I’m sorry, but I do not blame Shakeela for drowning her baby

Published: February 7, 2019
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Shakeela allegedly threw her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter into the deep end of the sea near the Farhan Shaheed Park in Defence Phase VIII.

It was an ordinary Tuesday evening and I was putting my three-year-old to bed, praying that her fever does not relapse and that she feels well enough to go to school the next morning. As I watched her gently fall asleep, I felt guilty for scolding her earlier in the day.

I love her dearly, of course, but I too am human and have not been sleeping particularly well since the past week because she has been sick. I planned on taking advantage of the Kashmir Day holiday to sleep in latebut her tantrums spoiled all such plans.

I took a deep breath, quietly whispered “I’m sorry” in her ears, kissed her forehead and moved over to work on my laptop as I had deadlines to meet. At the same time, I started aimlessly scrolling through my social media feed. At this very moment, I stumbled across the story of Shakeela, a young mother who had recently tossed her two-and-a-half-year-old baby girl in the icy cold Arabian Sea.

The graphic pictures of Anam’s tiny body lying lifeless on the Karachi beach were absolutely heart-wrenching. Shakeela, a young first-time mother, claimed to be in distress after her husband refused to keep her and her daughter in the house and her parents refused to take her back because she was now married. With nowhere to go, Shakeela stated that she had thought about first killing her child and then herself.

Right under the news story, in the comments section, there were a myriad of abuses being hurled towards the “insensitive” and “heartless” mother for killing her own child. My heart skipped another beat as I stumbled across a popular blog covering the story with a caption that questioned her motherhood in the harshest way possible.

I promise I wanted to hate Shakeela for what she had done but I somehow couldn’t bring myself to. Perhaps because deep down I understood to an extent why she did what she did.

Three years ago, when I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, what should have been the most blissful phase of my life, felt more like a nightmare. I could not process the paradigm shift in my life, grew overly sensitive to petty things, suffered from unexplained, spontaneous breakdowns and occasionally felt very detached from my own child.

Medical science refers to this phase as postpartum depression (PPD), an ailment that commonly affects new mothers. This phase of my life was categorised by problems in my relationships due to my “unreasonable” attitude, and poor mental and physical health among other things.

Fortunately, in my personal case, I was privileged enough to have a supportive spouse, access to online support groups and professional help that enabled me to take charge of my life again. Shakeela and many others do not have this privilege. In fact, most people in this country aren’t even aware of the existence of PPD or what it even is.

PPD can manifest itself in many different forms. Although not every woman suffering from PPD goes to the extent of harming their child, many do resort to self-harm and even suicide, while some subject their infants and toddlers to verbal and physical abuse, blaming them for their own helpless situation, and a few do what Shakeela did.

I’m not trying to play the role of devil’s advocate here, but women like Shakeela are psychologically deluded and believe that death will put their child in a better place and away from the cruelty of the world. They see death as a peaceful escape for their child or themselves and not as a tool of harm or punishment.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where mental health in general has never been taken seriously and the past year has been full of stories of young people, who are unable to find peace in society and ultimately find solace in death.

In a society such as ours, things become even more challenging for women, especially mothers who are already dealing with emotional instability, mental shutdown, paranoia triggered by hormonal imbalances, physical weakness and an exhausting lifestyle change.

At a time when a woman needs a strong support system, she is instead subject to insensitive taunts, judgments and accusations that stem from the patriarchal norms deeply ingrained in our society.

This is unfortunately something almost every mother in our society goes through at some point in her life or the other. Some manage to sail through it, while others sink into the toxic whirlpool. The situation is so much worse for women like Shakeela. Such women don’t only have abusive and unsupportive spouses and in-laws, but also highly unsupportive parents who believe it is a sin to protect their daughter once she is married.

Think about it. Don’t we tell women in our households that motherhood is “normal” and that they are being “overly sensitive”? Don’t we blame mothers for producing babies that are not fair-skinned or not the gender of preference?

Don’t we question an already exhausted mother for the choices and decisions that she takes for herself and her child? Don’t we tell our daughters that the ultimate goal in their life is to marry a man, preferably one that the family elders choose for them?

Don’t we tell our daughters that having an abusive spouse is all a gamble of naseeb (destiny) and the only solution lies in bardaasht (endurance)? Don’t we tell our daughters that she should not turn back to her parents once she is married, no matter what, until the day she dies?

Don’t we tell people claiming to be suffering from mental health issues that there is no such thing as depression and that all they need to do to feel better is pray to God for forgiveness? Don’t we watch morning shows where ‘experts’ claim that homemade juices made out of spinach can be used to treat depression and that psychiatrists are all frauds, seeking to only make money?

