The concept of pride and shame was high currency for my mum, who herself had been coerced into marrying an elderly, uneducated, divorced man. As a teenager, I had a relationship with someone from another race and religion, who had been expelled from school for fights and drug use. My parents were informed, and my mum, in particular, felt rage at the deception.
She became openly and relentlessly hateful towards me. Aware that I was at risk, I shared my concerns with a teacher who connected me with a local Women’s Aid charity. They alerted me to the risk of forced marriage. Until then I had only been concerned about physical punishment.
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 me returning home.
Taken abroad to be married
Towards the end of my exams, my mum mentioned that her mother was very unwell and she wanted to go back to Bangladesh to see her. I was suspicious that this may be a ploy, so I left passport copies and warnings with close friends asking them to alert the authorities if I did not return in time for college.
After three days in Bangladesh, a man and his family visited. I was ushered into a room without my sister or mum. I was asked by the male elders who I had never met to say ‘alhamdulillah’. My cousin looked horrified as it dawned on her that I had unwittingly accepted marriage vows.
I argued with my mum, telling her I refused to be married. She warned that if anyone there had known about my relationship, I would be killed. It seemed implausible given everyone’s open affection, but I could not rule out the risk.
The night of my wedding, my husband was keen to share all his secrets in the interests of an open and honest relationship. He had had several romantic relationships previously, but frighteningly had suffered and perpetrated child sexual abuse. I was horrified. He forced himself on me that night.
The next day, I told my mum she had made a mistake. He was not the pious man she would want her daughter to be married to. But she sent me back that evening (forgoing tradition) and said he was everything I deserved. I understood at that point that she did not marry me off to discreetly maintain her honour, but to demonstrate to everyone that 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.
Back in the UK
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 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.
Cycles of abuse
I carried on my education, 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 implored me to save her from the familial isolation and shame she would feel if I divorced.
The physical violence escalated for years, I became deeply unhappy with myself as a person as a result of the emotional abuse and feelings of bitterness he instilled in me.
In the end, it was one final particularly horrific fight in the presence of my sleeping son, where I threatened to call the police and send him to prison, that ended it all and he divorced me shortly after.
I decided that regardless of my dependence on my family’s shelter and childcare I would leave home and move away from the community.
Life on my own
Life alone was daunting, difficult, financially crippling and yet liberating. I continued to progress my career. I reconnected with a close friend from university and we began a relationship.
Accusations of shame and promiscuity resumed, which by now I found incredulous and bordering on boring. So whilst my family opposed my relationship, undeterred, I married a man I knew would never harm me, who would be a good role model for my son, and who was kind and gentle. Eventually, my family accepted.
Now there are clearer boundaries and my mum has no influence in my life, our relationship is healthier. She is genuinely remorseful for the pain she caused, acknowledges her mistakes and the limitations she put on my happiness for fear of anarchy and poor character. She cares for my husband and children and I know she is genuinely proud of me. I understand she did what she did within her own blinkered framework of what she thought was best, with tragic consequences for my life but I bear her no ill will. One day I will forgive her also.
Time to heal
Despite ending the marriage, the escape from my son’s father was a long-term struggle. The anxiety and loneliness of dealing with the continued influence he had over my life, my inability to truly break free and the fear of losing my son were incredibly stressful.
He continued to disrupt and manipulate my son, until my son was 16, at which point I felt finally able to tell him the awful truths of my life at 16. He and I together with my husband, our two young children and my mother went back to Bangladesh and were welcomed with open arms, resetting the narrative and showing my son, his life now wasn’t at the sacrifice of his roots. This was a hugely important milestone and an end to what I see as my journey through forced marriage and honour-based abuse.
My own recognition of being a victim came a full 20 years after being forced to marry at 16 when I read an article on forced marriage. I realised my own experiences, far from being a tangled mess of interconnecting emotions and unique situations, was actually a textbook case. I recognised whilst my life was in many ways now idyllic, the long-term impact of those times would take time to heal. I felt it was incumbent on me as someone who had managed to break that cycle to use my best efforts to change the outcome for those at risk, hence my involvement with Karma Nirvana.