Saturday, 10 January 2009

Accounts of forced marriage in Observer

I am of the opinion that violence against women is cultural, it's in our culture for men to have priviledge over women, therefor violence against women is part of all our cultures, the patriarchy seeps in and finds ways to abuse women. Different cultures do it in different ways - in some cultures it is by forced marriage, other cultures do it in different ways. Over 100 south Asian girls disappear in the UK every year from school, thats 2 a week but their disappearance is not questioned.

Read some accounts in the Observer here

Abducted. Abused. Raped. Survived
British Asian women are being pushed by their families into forced marriages, unprotected by the authorities. Rebecca Seal and Eva Wiseman meet the escapees
Rebecca Seal and Eva Wiseman
The Observer, Sunday 11 January 2009
Article history

The case of Humayra Abedin, the doctor held captive in Bangladesh and forced to get married, made headlines last month, but every year as many as 200 women are repatriated to the UK after they have been forcibly taken abroad to marry. Last year the Government's Forced Marriage Unit received over 5,000 calls for help from women who feared for their freedom; the unit's case-load has increased by 79 per cent since 2007. Some women are beyond help, like the Muslim teenager from Cheshire whose decomposing body was found on a Cumbrian riverbank in February 2004. Her parents were arrested on suspicion of kidnap, but no one has ever been charged. In April, the charity Karma Nirvana, which helps survivors of so-called honour crimes, launched the Honour Network, a phone line for victims of forced marriage, staffed by survivors. We spoke to five women who escaped from their forced marriages.

Jasvinder Sanghera
Jasvinder, 43, lives with her three children in Derby. She founded Karma Nirvana in 1994.
I come from a family of seven sisters, and I watched each of them disappear. They'd be taken out of school, sent abroad, and brought back as wives. When I was 14 my mother showed me a photo of the man I'd been promised to since I was eight years old. I refused to marry him, and for that I was abused, physically and mentally - my sisters told me I would give my dad a heart attack, or my mum would get cancer if I kept fighting them. At 15, they locked me in my room until I agreed to the marriage. I took an overdose as a protest, and my sister refused to get me medical attention. They wore me down. My friends at the time were concentrating on discos, boys. Of course I wasn't allowed to socialise, even before being locked away - white people were dirty to my parents. I had a boyfriend at the time, secretly.

I saw my sisters suffer horrific domestic violence. Each time they were hurt, I'd go with my mother to talk to them. I thought we were going to rescue them, but instead my mother would lecture them about being better wives. They'd be sitting there with broken ribs. One was sectioned.

I watched my wedding plans as if from above and then, aged 16, I ran away with my boyfriend. We went to Newcastle and slept in parks and hostels. The police tracked me down, and made me ring home. My mother answered. She told me I was dishonoured, shamed, a prostitute. She told me from that day I was dead to her. By disowning me, my mother had won the respect of the community. I missed my family terribly. I'd drive down their street at night to see my dad walking back from the foundry where he worked.

I never experienced love growing up. I was groomed to understand the rules. It was an environment of fear - there were such contradictions between the independence and hope I learned at school, and the conditions at home. I vividly remember being shown that photo of my intended husband. He was very old, and shorter than me. When I left, my little sister married him instead.

I married my boyfriend, and gave birth to my first child when I was 19. Holding her was the first time I'd experienced unconditional love. I still kept ringing home, but my mother would always hang up. I started working on a market stall, and one day someone approached me and told me to ring home. When I called, they told me that my sister Robina, who was 24, had died. She'd doused herself in paraffin and set herself on fire. She knew that because of izzat, or shame, that suicide was the only way out of her marriage. [The suicide rate for Asian women is two to three times higher than the national average.] My mother told me I could only come to the house to pay my respects after dark. When I walked into a room, everyone else would leave.
In time I started to understand where they were coming from. My father didn't leave his traditions behind at Heathrow. Growing up in Britain taught me I had choices; I was brought up Sikh but I'm part of the new community who are breaking the silence.

