The five phrases that I would use to describe me:
• Resilient in the face of adversity
• Determined to grow
• Calm and rational
• Empathetic of others
The concept of pride and shame was high currency for my mum, who had otherwise lost much of her personal standing, having been coerced into marrying an elderly uneducated divorced man. Shame was something we understood to be implicitly linked to relationships outside of marriage or any kind of immodesty with the opposite sex.
In my teenage years, relationships became something that played on my mind. The other individual was not a logical match having been from another race, religion, not only not studious but expelled from school for fights and drug use. The school became rightly concerned. My parents were informed, and this was a source of shame, but to be informed of a secret relationship was something that was deeply shocking, and my mum, in particular, felt rage at the deception.
My mum became openly and relentlessly hateful towards me and it seemed clear she intended to mete out punishment. Aware that I was at risk of something, I shared my concerns with a teacher who connected me with a local Women’s Aid charity who first alerted me to the risk of forced marriage, whereas I had only been concerned about physical punishment. Together with the help of that teacher, I ran away from home and was placed in a local children’s home. This was a horrific experience, which resulted in my returning home due to open drug use, accepted underage drinking and grown men who seemed to frequent the building unchallenged.
Towards the end of my exams, my mum mentioned that her mother was very unwell and that she wanted to go back to Bangladesh to see her. I was nonetheless suspicious that all was not resolved between my mother and I and that this may be a ploy to have me taken back home. So I left passport copies and warnings with close friends asking that they alert the authorities if I did not return by September in time for college. I did not at that stage approach the teacher who previously helped me as I know she was bitterly disappointed that I returned home and I did not feel it fair to involve her again.
We flew to Bangladesh the day after my last exams. It didn’t quite occur to me to be alarmed that my grandma appeared to be in perfect health! After 3 days, my cousin told me the groom’s family wanted to come to visit. Later that evening, the groom’s family arrived and before I had time to react and I was ushered into a room without my sister and mum. I was asked by the male elders who I had never met to say alhamdulillah. I was utterly confused and my cousin looked horrified as it dawned on her that I had unwittingly accepted marriage vows.
Having realised what had happened I argued with my mum throughout the night telling her I refused to be married and that as soon as I returned to the UK I would leave. She warned that if anyone there had known about my relationship I would be killed and although that seemed implausible given everyone’s open affection, I could not rule out that the risk was a real one.
The night of my wedding, my husband was keen to share all of his secrets in the interests of an open and honest relationship, I understood that he also had several romantic relationships previously, but frighteningly had suffered and perpetrated child sexual abuse and I was horrified. He also forced himself on me that night.
When I saw my mum, the next day, I rushed to explain to her that she had made a mistake and he was not the pious man she would want her daughter to be married to. Despite the revelations, she sent me back that evening (forgoing tradition) and said he was everything I deserved. I understood at that point that my mum did not marry me off to discreetly maintain her honour but to demonstrate to everyone she had taken punitive action for the shame I had caused her.
I did not have my passport and my mum cancelled my return ticket, telling my younger sister that I wished to defer my studies and spend time with my new family. I stopped eating and pleaded to be allowed home.
My mum informed my husband that I would not be allowed back to the UK until I was pregnant. I realised that was yet another hurdle I would have to satisfy in order to escape, allowing myself to continue to be raped until I became pregnant and then aborting when I returned to the UK. My mum was, however, one step ahead and refused for me to be allowed to come back to the UK until my pregnancy was beyond the term of abortion
I returned to my family home in the UK a heavily pregnant and anorexic 16 year old. Deciding at that stage to accept my fate for the sake of the baby I was carrying (which was exactly the chain and ball I now realise my mother intended to achieve), I worked to bring my husband to the country and secretly plotted my return to education.
As soon as my husband was given entry to the UK I handed in my notice and surprised everyone with the news that I had a place at college. As a child with a child and no income or alternative childcare it would have been impossible for me to study, had my mum not housed and fed us and taken care of my son, and so I felt guilty for having to rely on her. I realise now that a great part of the consequences of forced marriage is deliberate, the long term hold over victims is designed to create continual indebtedness and dependence, with feelings of guilt or duty.
I carried on my education, flying through my A-levels with earnest determination to escape the deprivation I faced, working to support my son at every opportunity and show him a better future, gaining a place at a prestigious university and then onto a graduate training programme, throughout cycles of abuse and abandonment from my son’s father. He would leave and return at will as my mother implores me to save her from the familial isolation and shame she would feel if I divorced.
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