Topic: Forced Marriage
*Trigger Warning: forced marriage, abuse, family abuse*
I grew up in northern England and at the age of 14, I was presented with a picture of the man I would have to marry. Back in those days, I was a good girl (not to say I am not now!), and I did not answer my parents back. I was made to know my position in the house. I was domesticated as early as 7 years old and did my share of the household chores. I washed the dishes, washed clothes by hand, did cooking for all my family, made tea and took it out, along with snacks for our visitors, and ironed clothes. I was also constantly making tea for my family members throughout the day, and was not allowed to just sit idle. I don’t remember doing much homework for school, all I remember from my childhood is doing chores endlessly. I played outside until I was about 7 years old, and then I can’t remember being allowed to really be outside alone or with friends. I was not allowed to go places with friends, nor go on most school field trips.
When I was presented with the picture of the man I would marry, I knew I could not say no. I had already been conditioned to not answer back, and knew my place. I knew if I left one dish in the sink without washing it, drying it and putting it away, I would get a huge shouting at. So, I guess you could say I was obedient.
I really had little choice in my future – it had already been planned out. Before I knew it, the man I would marry at the age of 18 came over to England for his brother or sister’s wedding, I can’t remember which one exactly. On the day I was to meet with him, was our actual engagement day, which I only realized years later as nothing made sense to me then. I was just a child still, only 14. I had to go to my aunt and uncle’s house where the man would be and I had to sit next to him, without even being able to look at him or talk to him. I had already been told by my family how to behave, and that I was to look at the camera, and not at him directly, and to let him put his arm around my shoulder. I did as I was told, and lo, and behold, this is how I was engaged! Yes, we did not exchange a single word with each other, other than maybe “hello.”
When I was 15, and had graduated from high school, we went on a six-week family holiday to India, and again I did not realize that one of the reasons for my going there would be the engagement. It was a chance for his mum and dad, who lived in India, and his entire family to meet me. When we went to his village to meet with me, we were greeted with a big party or what would be classed as a party – my engagement party! Again, I did not know it, but this is what they were celebrating, and the only one who didn’t know it was me! We were also buying wedding clothes for me from India.
Upon our return to England, I would have to talk to him occasionally on the phone even though I didn’t want to, as I had nothing in common with him. What could I possibly talk to him about? However, I was told I had to talk to him. I remember being told to write letters to him, but can’t remember if I did or not. Then, as the time got closer to my being 18, I began to realize that this could not happen. I was 17 when I decided that I did not want to get married yet, and if I did, I wanted it to be on my terms.
I used to stay up all night reading romance novels, such as the Mills & Boons series, and that is what I wanted – a nice romance, and then marriage, not this arranged wedding, which I would later find out was really a forced marriage. After all, what child of 14 can really give proper consent? I knew I could not even tell my family now at 17 or 18 that I did not want the marriage, because even when I didn’t want to talk to him on the phone, my mum used to tell me he had been waiting years for me, and how could I do this to him or to her? She used to say he is handsome, smart, and intelligent, very well educated, and I should be happy to be marrying him – that I was lucky. However, I don’t think that he had really been to college – just graduated high school like me. What’s more, when I had wanted to go to a college that I had applied to at Leeds Park Lane, my mum wouldn’t let me go, and said that I was to get married, and didn’t need to go to college.
I would find out later on in life that it’s unfair to take away a child’s right to further education, just to put them into marriage.
Since I could absolutely not tell my family, that I did not want to get married, I planned my get away. I knew I had to run away. I packed a suitcase, and had bought a coach (bus) ticket to London. I had managed to book a taxi that would take me to the bus station, and was so scared when I had to leave my house. We had a business, and I had to sneak out of the back door. I was so scared that someone would see me with my suitcase, and that I would be doomed. However, I got away and into that taxi and then subsequently onto the bus and to London. The entire bus journey, I was so scared, so nervous that someone may be following me, and then kept wondering if they had discovered my disappearance, and what were they doing? I did not know anyone in London, or know where I was going to stay. I did not have anything booked.
Long story, short – I found a cheap bed and breakfast, and stayed in London for about one or two months, and then when I finally called home I was told my grandma was ill. Of course, I rushed back home to northern England, and realized just what grief I had put my family through. I felt guilty. However, my grandma was okay. I tried telling my family that I did not want the marriage, but they would not hear of it, putting even more of a guilt trip on me, and before I knew it, it was time for my wedding. I had to go to Denmark to stay with the daughter of the man who had arranged my wedding, and introduced my soon-to-be-husband to my family. We had to go live in a different country because he had already been to England, and I think the whole reason Denmark was chosen is because he could say he had never been there, and that he wanted to visit. Of course, he didn’t say he was going there to get married, or he might not have been allowed entry. I realize now that it is all a game of immigration convenience to families, they marry their daughters off, and someone always gains in this whole plan – this time it was him – he gained entry into Europe – through me. I didn’t know that this was happening at that time.
