing all the chorse for the lower middle class family. Strange but it is true as well.
    So it depends. How you define the Dignity and how you want to live your life. Now a days dignity and honor comes with the money as well.Recommend

  • HSN

    I think it’s not a question of if Kiran metaphoric in above case a women who
    is in an abusive relationship but the indifferent attitude of family and people around her. Is our society so indifferent towards abuse of women????. As if it’s no big deal… The society needs to boycott such individuals and families who think abuse is their rite if they are from the grooms side,if we wish to change perception for many such Kirans in the society.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Never. You are SOOOO wrong dear .Recommend

  • Maverick

    Kanker was a very thought provoking serialRecommend

  • sameer

    I hope so called liberal do not consider Kiran as a part of ghairat brigade. According to them, honour is not importantRecommend

  • Arooj Ahmed

    For every girl who prefers ‘respect’ over ‘money’ Kiran made a right decision. What use is that ‘Love’ which can’t make someone respect his beloved?

    And for every girl who thinks ‘a little abuse with loads of facilities and plenty of cash at disposal, doesn’t hurt’, she made a wrong decision.

    And for anyone who can’t stand opposition from family or the after-effects of such a decision – she’ll follow the saying ‘What can’t be cured must be endured’.Recommend

  • AamAwam

    I think she did right. I think there should be more to this story. Pakistani women are taught to rely on MEN. Father, Brother, Husband and Son.
    She did the right thing to leave the man. H e has no right to humiliate her aur make her feel so low.
    Pakistani men’s mentality is I pay for the expenses I can treat the woman the way i like. I think woman should work along with managing a house because thats the first step towards equality or even respect which we deserve as a human. I highly appreciate HUMtv and the writer for producing the show and writing about it (respectively) Thank you! It was much needed!Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought not another TV drama write up……but then I saw it was by Farahnaz Zahidi and instinct kicked in and I read the piece and my instincts proved right. It was well worth the read because you so smartly related this with real life view points forcing the reader to contemplate deep and hard.Recommend

  • Faheem

    Brilliantly written article. I have become a big fan of your blogs and believe that you should write more. The only drama I used to watch, as it has ended recently, and honestly quite moved by the experience. The last episode was a fantastic one, and being a man, to be honest it has left a lot to ponder about. A girl needs to be given utmost respect, as a man is his protector, he has to protect her from all evils, but if he starts petrifying his better half, then obviously the girl has to think otherwise. I also believe girls should also try to convey her argument in a better way, after getting home from the hell like work station, one needs a relaxed environment, and if the wife has some issue, she should say it but some other time and I believe he will listen to it. But all in all, what dialogues written by ammara ahmed.Recommend

  • Pappu

    A question to ego accentric men of Pakistan ” consider wife is wealthy and husband is not and than wife slaps husband for whatever reason” what would be husband reaction? Would he compromise? Also men beat women just because she is weaker. Also there is option granted to men by religion such as talaaq which puts him in autocratic position over the weaker sex.Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    Its obvious that Kiran’s decision to leave Sikander, her abusive partner, was the right thing to do.

    1) Partner violence/abuse has been condemned in Islam: ‘“O believers treat women with kindness even if you dislike them; it is quite possible that you dislike something which Allah might yet make a source of abundant good (An Nisa 4:19)” – It is also reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said that there is nothing and no one more detestable than a man who beats his wife.

    2) Abuse is cyclical- If an abusive partner apologises, there is NO guarantee he will not abuse again. Most often the apology is all part of the cycle of violence (abuse –> apologises—> tells you he ‘loves’ you–>abuse). People do not change in an instant- therapy may be sought, but unless the abusive partner HIMSELF recognises that he is wrong and actively WANTS to change, it will fail.

    3) Staying in an abusive relationship is BAD for your psychological and physical health. Again, even in Islam, God tells people who are oppressed to LEAVE the place/situation that oppresses them. Staying in an abusive relationship will cause depression, low self-esteem, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, sleeping problems, and chronic stress (which is linked to cancer and MANY mental illnesses). By staying in this abusive relationship you YOURSELF are contributing to your future ill health.

    4) Staying in a bad relationship for the ‘sake of the children’ is the STUPIDEST excuse, the weakest excuse there has ever been- the truth is that all the evidence from research shows that exposure to a parent being abused is detrimental to children- not only will they later be likely to become ABUSERS themselves, they will also experience ill health and depression and difficulties in forming normal relationships. If you cannot leave for yourself LEAVE FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR CHILD.

    5) Society is certainly harsh on divorced women, but would you rather live your life as a victim of abuse, who suffers physical and psychological consequences of abuse for the rest of their lives, and who’s children’s lives are RUINED because of exposure to abuse- or would you rather take a stand, face society’s DUMB IGNORANCE but know that you are doing what is right for both you and your child?Recommend

  • Ammar

    I watched the serial and it was mind blowing.. I think men should respect the women in all aspects..Recommend

  • x

    Not true. What a generalization. Not all arranged marriages are forced and many end up with the couple very happy and excited, even in love, before the actual wedding takes place. On the other hand, some love marriages are forced where the girl forces herself to stay with a man because she is so smitten or he seems a good catch, etc etc even when the relationship is abusive or the man cheats or plays around, etc.Recommend

  • x

    Nice analysis. Loved the ending! ET should have chosen a better title though.Recommend