I am sorry, but I do not blame Shakeela. I blame the society that has created and endorsed such standards in the first place and still continues to do so. What happened to the baby might be just her mother’s fault on the face of it, but deep down, it is a slap across the face of this society. We have all collectively played our part in killing the little angel.

We are all equally responsible for putting a mother in a situation where only death seems to be a logical escape for her and her child. If we as a society genuinely want to stop such incidents from happening, we need a serious introspection of our own norms and attitudes and a very responsible and proactive approach towards mental health issues.

sana.adnan

Sana Adnan

The author is a business graduate and a mother who teaches economics and loves to write. She tweets at @sanarites (twitter.com/sanarites)

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

  • AJ

    How is killing the baby rather than sending her for adoption not the mother’s fault? Even though society and state at large are also at fault, we must avoid absolving the individuals of their responsibilities.Recommend

  • Qamar Hussain

    Society can only blame its self for allowing this horrendous act of desperation to even become a thought in the mind of a mother. Shame rests entirely with the husband who clearly is the ultimate failure in this tragic set of circumstances.

    The sooner women are accepted as the higher status the better our nation will become; our women are our strength and it will do good for our women to gain strength from this truly upsetting tragedy and create support mechanisms for each other when such thought strikes at the heart of a woman with or without children.

    The man is not the man that agrees with blaming the women as a consequence of his own failures, the man is the man that stands strong for his women to ensure that they are held in the highest esteem with as much support as what they can provide for them at every possible chance.Recommend

  • Umair Nathani

    Yes, the society which has created these belief systems and endorsed them is to blame.Recommend

  • M.Saeed

    It is very unfortunate incident but also a burning question for our society about our insensitivity in matching the two in marriage. Had the husband been educated enough to realise the wrong to correct in the first place, this unfortunate tragedy could have been avoided.Recommend

  • Fido

    I am sorry but giving excuses will not deviate from the fact that she murdered her child and she should be punished and sent behind the bars for that heinous act of barbarismRecommend

  • Amin Shah Gilani

    Feel free to blame society for it’s failure to teach a woman her alternatives in life, but don’t absolve a cold murderer because she was in a bad situation. There are a hundred things she could have done, but she chose the one that led to a murder. Your feelings for her don’t change that.Recommend

  • Sami Thinker

    You have pointed out an imperative issue of our society. It must be dealt with full devotion. otherwise, what is the reason to live among humans if they have to do the same as like animals.Recommend

  • Patwari

    There are a lot of issues involved in this tragic episode. Foremost is mental health.
    Including a crass and animal par family, of the woman. Plus a culture and norms, that
    don’t belong in a decent society. This is something out of a troglodyte culture.
    There is a likelihood that the mother is suffering from schizophrenia. A mental health issue.
    No cure, but can be controlled by medications. To lead a normal life.
    And post partum depression is a reality. It can last up till 3 years.
    So who knows what really transpired here.
    And a three year old that goes to school ??!!?Recommend

  • Parvez

    When you catogarically say ” I do not blame Shakeela. I blame society …… ” you are walking on thin ice. In my view despite all the trials and tribulations that Shakeela has had to endure what she did was unexcusable.Recommend

  • Kulsoom

    A likely story. I don’t believe it. PPD at two and half years is not believable. Probably a mental case or other things not disclosed here. Her husband must have had good reason not to have her around. She may have been a danger to his life. Same for her parents who may have feared her homicidal tendencies as a problem solving devise.

    If she was all that desperate then she should have killed herself and let her child live, have a chance at life, a chance to live with the hardships and vicissitudes of life and the kindness of strangers.

    She should be given a medical diagnosis and treatment if required while being imprisoned for life for her ruthless brutal crime and unforgivable sin against life and humanity.Recommend

  • Azizul Falak

    Crime is a crime, shortcomings of one’s society does not and should not absolve this heinous act of killing ones own or someone’s child; hence the end of the article is spent finding excuses for this heinous act unfortunately.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Beautifully written, unfortunately our society doesn’t give much attention to the people having psychological issues and its heart wrenching to read abusive comments of people. A mother could be a witch, a wizard, a devil and so on but she cant be a murderer of her own child. Its bizarre to see such incidents happening around us. Pakistani society is full of hypocrites. May Allah guide us all and i would appeal government to give this lady a medical treatment rather than making her stand behind the bars because it is not going to help her rather will devastate her more and making her condition more critical. May Allah be with her.Recommend

  • Namra Naveed

    But whatever is… It should not be any cost of someone life…Recommend

  • Ayeesha Khan

    I completely disagree with the author here. How can you classify such inhuman and heinous criminal act of killing an infant mercilessly as mental disease? Shakeela should be made example of by getting harshest possible punishment for her crime. You openly admit that after daughters birth you yourself suffered from depression? Did you ever think of harming your own child in any way even though you suffered on her birth? of course not. Then why on earth would you u even think of justifying Shakeela’s ghastly crime and blame it all on our societyRecommend

