Iram Gilani is a name you will remember. Born and raised in Pakistan to a Syed-caste family, she experienced many incredible hardships from a shockingly young age. At thirteen, Iram moved to the United States. Thrilled to be leaving her past behind, she was inspired by the promise of her future. However, her struggles would not end with this move, as she would eventually become the victim of brutal gun violence. In the following interview, Iram discusses the turbulent nature of her life, the low valleys and hopeful peaks, and discusses how culture, class, and gender discrimination played a role in the person she would become. Through all her retellings, her resilient spirit is what endures and inspires. Today, Iram is an advocate for fellow survivors of trauma, abuse, and violence. She offers her memoir, Silent No More, online for free in hopes that others will find solace in her words.
Tell us a bit about your book Silent No More.
My book is split into three distinct parts. In the first few chapters I highlight anecdotes from my personal life that illuminate my experiences with abandonment, neglect, isolation, molestation, physical and non-physical abuse, a forced marriage, bullying, homelessness, PTSD, and a gunshot wound that shattered my jaw. I have included photos from the shooting incident in the book for anyone who wishes to see them, however, viewer discretion is advised. The second part of the book focuses on the changes I have made to get myself out of my unfortunate circumstances and misery. Specifically, I show my readers the steps I’ve taken to make and follow a positive path to self-help and healing. By detailing the techniques I’ve used, and the simple everyday changes that helped me recover, I hope it may serve as a template for others to use while mending from their own situations. Finally, the last part of the book focuses on individuals who want to learn more about trauma and how to help those around them. What they should consider when interacting with someone who might be suffering. I offer advice on how to approach those individuals, extend help, and provide continued support, which is the most critical part of any recovery.
What was your impetus for writing the book?
What truly drove me to write this book was the lack of support I received from those around me. I knew that their support would have made all the difference in my recovery, yet they chose to let me suffer alone in silence and watched me count the days to my death. I wrote this book for those who care but feel lost about how to start offering their support to someone in need. Oftentimes, people may be afraid to offer help for fear of saying the wrong thing and causing offense. I hope this book can serve as a guide for those individuals to learn more and start a conversation of their own. Their support can be the critical difference between life and death.
How do you feel your family dynamic has influenced you?
From a young age, born into a well- educated and upper-middle class family in Pakistan, I was cognizant that my place—like women in many other cultures—was to be seen and not heard. I faded into my surroundings, trying to fit into our family’s customary structure. In many households worldwide, men are placed at a much higher value than women—mine wasn’t any different. Although my family was neither overly conservative nor religious, there remained an underlying belief, which they’d absorbed from the larger culture as a whole, that a woman’s responsibility is to provide children. Women in my immediate family were not regarded as equal to men, and at times, were treated as though they did not even have the right to make decisions regarding their own well-being. Maintaining honor was especially important to my family due to our status as members of the “Syed” cast. Known to be a descendant of our last prophet, Mohammad [PBUH], Syed is one of the highest castes in Pakistan, and among many other Muslim countries. Strict expectations placed on us by our family members were heavily guided by our cultural beliefs.
Alongside these cultural expectations, I was greatly impacted by the shock, abandonment, and neglect I felt when my adoptive parents revealed I was not their child. In the formative years after they left, I spent most of my time isolated, still in shock, which hindered any room to grow my personality. Individual expression was largely looked down upon in my family, so I was taught to follow and only do as I was told. In many ways I felt robotic and inhuman. Since my biological parents do not have any male siblings, they placed a stronger emphasis on the importance of having sons rather than daughters. As a child, it was constantly disheartening for me to understand that parents could value one child over another simply due to their gender.
You’re originally from Pakistan, what was your experience like when you first moved to the US?
When my family first came to the US in 1997, it was around Christmas time, and I was about to turn 13 years old. Never before had I seen entire cities lit up and covered with the beautiful glow of colorful lights and ornaments, and I was in awe. Grinning ear to ear I savored the gorgeous scenery, and crisp, cold air as I looked through the window. America was a dreamland to me! Coming to the United States was the chance for me to start my life over– and I was thrilled by the opportunity. I could be freed from my heartbreaking past experiences with molestation, abuse, neglect, and isolation; I was finally able to erase that dark time from my life forever. Looking forward from this happy, new beginning, all I wanted was to enjoy the possibilities a life in America could offer.
Readers will learn that you were the victim of brutal gun violence. Can you briefly describe what happened?
The incident occurred on March 11th, 2014 while I was visiting my family in Pakistan during a spring break from college. At approximately 10:30 p.m., shortly after leaving from dinner at a TGI Fridays, my two aunts and I dropped off my younger brother and his bodyguard at their car–which was parked in a secluded area alongside the highway. Afterwards, my aunt proceeded to drive myself and my other aunt home. Less than 30 seconds later, two motorcycles sped towards us, approaching from the direction where we had just dropped off my younger brother. They raced up to the left-hand side of the car and began firing gunshots into the front seat, where I was sitting. One bullet shattered my lower jaw, teeth, and gums. A second bullet hit the left breast of my aunt, who was driving. My aunt and I both survived and were rushed to the closest medical center.
How long was your recovery process and who or what helped you the most during that time?
Since my injuries from the gunshot were so severe—a shattered jaw, gums, and teeth—I have many artificial parts in my body. Thus, my recovery process is ongoing. In fact, my recovery will last the rest of my life. At any moment my body may reject one of the artificial implants and become infected, which threatens my life. Every day I live with the fear of not knowing if the constant physical pain I feel may turn into an infection. Throughout everything I have endured in my life, my older brother, Ali, has been on my side. Regardless of his own challenges with an intellectual disability, he became my shield when I would get slapped, punched, and kicked. He remained by my side while I recovered from surgical and non-surgical procedures that occurred every 3 to 6 weeks since I was shot in March of 2014. Every step of my journey, Ali has held my hand, protected, loved, and cared for me.
You’re quite candid in your book about what you’ve gone through, what do you hope people will take away from your story?
I want those people who are suffering from whatever unfortunate circumstances in their life–whether it is physical or non-physical abuse, neglect, isolation, PTSD, or anything else–to understand that they are not alone. They are stronger than they know. Don’t give up! Keep fighting through and believe that things will get better. Moreover, I hope for the people who have been privileged enough to never experience abuse or trauma to realize how important of a role they play, or can play, in the lives of those around them. Please, extend your hand and provide support to someone who might need it now more than ever. Your kindness can save a life.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Currently, my focus has been to promote my book and garner as much publicity for it as I can. I am using this time to spread the word to anyone looking to pick up something new to consider my book. I have also been mentoring children over video calls.
To learn more about Iram’s incredible journey of survival and recovery, you can visit her website here. You can also find her memoir, offered for free to empower fellow survivors, online here.
Whether you are a trauma survivor of any kind or a loved one of a survivor, this book is for you. In Silent No More, Gilani carries her readers through an honest exploration of suffering and survival as it affects us all. By drawing upon her personal experiences, she shines a light on the tumultuous landscape of trauma as a whole. The societal forces shaping human behavior across time and cultures. The powerful ways in which we all influence one another, through our worst mistakes and our warmest compassion. How trauma touches our minds and hearts, rendering us as vulnerable to pain and suffering as we are to shared strength and joy.