Recently ‘The Lifting the Veil Project’ was contacted by a woman in hiding from her family after escaping a forced marriage, and a life of abuse. She has bravely asked us to publish and share her story to encourage other women to speak out.
The author wishes to remain anonymous.
(Image credit: United States Army, picture ID: 110220-A-8410F-063. Image is re-usable under creative commons license).
‘I was a revolutionary, entrapped within the four walls of society and fed bullshit. I became a philosopher and resisted the ignorant fools’. A quote by me based on a book I read.
I came across this site by chance and I read some of the posts written by powerful, intelligent and beautiful women. Today I will share my story with you.
The problem I have is with the ‘South Asian women’ label, because I am ethnically Pashtun. I am not sure if this is regarded as being South Asian, and even if it is not, oh well. Afghanistan is a neighbour of Pakistan, the cultures overlap in many aspects; I view the Pashtun as well as the Pakistani culture as primitive and patriarchal. Some women may defend their culture by pointing out the good things, but being a Pashtun doesn’t mean anything to me. I see myself as a human being first then a Muslim; to me being a Pashtun is not something to be proud of.
I come from a conservative, traditionalist and (I would go as far as saying) Taliban supporting family, who I came to despise over the years. Forced marriages and arranged marriages where there is a lot of pressure, despite being told “it is your choice” are ignored by our communities. The family pressure, the culture, and social pressure makes you decide to get married to someone your parents have chosen for you. Are all Pashtun women experiencing this? No, but we have to accept that in many families this happens. Some people claim that arranged marriages are different nowadays and that they work better in comparison to love marriages (marriages between two individuals based on love and choice in comparison to forced/arranged marriages where parents decide the candidates), which is ridiculous. Being married to someone does not mean there is a good relationship.
I started university last year, in 2012; education was my only alternative to staying at home. I knew some girls who finished college and then stayed at home. Some of them were married off, they had to conform to traditional lifestyles when they were at home. I can’t live a life like that.
So I had to work extra hard to get the grades for university. I was told by my parents to get the best grades but they never had faith in my sisters or me. And I wanted to prove them wrong as well as our family relatives and friends, who would say “girls should stay at home, what are we men for?” I was told by my parents to choose an acceptable degree for a girl like medicine or teaching. If I had chosen acting, then they would have said “only sluts do such things”.
I was never allowed to be in contact with the opposite sex; I was even told that in university I should not talk to men. I went to an all-girls school, my parents used Islam to justify their action, saying men and women should not be in the same room otherwise we will commit zina (unlawful sexual intercourse), this was a pretext to control us. But of course being rebellious, did I listen? Ha! I do what I want. Of course, I had many exchanges with my parents; I told them their views were wrong on many occasions, especially their racism towards black people, as well as their attitudes towards homosexuals and Jews, who they proposed should be stoned. This is despite the fact that they are proud to be British citizens and they love the Queen.
Sometimes I was threatened and hit for “being too free” and that they made a mistake by allowing me to go to university. My timetable was regularly checked, I did tell a few people that I knew. I had to do a lot of house chores; I was the house slave. My friends knew that I had no time to study after university finished because I had to clean and cook. I was sleeping around 9pm and waking at 2am to study sometimes because I had to get the grades, otherwise no university and only a ticket to Afghanistan were waiting for me. I am not detailing the abuse I had gone through as a child as well as into my adult years.
As I was getting older, talk of marriage became more frequent, I did tell some friends about certain things in my life, but I felt no one would listen to me. My family and some of my friends were critical of other girls and how they dressed and behaved. I had never ever heard of someone in our community who had run away in the UK. In Afghanistan, one of my relatives was pregnant before marriage; they ripped her stomach open and killed her (this happened some 40 years ago). No one condemned force marriages, no one condemned rape, who would listen to me? I thought they are all the same; they will betray me and inform my family. I was that scared. And I was right. Recently I sent an e-mail to some friends from university and secondary school, telling them the truth, most of them did not agree with what I did, they even said I should go and ask for forgiveness because I have shamed me family. The same ‘friends’ told me in the e-mail that I should have informed them; they did not condemn child abuse, rape and forced marriages, so how I could I have asked for their help? It was sad and disturbing to read this from people I had thought were my friends, and who are training to be doctors. What could they do or say? “I feel sorry for you”, “I am lucky my parents are not like that”. Those were the responses I got. Should we be grateful for how two people who had sex brought us into the world? Be grateful for what? For being the product of a mistake? That is how I see it.