  • Patwari

    Wrong. In Triplicate. You have no idea what you are commenting on.
    There are mental health issues. Mental sickness. Severe in some cases.
    One of them, Schizophrenia. One of the symptoms is auditory delusions.
    In layman’s language :- Schizophrenics hear voices. Telling them to do bad,
    heinous things. Reasoning abilities are impaired. There is a case of a woman,
    who drowned 4 of her children, in car, in a river.
    Because a voice kept telling her to do it. In severe cases, the patients, [for lack
    of a better word] have no control over their actions.
    Then there are dual personalities cases, multiple personalities cases. One personality has no recollection what the other does. There was a case where
    a woman in New York had 17 different personalities!! Well documented.
    So don’t comment on something when you don’t know all the facts.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Society IS to be blamed! When there are no Mental Health Care facilities in a
    country like Pakland. Or even acknowledged that there is such a thing as mental
    illness.
    Or, if by chance, there is one or two, nobody knows where they are, or simply cannot
    afford it.
    This not Dengue or Malaria.
    People don’t even know what mental illness issues are! Let alone even recognize them!
    They think it’s Witchcraft or Djinns or Black Magic.
    That’s where faith healers come in. And make things even worse.
    YES! An ignorant Society [58% illiteracy] is to be blamed.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Do you know all the facts in this case? Do you even know what mental illness is?
    Do you what Mental Depression is? Let alone how many kinds of depressions are there?
    How about chronic depression? No? Nothing? Do you know what depression can do?
    Can depression cause suicidal thoughts? Any idea? No?
    Could be the woman in this case was suffering from a severe case of mental illness.
    There is a plethora of mental illnesses.
    Don’t jump to conclusions and blame the mother, who is the real “victim” here.Recommend

  • Sana Adnan

    Actually yes. I havent opened up about this to anyone but since we are speaking of it I will say it out loud. I was on a trip to Langkawi with my husband and daughter and we went to visit Sky Bridge. I had voices in my head that kept on urging me to jump off the bridge with her. and trust me I love my daughter to bits. Thankfully I got control of my mind in time because probably I was better equipped to do so. Probably Shakila wasnt. I watched one of her clips where she said that she originally brought her daughter to the beach for recreational purpose so that she could enjoy and suddenly decided to kill her and commit suicide. I can relate.Recommend

  • Sana Adnan

    I have a 3.5 year old and I am still struggling with PPD or probably whatever effects it had left:)Recommend

  • Patwari

    Bhaghrathi Sapre and Tippu will disagree with you, vehemently.
    Which society are you writing about? In Pakland? Panchayat society?
    A Society that allows and “accepts” honor killings of women. A Society
    where a village panchayat sanctions rape of women. [Mukhtaran Mai]
    A panchayat can even pass a death sentence! A bunch of illiterate hookah
    smoking village elders can hold the power of life and death on people!!
    [after sanctioning an honor killing they abscond for a week, then come back. And everything is back to normal].
    The police look the other way. Because the policemen are from the same culture/society and fully believe in ‘honor killing’.
    This is not limited to “villages” only. It happens in cities too. Like Sohrab Goth in YOUR
    city.
    So, are referring to THAT society?Recommend

  • Azizul Falak

    As for the examples you gave; the culprits exploit this exemption for mentally impaired even when they are not. Besides, whether or not a culprit is mentally retarded is decided by the Jury or the Judge, not commentators like you, me or any one else for that matter. I agree with Amin Shah Gilani and Fido; you want to blame society, Pakland, feel free to find any other scapegoat; fact is going to haunt you, that is, an innocent life was taken. By the way, absolving or letting a culprit go without bringing him to justice that you’re promulgating is part of the same Society you’re being critical of. So, on one hand you’re criticizing Society, on the other hand you’re clinging to one of its ill facets of absolving a crime such as killing an innocent, and letting ’em go without fair trial; that’s Double Standard, which can’t be fair.Recommend

  • Azizul Falak

    Mr. Patwari, it’s the 2nd time you gave the same argument, which essentially is a Lecture on ‘Mental Depression’ and ‘Chronic Depression’, as if everybody is ignorant of these terms but you. I and am sure Mr. Gilani along with every one that believes that every crime should be brought to Justice agree with you as far as the definitions of these pompous terms behind which your entire argument rests, are concerned. Let’s put it this way, say for the sake of argument Ms. Shakeela suffered from all or any of these mental diseases, but the question is who’s to decide that she actually suffered from ’em at all? It’s the Court. Therefore, if we all agree that Ms. Shakeela is suffering from these mental diseases, she still has to go thru the judicial system.Recommend

