Murder of South Asian woman sparks community reflection

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IIn the months before she was fatally shot by her ex-husband on Monday, Sania Khan was open on TikTok about the painful divorce process as a 29-year-old Pakistani American. She spoke of the rejection from her community and family members, not only about her decision to leave her marriage, but also about sharing her experience so candidly. “Going through a divorce as a South Asian woman sometimes feels like a failure in life. The way the community labels you, the lack of emotional support you receive, and the pressure to stay with someone because that “what people will say is ‘isolating,'” Khan wrote in a TikTok posted in June. “It makes it harder for women to leave marriages they shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”

Chicago police reported discovering an unresponsive 29-year-old woman and 36-year-old man in a home in the Streeterville neighborhood around 4:30 p.m. Monday. Both had gunshot wounds to the head; the woman was pronounced dead at the scene while the man was taken to Northwestern Hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Law enforcement is still investigating the case, police said. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office has classified Khan’s death as a homicide and the death of her ex-husband Raheel Ahmad as a suicide.

Alpharetta, Georgia police said a relative of Ahmad contacted the agency to report him missing. the agency ended up contacting Chicago police to perform a wellness check at the location where he was later found.

The news of Khan’s death sparked conversations among South Asians in the United States about how their communities often stigmatize the abandonment of even the most dangerous marriages. “In South Asian communities, there is this concept of saving face and preserving family honour, not shaming the family. These things take priority over an individual’s safety,” says Neha Gill, executive director of Apna Ghar, a Chicago-based human rights organization that focuses on gender-based violence, particularly in South Asian communities. in the USA. face similar challenges when it comes to leaving their partner, due to the backlash they receive from their own families and communities. “This is a community-wide issue and the community absolutely needs to think about it and look at it in this way and not just say, ‘Oh, this poor girl or her family has no didn’t do that.'”

Khan was a first-generation child of Pakistani Muslim immigrants and passionate about her work as a photographer. “My life really started the day I bought my first SLR,” she says written on his site. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, she loved hiking. She moved to Chicago last June with her husband. She loved to travel and worked as a flight attendant.

Gabriella Bordó, one of Khan’s best friends, says she had just landed in Chicago and was taking the subway to Khan’s house when she heard the news. The two had just signed a lease together for a house in Chattanooga. Bordó had prepared Khan’s room for his arrival and flew to Chicago to help him finish packing. They had planned to spend an evening in town, then head south by U-haul. “Sania was in my future. I had at least the next few years knowing that I wasn’t going to be alone and that I was going to have my partner in crime beside me,” she said. She can’t imagine setting foot in the Chattanooga home now, she adds.

Bordó liked the way Khan sometimes said “duuuude” and “bruuuuh” like a “total frat boy”. She would often FaceTime Khan after parties. “Wherever my heart wants to be, if I wanted to go hiking or kayaking, that’s the friend who would say of course, let’s go. I am the same. We were that for each other.

Sania Khan and Gabriella Bordó pose for a shoot in Joshua Tree, California on March 25, 2022.

Pictures of Wandermoore and Lily & Horns

Throughout their friendship, Khan talked with Bordó about the same issues around divorce and community acceptance that she would post on TikTok, she says. “[Khan] was encouraged to stay, begged to stay, by her family and her ex-husband’s family,” Bordó says. “I haven’t seen someone as fiery as her being manipulated or controlled by anyone, but she was. He was watching what she was wearing. He was suspicious of who she hung around, of the way she presented herself.

Dr Samaiya Mushtaq, a Texas-based psychiatrist who has many South Asian clients and was rebuffed by her community when she divorced in 2013, said Khan’s death has weighed on her since she heard about it . In South Asian cultures, we often tend to be forced to tolerate unhappy marriages, she says. “There’s this culturally charged idea that marriage is meant to be the culmination of the next stage of life…so leaving is seen as reneging on a commitment.” But divorce is often a natural and healthier end to dysfunctional marriages, she adds.

“It’s really a beginning of freedom, psychological safety and opportunity. This is not a hopeless, sad and catastrophic event,” says Mushtaq. “I think that’s really a revival for a lot of people…that’s what was stolen from him.”

Filing for a divorce is also complicated by the patriarchal nature of South Asian cultures, Mushtaq adds. “Part of the problem is raising sons; they are seen as so wanted and so incapable of doing wrong that they don’t learn responsibility and consequences.

For Khan’s close friends, she will always be remembered as a powerful source of inspiration and positivity. “She was a liquid sun. She made me laugh,” says Jessica Henderson-Eubanks, one of her best friends. They met on Myspace in the mid-2000s and became close in 2019 after Khan asked Henderson-Eubanks and her husband to model for a shoot.


Sania Khan and Jessica Henderson-Eubanks at the latter’s wedding in Joshua Tree, California on March 26, 2022.

Casey Yoshida

“She was incredibly brave,” Henderson-Eubanks said of Khan’s decision to share her struggles on social media. She was often a confidant of Khan on FaceTime. “I told her I would support her no matter what,” she says.

A month and a half ago, Khan left his evil eye bracelet at Henderson-Eubanks. “She actually left stuff all the time at my house,” she says, so much so that it’s become a running joke. Henderson-Eubanks says she will wear this bracelet every day now.

Henderson-Eubanks was said to have neighbored Khan at her new home in Chattanooga, along with Bordó.

Khan was seriously considering getting a restraining order against her ex-husband and many of her friends encouraged her to apply for one, they say. “She was leaving. It had been a long time since they had lived together. She had a house here with me. I was there to take her home. There was no reconciliation,” says Bordó. “This man did not go there to save a marriage. He went there with a gun for a reason. He knew I was coming. My social networks and his are entirely public. It was his last opportunity and he took it.

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at [email protected]

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