I was able to stand my ground in one proposal from my cousin in Afghanistan. I knew I had no choice, but I still voiced my disapproval, the reason the marriage proposal failed is because my brother did not like the guy. Later my brother said that I should be grateful to him for persuading my parents not to agree to the wedding. I am the second child and eldest girl. My brother was going to get married this year, the girl was not chosen for him, although he said he would marry someone my parents chose because he “doesn’t give a shit as long as she is beautiful”. Along with his marriage, he said that “I was supposed to be married off before I turned 20”. I hate the double standards, especially when my older brother did not tell my parents about my 15 year old younger brother having a Catholic girlfriend, but my two sisters and I were expected to “behave properly”. My brother forced me to wear the abaya (a robe-like dress) otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to college. I could not leave the house without permission and not without a chaperone, except when I went to university. “Controlled freedom” was what they called it. Their exact words were: “we are trusting you to go alone to university, many Asian parents don’t do this, be grateful”. I had twitter, which I didn’t tell anyone about, only my sister and a few friends knew.
If I ran away or ever thought about having a boyfriend then my father said that I will be “hunted and killed”. He said he wouldn’t mind going to jail because “her Majesty will be looking after him, he will restore his honour and that is what pride means to him”.
I always believed in soul mates and I still do. I did not want to get married. On twitter I met someone, who understands me, cares for me, and loves me. I also feel the same way about him, he was, and is, the highlight of my day. I fell in love and there was no going back, I did not want to get married to someone against my choice. I did not want this to be a forgotten love. I was afraid to tell my parents; parents are usually the people you trust, but I don’t feel that way. He wasn’t Muslim, he is Jewish. My parents always referred to Jews as “filthy” and repeated the all too well known anti-Semitic clichés. I wanted to escape from that hell. My sister seemed to support me and told me to escape at the right opportunity; she meant when I eventually get married in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
I was told by my parents never to go to the authorities because they would not help me. According to my parents, they have “a right to discipline their children”. We were told from a young age that if we report them for child abuse then we will “get it”, so that is why I never told the police. I was afraid that I would be returned home.
I never told anyone about the day I planned to escape. It was an exam day. Final university exams for the year. I had studied for it, but felt like I needed to escape on that day. I felt like a bird, I needed to fly and find my true home, which is and will always be the place I feel free. My passport was taken away from me, my parents always had my documents, but on that day I woke up at 4am and ‘stole’ them, although I had forgotten my naturalisation certificate. I had no money. The money I had from student finance for my studies (about £4000) was taken away from me forcefully by my parents because “only sluts have money” and “we are one family and of course your money is ours”. I had £2000, which I used for public transport, studies, food and clothing for the whole year. I was only allowed to keep £100 in my bank account and if I needed my money, I needed to ask my mother. My mother used a lot of this money on herself, to buy jewellery and clothing.
I was desperate. I had to lie to a friend on the day that I escaped because I did not have enough money for a ticket to France where I planned to meet the person I love. My friend is of Pakistani origin and very conservative, and she would never have loaned me the money if I had not lied and said that it was for a family crisis. On the same day, I had asked another friend for money, but she refused me saying “I just came from the train station and I can’t be arsed, I need to get a coffee. It can wait after the exams, can’t it?”
With the money in hand I bought a train ticket to Paris. Sitting on the Eurostar, I was anxious; I had no charge in my phone, and hardly any money. I had thrown away my hijab because that had been forced on me. In just over 2 hours I arrived in France where I waited in a casino from 5pm till 2am. The casino manger told me they close at 2am and so that night I slept in the apartment of the casino security guard and his girlfriend. I met my future husband the next morning because of bad weather conditions he was late.
My family had gone to the authorities claiming I had been abducted, and they put me on the ‘missing persons’ list of my local borough. I contacted the police, to tell them that I was fine and safe. A police officer talked to both me and my fiancé on the phone from the UK, and upon receiving a photo of me with a local newspaper showing the date, I was taken off the list.
My fiancé and I received numerous death threats from my family, both written and oral, as a result we refrain from many social contacts for security reasons. We even had to give up our flat which my fiancé had rented for quite some time and invested money in, because there are Afghans and Pakistanis living there who might pose a threat to our security.
I don’t regret anything I did. The moment I arrived in France, I knew it was freedom and I had finally made my own choice in life. I am happy. I am independent and most importantly no one controls me. I want to finish my story with a quote from one of my favourite books: “We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”
This is my story, I finally feel free.
Thank you for reading.