  • J. K. Lodhi

    The police should take the husband and the woman’s parents into custody and find out the conditions in their houses. In a joint family home the newly wed bride is some times treated so horribly that she may loose her rational thinking and do what this poor tortured woman did. I know of a woman who had a 4 kanal house in her name yet she was made to live in a room full of smoke next to the kitchen while her husband & his brothers and sister lived in the big house. (This was many years ago when there was no gas & wood was used for fire). She was a sweet loving person and whenever I went there with my parents I would go to her room and she would tell me stories and cook me biscuits. She had a big bundle of jewelry which she would sometimes show me. Unfortunately one of the young fellows in the house stole it and sold it.Recommend

  • Mahmood Anwar

    There is no doubt, that as a society we don’t understand mental illnesses and are deprived of a robust system that helps mitigate them. Furthermore, I’m unaware of popular research on the subject in local context and types/forms of prevalent mental illness.
    Having said that, we are building a case on incomplete logic and need to answer these questions first:
    What exactly were the circumstances that preempted the suicide attempt?
    Why didn’t the woman relieve responsibility for the child to a trusted friend/institution, when she started realizing that her thought process wasn’t coherent enough?
    Was there some internal conflict with the child’s acceptance/features, there was recently a case where the nephew was murdered by an Aunt.
    Until and unless these questions are answered, we will have no basis to form a definitive opinion. Furthermore, we also need to remember the saying ‘one human being’s killing is equivalent to humanity’s extermination.’ If some quarters start condoning similar behavior, then our strained economic circumstances and low literacy will result in numerous escape attempts a.k.a murder/suicide.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Hard to create any awareness among ignorance. Or even make sense.
    But that’s the way it is.
    Nobody said she should be set free. Only, that a mental health evaluation is desperately needed. The issue was brought up. And should be carefully weighed.
    Which you fail to understand. That’s about par, for ignorance and rants.
    Say, about time to get the faith healers to start their tamasha to get the
    dhjiins, to vacate the “mother’s” body.
    Then start working on the black magic aspect.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Too bad everything flew over your head. Apologies, had no idea about
    your conceptualizing abilities and thought processes.
    Difficult to convince ignorance.
    Well, can always draw little pictures, to portray the argument. Or flash
    cards? Swahili? Bantu? Sanskrit? Seems like that wont help either.
    Oh well….karma.Recommend

  • Sane

    In this case the husband (father of the drowned baby) and father of the woman are equally responsible. Both of them tormented her to the level she found no option but to kill her own daughter in desperate moments. The husband and father of the woman must also be prosecuted and punished.Recommend

  • Amin Shah Gilani

    Throwing a tantrum is a great way to win an argument (sarcasm)Recommend

  • Azizul Falak

    Well, I never conceptualized; so how can you have any idea about my conceptualizing ability? again, your argument does not make sense. Instead, I just proposed commentators like you, me or any one else to not judge if the crime has been committed or not, because that’s not our job; it’s the job of the Judge. Hence, leave the job of determining the innocence/guilt to the Judge.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Do you think this woman will get a fair trial? In spite of her mental illness? Considering hardly anyone knows what mental illness is, in Pakland.
    They think its voodoo, witches, black magic, or dhjinns.
    Just like the mentally retarded 17 year old that the court sentenced to death. Most of
    the time he was incoherent. Could not hold a straight conversation. And his attention span was barely there. He had the mental capacity of a 5 year old.
    There was a murder and they blamed it on him. A convenient scapegoat. Hardly any investigation. All cut and dried.
    Yet, knowing all this, the court still sentenced him to death!! This being Pakland.
    Land of the Pure. Ruled by clerics and bureaucratic munshees.
    Hours before he was to be strung up, the Supreme Court stepped in. And commuted
    his sentence.
    So, instead of being sent to an insane asylum for treatment this mother will face dire
    consequences?
    On the other hand, in Pakland, Asiyah Bibi lost ten years of her life, on false charges. Over a glass of water!!
    The fraudulent, ignoramus court, still convicted her. Because the judges were afraid of the repercussions. And did not dispense justice as they had taken an oath, and sworn, to do. It is just a broken, reprehensible judicial system,…in the Land of the Pure.Recommend

  • Patwari

    There was an argument? Huh? With who?
    That would require intelligent discourse.
    Well, normally, an argument with ignorance
    would not be worth it. Like addressing a stone.
    Call it more like raising awareness,…about
    witchcraft, voodoo, black magic dhjinns, bhoots
    and anything else YOU can throw in the mix.Recommend

  • Patwari

    “…pompous words…” there it is! Out in the open! Riddle solved.
    Your limited vocabulary prevented you from understanding
    the gist of the comment. No problem. Keep a Webster English
    Dictionary handy. Whip it out whenever you get stuck on a word.Recommend