I feel lonely at birthdays, but I'd do it all again. In one area we investigated recently, 100 south-Asian girls went missing from school in a year. There are 33 we still can't account for. It's this way because teachers and the police are afraid of being politically incorrect.

I get death threats. I've had human faeces smeared on my window. An Asian magistrate said I was an imposter and a liar. He's the person our girls have to approach for protection orders. Another man said I was a disgrace - I allowed my 23-year-old daughter to date; I had a white partner. I've had to buy a dog for protection. The police taught me how to look for 'devices' under my car. I tried for a while but I decided to stop. I know that if you let it, fear will wear you out.

Mayah, 32, has withheld her real name for safety reasons. She lives with her mother and two sons in the Midlands.

I was born a British citizen to a strict Sikh family, but I didn't grow up in the UK. For my safety I don't want to say where I grew up. Mine was a very suppressed family. We were forced to wear Punjabi clothes, not to mix with the male figures in the family. My family is wealthy and well known. Everyone would pretend to be perfect, but if we were seen to misbehave, we were punished severely.

Academically I was above average, and in the national swimming team. When I was 14 I was offered a sports scholarship to America. But my father said I couldn't go, on the basis that I would be swimming nearly naked in front of strangers. His refusal was a turning point for me and I started to fall behind at school. I also met someone, Peter, who was the brother of one of my classmates and we fell in love.

When I was 17 I was very seriously assaulted. Although they caught the man who did it, my father refused to allow me to go to court, as he said I was shaming the family and that it was my fault that it had happened. I began to see that my parents would never understand me and so I ran away with Peter. But because I was still a minor and the police were involved, I came back home and was beaten up very badly, and then held under house arrest for about six months. Food was given to me in the doorway of my bedroom. I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone.
Finally, they began to let me out and I was allowed to finish my A levels. I called Peter and he said, 'Well, let's get married'. We got married secretly in November 1996. For the first five days we were on the run from my family. When they heard they called a meeting with the family elders, his and mine, because he was Christian and I was Sikh. They asked if I'd got married under duress, and I said, 'No, I love him.' My father had to let me go: he couldn't do anything else in front of everyone. But on the tenth day of our marriage, people disguised as policemen came and 'arrested' us. They'd been hired by my dad. Peter was taken away and I was taken to one of my father's workshops by men with guns. I was beaten up and they told me that my marriage was over. Peter was told I was dead.

That night my family and our doctor drove me into the countryside. They took me out of the car, and my uncle took me away at gunpoint - I could feel the gun pressing into my forehead. The doctor sedated me and I woke up in a house across the border where I was kept for about two weeks. I was guarded all the time and injected with more sedatives.

After that my family sorted out visas for India. The doctor wrote a letter saying I was mentally ill, and that I was going to India for treatment. They wheeled me into the airport in a wheelchair. I tried to cry out, but the doctor told everyone that I was just very ill.

Once we were in India with my family they started to groom me to be a 'proper' wife. I realised I was pregnant with Peter's child and I told my parents. The doctor gave my father pills and my father would force me to swallow one. Of all the things that happened to me, that was the most terrible. I still remember lying on the bed in pain, miscarrying and my parents standing at the bedside, watching me. After that, I succumbed and my father told me I was to marry a man who needed my British citizenship.

The marriage had to take place in England. When my husband arrived in England he began to drink a lot and was violent. I fell pregnant and after my son was born my husband even tried to smother me and the baby. I got pregnant again. On the day I gave birth his family were having lunch at my house, and I was cooking for them when I went into labour. I called the ambulance myself because no one would drive me.

After six years he violently raped me. I had to have an abortion. One day we were driving into Winchester where we both worked and he opened the car door and tried to push me out. When I got to work I called the domestic-violence unit; the police finally intervened.