  • shah

    I disagree and trolls like you are not wanted here. Coming back to topic Kiran was correct in divorcing her first husband since he was abusive and a wife beater.Recommend

  • Midhat

    Spot on analysis. This serial indeed triggered a lot of debate because it is so relevant. Many women( or men) stay in abusive relationships because of social pressures, fear of loneliness or even love for their spouses. This serial showed that self respect has to be bigger than all of these factors. The characher wasn’t just opposed to Physical abuse, but even the second time didn’t tolerate verbal disrespect from her second husband. We need more projects like these to show our masses and stronger face of humans( men or women)Recommend

  • Rabeea

    Not necessarily. Arranged marriages can also be very successful. It all depends on what the parents/family looks for when they are finding a match for their son or daughter. A relationship based on social status, looks, girl’s dowry and groom’s job is ofcourse doomed from the start. But if the parents strive to find a person who has the same personality or set of values as those of their son/daughter, it can be a very happy union.
    Abuse is a relationship doesn’t have anything to do with the marriage being arranged or not. It depends on one’s personality and upbringing and moral and ethical values.Recommend

  • Omer

    What a faraghatRecommend

  • Patriot

    Seriously? Is this what our youth spend their time on? Is this what should spin in our minds? Disappointing ..Recommend

  • Sane

    What a waste of time by writing this blog post. Don’t you have any real topic to write about?!! This is even time wasting to comment.Recommend

  • Sane

    Alas! we have come to a mental state that talk about a fake and concocted story. Far behind real time situations. Farigh ul Waqt aunties do not have any other work, but to watch such fabricated stories and talk about these.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Don’t you think it better than putting of a vest and going and blowing up a girls school after spending time listening to a deranged maulvi spewing his version of Islam.Recommend

  • MUM

    the ‘slap’ from kiran in the last episode seemed to hit home with Sikandar and he realized the hurt it caused. Maybe if she had slapped him back the first time, or after she warned him, he might have changed? he did ask for another chance, could he have improved with counselling? but a though provoking drama and one that should teach men and women about the importance of words in relationships(the ability to hurt or taunt is abuse as well) as well as how evil physical violence is for a relationship and familyRecommend

  • Iftikhar Ali

    No one in this world talks about the husbands who are beaten by their wives on the daily basis.Recommend

  • Farahnaz Zahidi

    Thank you Parvez :)for your feedback & encouragement.Recommend

  • Farahnaz Zahidi

    Thanks Faheem :) Appreciate the feedback. Keep readingRecommend

  • Visibly

    Why should Kiran not get divorced? Why? Given the circumstances.Recommend

  • Vikram

    Such men should seek help from Police. I’ll suggest these men to start support groups where they can share their feelings.Recommend

  • Vikram

    It is not easy to know personalities of people. In Western cultures people date, live together for months / years, even have intimate relations, most marriages still end up in divorce.

    There is no dowry problem, no beating allowed in Western culture.Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    I liked the theme of the drama and agree with your write-up. However, I did not like the part wherein the protagonist was shown helpless and worthless without the presence of a ‘protector’ in her life. Hence, she had to marry someone -by hook or by crook to validate her existence. Many women in our society are divorced and do not choose to remarry, or cannot remarry for various reasons.
    All in all, though the drama successfully broke certain established norms (choosing honour over abuse) but at the same time, it validated another established norm of this patriarchal society (that no matter how “headstrong” a woman is, she ultimately needs a man to realise her worthiness).Recommend

  • Nobody

    Honor linked to a woman’s body and morality is not important at all.Recommend

  • Mariyah

    I like how ‘kankar’ did not have a fake ending where ‘everyone is happy beyond measure’, thats just unreal. It was well scripted and realistic. What Kiran did was very justified and the right thing to do but it needs a lot of courage to do something like that and then face our unforgiving society. Its true not everyone can pull this off. Even if you marry again, there is no garuntee that you will not end up in an abusive relationship. Do not have a child before you know the worth of your partner, it just makes decision making more difficult than it already is. Kiran lost her unborn child and there is no reason left to suffer in that awful wedlock. Divorce was the right choice.Recommend

  • Sane

    Are you married?Recommend

  • suvi

    every individual is responsible for their own honor as per the dictates of their own conscience. As a woman, I do not want the responsibility or burden of being an object of someone else’s honor… be it my brother, father, husband, son, or whoever else…. nor would I consider my honor subject to someone else’s actions.Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    I have seen crazy-in-love kind of marriages fail too.Recommend

  • Hala Syed

    who is “no one”? people talk about the things they see and bother them. If you know of husbands who are beaten by their wives on a daily basis you should talk about it. No one will stop you. Of course those people deserve a voice. but do not silence someone else.Recommend

  • Hala Syed

    I don’t know that the drama was necessarily portraying that. There is a difference between descriptive and prescriptive. I feel they showed her second marriage for story reasons more than to say she needed to be married. Her parents did urge her to remarry because parents do that. Then the second marriage was a good foil for the first. It was not perfect, it also had problems and faults, her inlaws were actually worse and less supportive, she even considered getting divorced a second time. but the difference was her husband ultimately respected her and so the marriage worked. I think it was important to show that because many people say “its the woman’s job to make the marriage work”. even when she’s beaten they say things like “she couldn’t make a home” so to show that a woman could have a bad marriage with one man and a good one with another is to take the onus of carrying the marriage off the woman. one drama cannot really solve all the worlds ills. all it can do is portray one or two issues and force people to think about it. which it did.Recommend