The Forced Marriage
I had other things on my mind, like not wanting to be in this situation. We got married in Denmark, and to tell you the truth, I have blotted out the day of the marriage, and many of the details. My family all flew in from England, and there were many people at the wedding. They were all happy; the only one who was not really happy was me, but no one seemed to care or perhaps didn’t know.
I really could write a book on this whole ordeal, and will have to save some of the details for that, but to put it briefly, we got married and then moved into our own apartment. We had nothing in common, I did not like him. In fact, I detested him. He tried to control me, even telling me not to talk to men on the buses on my way to work. He said if I ever needed directions for instance, I was to ask a woman, not a man. My entire life, I had not worn make-up, was not allowed to. We were told that we had to wait until we were married to wear make-up, and then guess what he told me? He told me I did not have to wear make up when I was not with him. Therefore, for work, I was not supposed to wear make up. Who did he think he was, I wanted to ask? I did not wish to be controlled.
On week two of the marriage, I told him that I did not want to be in this marriage. Of course, he was upset, and shocked. I even told my mum by phone from Denmark, and she sent my dad. This did not help matters. Things got worse. Therefore, while my dad was there in Denmark, but away from the house, when my husband did something to me that I won’t go into right now, and I told my dad upon my dad’s return to my home – my dad just said “he’s your husband – he has the right.”
My Second (and Final) Escape
I had reached out to my dad, and he did not help me, even though he was in the same country with me right now where I needed his help. He was my only family member with me, but he didn’t help me. I knew then that I had to get away. I was in the kitchen which was across the hallway from my apartment in Denmark, and I just ran – again, for the second time. I had about 100 steps to run down to the street level, and I ran down those steps in such a fright. When I got to the street, I hailed a cab, and went to a friend’s. I had escaped my forced marriage, and never went back to him again.
In my personal opinion, schools in the United Kingdom, and all over the world, need to help the kids they are responsible for. If parents don’t act responsibly, and are forcing their kids into marriage in the name of culture and tradition, somebody has to help these kids. My school failed not only me when I was being forced into marriage, but just about all my friends who were also South Asian, and in the same situation as me. As a 14-year-old girl, I was in school in the UK, and if the schools had their eyes and ears open, they could have known this was going on, that girls were having arranged marriages with strangers, and somebody should have questioned if this was right. They should have asked if the girls were happy with this, if they know these boys; someone should have asked us what we wanted, but no one did. We were let down, not only by our families, but our community, and definitely by our schools.
The message that I want to share with the world is this: don’t let anyone force you into a marriage.
Be stronger than me. I tried to be strong – I ran away, but ultimately I went back home and succumbed to the marriage. I still managed to get away after six weeks, but at what cost? Only I know the cost. My family doesn’t view me as a victim; they view me as the one who caused my marriage to break down. I didn’t try hard enough is what they say.
What I know is that my human rights were taken away from me, my right to choose who to marry, and when. My rights to a further education was taken from me, because my family viewed marriage as much more important than a college education. There is no recovering to a certain degree from this abuse, as it leaves its ugly scars. Daughters should be more important, and not just brought up to be domesticated. If you get into a marriage, and think it’s easier to run away from it than it is from your family, you will still have a lot of baggage to deal with, and some human rights abuses that can never be wiped away completely.
My message is say NO to even arranged marriages, because many of these are just forced marriages. Let’s all let the truth: there is no difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages. Who are we fooling? While mine was called an arranged marriage, it really was forced. After all, who is going to say they are arranging a forced marriage.
Let’s put an end to forced marriages, and to the biggest human rights abuse of all. Nobody should be forced to marry a stranger and be put into danger.
Have you sought any sort of medical help, therapy etc?
Any particular resources that you recommend or have used to help you recover?
I tweet about forced marriage, and that helps me feel better. I also feel connected to others who have also suffered this atrocity. I still can’t talk to my family about this as they wouldn’t want to listen. I still see my family, but we don’t talk about it. When I tried to talk to my mum about it, she gets really mad, and still believes it’s my fault that the marriage failed. I don’t post on Facebook about it as my family might see I’m posting about this, and I still worry about what they are going to say. I’m not sure if they’ve seen my videos and tweets.
About Davinder Kaur
Mother of three. Born and raised in the UK in northern England. Forced into marriage at age 18, after seeing his picture when I was just 14 and too young to know better. Escaped after 6 weeks of marriage.
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