For a month we lived in a refuge, and then I got the right to use the house, and he was kicked out. My life was getting back on track. But I had a breakdown and ended up in hospital. When I relapsed in 2006, social services gave my ex-husband interim custody and it took me two years to get my children back. Finally he was arrested on six charges of assault, and is now out of my life. My mother has to live with me here in the UK, because I have long-term health issues from what happened to me. I never reached Peter, but I have begun to forgive my parents. Forgiving them was the only way to make myself free.

Baljit Kaur Howard
Baljit, 39, lives with her second husband in Ipswich. She was forced to marry at 17.
I was born to Sikh parents in the Punjab and came to the UK when I was one. I attended western schools but at home it was as though we lived in India, wearing Indian clothes and speaking Punjabi. From the ages of seven to nine I lived in India, and the school didn't realise I'd been away for two years. We came back and I spoke no English at all, and I went back to junior and then secondary school. My attendance was 100 per cent for two years but once I was an adolescent it fell below 50 per cent, as I was kept at home to cook, clean and look after the family. I was being groomed to be a wife.

Aged 17 I was taken to meet the man who was going to be my husband. On the way home my father asked me what I thought, and I said, 'He's not for me, really, Dad.' He replied, 'You're going to marry him whether you like it or not, and if you run away, I'll find you and kill you.'
I married at the register office three weeks later. We went our separate ways after that, as this part of the marriage was just to keep him in the country. Months later we had the full Indian wedding, which lasted four days. I did think about running away - but I had nowhere to go. I was shipped off to Huddersfield with a total stranger and his family. I was 17. My mother told me it was my duty to do whatever my husband told me.

On the first night I was given warm milk, which made me drowsy, and that I suspect was drugged, then I was raped by my husband. I'd never even been touched by a man before. I stayed in the marriage for eight-and-a-half years. I thought about suicide an awful lot. I did take an overdose at one point: the doctors put me on tranquillisers - I was a walking ghost.
I had three miscarriages, which was perhaps a blessing in disguise. It was on my last miscarriage that I decided to leave. I asked my parents if they would help me get out of my marriage and they just went mad - they told I was expected to stay with him forever.

But I had to go. It took me three months to plan it. I went through every cupboard, even turned up the carpets, because I knew if they had my National Insurance number and name, they would find me. I got the first job I went for in London. I decided to get myself an education: studying lessened the isolation. But all this time I'd hear from home that my mum had had a heart attack, that she was in hospital because of what I'd done. And then they moved - because I'd brought so much shame on the family
In 2003 I took a trip round the world on my own: I did a sky dive, walked on a glacier, went white-water rafting and I've even been to rock festivals - me, who wasn't even allowed to watch Top of the Pops! I've been married for nearly four years now to a lovely man (who is a quarter Japanese, quarter German and half English) - we invited my family to the wedding, and although 300 people came, they did not. He loves me unconditionally, as do his family. I still can't believe it's real sometimes.

Jasvinder Chana-Glen
Jasvinder, 40, lives with her sons and husband in Derby. She hasn't seen her family for 13 years.
I ran away from home in 1979. I grew up in Birmingham and I knew from a very early age that I would have an arranged marriage, from as young as 11 or 12. All my sisters had been married through the arranged system. I was very frightened by what I saw them go through and I wanted to leave. But I didn't imagine the repercussions of disownment would be just as bad as if I'd had an arranged marriage, but they were. When you leave home like I did you lose your whole community - single independent women are simply not accepted, I certainly wasn't.
My worth as a girl was very low. I had no future. There was physical abuse from my siblings that was just condoned by my parents. My parents were very unhappy that they'd had four daughters because they were people who were born in the 1920s, for whom having boy children was hugely important.

I was 17 when I ran away. I had confided in a teacher and she helped me. Education was not important to my parents - sewing, cooking and serving people in the family were considered much more relevant. I wanted to study so I did, which was fortunate because after I left home I went into nursing, and then social work, and I've done well in 25 years.

