The Independent newspaper is doing a series of articles on forced marriages within Britain and I’m not entirely happy with how this is being discussed. There’s no point in me huffing and puffing about something and then sit on my arse doing nowt. It’s not as simple as being told who you’re going to marry and get dragged there by your parents. It’s much more complex than this and I wanted to share my experiences straight from a brown girl’s mouth to try and help others understand. Brace yourselves, you’re in for one hell of a ride!

It started when I was 12. (No! Don’t panic, I didn’t get forced into a marriage at 12!) I was fascinated by buildings when I was a child. I would marvel at cathedrals and mosques and just think how beautiful they all were. I told a teacher who told me I should be an architect and from then on, I was hooked! I would tell anyone who was willing to listen that I was going to university to design buildings!

That is, until I told my mother. What happened next changed the course of my life forever. I was playing with my brothers and she beckoned me over. I sat with her on a wall and these are the exact words she uttered, albeit in a different language “You will NEVER go to university and you WILL marry your cousin” Then she left. Sorry, did I mention I was 12 fucking years old? That was the day my mother broke my heart.

At the age of 17, my father blackmailed me with getting engaged to said cousin otherwise I couldn’t go to college. I was far too bright not to study my A-levels so I was between a rock and a fucking hard place. My mother broke the news to me and I had 10 minutes to decide. I’m being serious. 10 fucking minutes to decide my future. Here was my rationale:

1.      I’m 17, if I say no they’ll probably get me married off to him at 18 anyway.

2.      If I say yes, I get to study for my A-levels and I’ll be 19 when I leave college.

3.      Getting married with some education and 19 is better than nothing at 18.

I said yes. In hindsight, I realise I didn’t actually have a choice. They manipulated me to believe I had decided my own fate but it was for leverage so they could say “you decided, it wasn’t forced upon you”. This is the very point The Independent missed entirely. The manipulation that occurs within these family dynamics.

Father puts pressure on mother to re-inforce the ‘traditional’ values of one’s culture, mother emotionally blackmails child to agree, child is put under so much pressure that they just buckle and agree. It isn’t forced through beatings and physically dragging your child to another country. It’s forced through the psychological and emotional abuse a person is put under for a great length of time. Mine started from 12 years of age and they had wielded their power over me when I was a mere child and I resided myself to this being my fate. Although, it wasn’t. It got much worse.

I broke off the engagement 3 months before I was due to get married. I was fortunate to have the support of my aunties and uncle. I started self-harming during the engagement due to the psychological pressure of A-levels and my impending doom and once an auntie saw my scars, she broke down and rang her siblings to devise a plan. It worked.

They didn’t force me to marry him because I had actually said “NO”. My father despised me afterwards. I was the pride and joy of this family. I was the epitome of an Asian daughter: I cooked, I cleaned, I took care of my three younger brothers, I was smart and slim with long shiny hair. I was a fucking prize racehorse that just shat all over his pride in front of his family and boy, was he going to punish me for it. For six months he didn’t speak a single word to me. Honestly, he didn’t look at me, he’d walk right past me, ignored everything I said and literally didn’t breathe a single word towards me. It killed me as I was such a daddy’s girl. Dinner time was the hardest as I would sit next to him and it made me feel sick that he could hate me so much. After the umpteenth time of being ignored at dinner I stopped eating to avoid him. I just couldn’t cope with how worthless I was made to feel, subsequently I developed quite an eating disorder and started to self-harm again. It was a horrendous time to be alive.  Sometimes, I wonder how I survived.

To fast forward, I got married at 21. It wasn’t my choice. I wasn’t sent to Pakistan kicking and screaming but I did go 2 stone lighter, barely speaking and well, like a zombie, I guess. I was a shadow of my former vibrant self and I could feel myself dying inside. This marriage was the most traumatic event of my life and I think, 12 years on, I’m finally getting over this. I hated him. He was horrible and slimy and he made my skin crawl. Now, this next part is very personal but I’m going to share this anyway; I consummated the marriage. I had to. I was so scared that he would rape me that it was the sensible thing to do. Imagine that! Forcing yourself to have sex with a stranger because you’re afraid of the consequences. It’s making me well up just remembering how scared I was.

The theme through-out all of this is the psychological abuse. This continued for months afterwards as I tried to reach out to both my parents and tell them I was so unhappy. I wept in front of my mother and told her “I hate him. I hate going to that house. I don’t want to be there anymore” My God did I weep. I bet you know what she said right? “My child, you have to” and then she walked out of the room. That was the second moment my mother broke my heart. He attempted to rape me twice and was psychologically abusive by telling me I was ugly and fat. I suffered from terrible depression and attempted suicide on two occasions and then one day I made a decision. I would leave him and I did. I packed up all of my shit and just left one day and I didn’t speak to my family for five years. I got the usual voicemails of ‘bringing shame onto the family’ yadda yadda bullshit. But I didn’t go back. I couldn’t.

I struggled so much being on my own both financially and emotionally. I became an angry person, let down by the very people who were supposed to protect me. Fuck. That. I protect me. It’s taken 12 years and a divorce to get to a strong place but I’m proud to be able to have walked away from this alive. I grafted and went to university, graduated last year and have continued with my studies. Life goes on because I chose to live for it.

I still don’t know why my parents treated me that way. They’ve never apologised and have offered no explanation. I don’t speak to my father and I only keep in touch with my mum because she’s vulnerable herself and there’s no point punishing her.

There you have it. My experiences of being forced into a marriage plus more in just under 1500 words! I would like to end on this: If this sounds similar to your life, I beg you to speak to someone. It is not as scary as you think and you need to raise your voice. Your parents will come round eventually but if they don’t, you must remember that is their responsibility to ensure you are safe and cared for. If they aren’t providing that for you, then that is neglect and you deserve better. I did.