After I ran away, I lived in my teacher's house for a short time, and then went off to become a nurse. I looked after myself by always making sure I was part of a big institution. I did try to make contact with my family but it was always fraught. My mother turned me away at the door, which was very, very painful. I was told my father had said I was no longer his daughter. Other people in the extended family knew I'd left home, and so I'd brought shame on the family. My final contact was when I decided that I was going to get married to an Englishman when I was 27, and to my family that was really the final straw. It was actually my sisters' husbands more than anyone who made sure none of the family saw me, and my sisters probably wouldn't have been able to stay in their marriages if they had fought for me, but even so, I found that very hard.

I've struggled to understand why any parent could do this. I have two grown-up sons, and they've been disowned by my family, too. It's awful that they should have to suffer - my children have a right to family life, to the aunties and uncles that are out there for them.
Now, as well as social work, I work on Karma Nirvana's Honour Network helpline, which is a national line for people affected by honour-based violence or forced marriage. We talk to about 250 people a week, and numbers are always increasing. It's only recently that anyone has had someone to talk to about this kind of thing.

With the passing of the Forced Marriage Act in 2007, there are signs of improvement. Volunteering gives me affirmation of the choices that I've made. It's not been until now that I've been able to talk to other people who've gone through the same things as me. Breaking the silence after 30 years is very important to me. I was so easily silenced by my family.

Shazia Qayum
Shazia, 28, fled her family home in Birmingham in a police car when she was 17. She never went back.

When I was 12, my best friend, Samina [Nawaz] and I were in the park on a half day from school. Someone told her dad that she was skipping school, bringing shame on the family, and he came and found us. He pulled her home by her hair, shot her, and then her sister, and her mother and then himself, to restore their honour. And nobody said a word. The murders were hidden. I felt invisible. But I learned the power of honour.

At 15 I was presented with a photograph of my cousin in Pakistan. Saying no to marriage was not an option. I tried, but my parents locked me up. I thought someone at school or from social services would ask questions, but they didn't. My parents got our GP to write a sick note and I was kept home, a prisoner, for six months. At 16 I took a job in our local factory and I starting paying money into a secret bank account. A year later I was taken to Pakistan to meet my grandparents for the first time. I knew there'd be a wedding, but I didn't know it would be mine. I was still stubborn, but I was also thousands of miles away from home, and extremely scared - my parents took my passport and said they'd leave me behind if I didn't marry this man. On the day of the wedding, I met him for the first time and I told him I was being forced into it. He didn't care, he just wanted a British passport. He agreed that we wouldn't consummate the marriage but later he raped me. A friend helped me write letters to the British embassy saying I had been married under duress. The letters were ignored. We moved back to Birmingham, where I called the police. They agreed to escort me out when my father was working and my family were at the mosque. They took my statement, and then sent me on my way. I had nowhere to go. I stayed in a bed and breakfast for six months, down a road 10 minutes from my family. I was suicidal. I started calling my mother, pleading for them to let me come home. They said they'd told my three-year-old brother I'd been killed in a car accident. Now he's 13.
I went to live in a refuge for victims of domestic abuse, but my father tracked me down through my National Insurance number. I learned a lot from that - how to make sure a woman's details are treated as sensitive, meaning that her address and details are dealt with only on paper.
This isn't all my parents' doing. My grandfather decided whom I'd marry when I was born. There are generations upon generations of values and issues to contend with. I've heard stories much more horrific than mine. I hear about girls who were forced to get pregnant. One girl's parents kidnapped her baby and took him to Saudi Arabia. She was given a caution for wasting police time. Last year, Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, who had told the police she was scared for her life, was raped, murdered, stuffed into a suitcase and buried under the house. But I do believe there is some hope - the family have been prosecuted after all. At Eid I still hope for a card from my parents, but I know inside it'll never come.

• Honour Network helpline: 0800 5999 247. Daughters of Shame is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £12.99

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