CN: Abuse, child abuse
A beautiful and innocent 16-year-old Punjabi girl, came to England in the 1990s not speaking a word of English. That woman was my mother.
Her journey to London was full of dreams and ideas - what would her in laws be like? Would she get to try on jeans? Will the baby she carries be a boy or girl? But within 3 years she left the household a stronger woman, who suffered heartbreak and loneliness beyond comprehension. The tale of my mother’s arranged marriage is one shared by many ‘holiday brides’ or children born into arranged and forced marriages. When Eastern women marry Western men, the men sometimes despise their traditional ways and turn them into objects and possessions: nothing more than a live-in maid who’s only purpose is to cook, clean and have sex on command.
I have no memories of my early childhood, only stories from my mother and the scars on our bodies.
We don’t say his name but I know who he is, despite how much I wish I didn’t. It was any normal day at my cousin’s house, BritAsia TV was playing in the background when I heard whispers and my cousin was abruptly shouted at to change the channel. I later learnt, that the singer on TV was my biological father. I couldn’t mentally comprehend that the man who had beaten me, starved me and scarred me, a 2-year-old child, was a celebrity. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, so I pretended had no idea what was going on. A pretence that I carried on for many years.
I did once speak to him - I don’t know how it came about but he phoned my house and my mum put 13-year-old me on the phone. I can’t remember his voice but I do remember when he told me he had another daughter and son. He then said I would never amount to anything.
My heart was shattered.
I don’t know what I had expected but it certainly wasn’t that. I had nightmares about this man finding me for years, but the truth was he didn’t want anything to do with me and that was why he had called. He was happy and content, being a popular singer and perhaps it was a light warning to us to not interfere as he had moved on and so should we. As it turns out, his family and siblings not only knew of the abuse he inflicted on us but were witness and accomplice to it. His own father was secretly grooming my mother.
Without knowing any English my mother was stranded and unable to call for help. The very people she lived with were mentally, emotionally and physically abusing her. She was a prisoner in her house. She was being eaten alive by the emotional torture happening to her child because she could not do anything to prevent it. She starved herself for days on end pleading for her baby to be fed. My mother also reached out to the local Sikh community various times pleading for help but everything was brushed under the carpet. No one would help.
One day, I don’t know the details exactly, early one morning, my mother managed to run out of the house in her pyjamas with me in her arms.
She never looked back as she ran, leaving behind all the jewellery and memories from her parents when she started her new life in England. Eventually someone found her and helped her and a Punjabi police woman assured her we were safe. That was the last day of living in that house, but for many years we continued to live in fear. The family had tried to deport my mother to India and she lived in constant fear of them coming knocking at the door for revenge.
I carried that shame and guilt throughout my life, as a young adult. As a child, I had an inherent fear of men which I managed to overcome later. However, I still had this overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame, that many abuse victims carry. I still feel responsible and disserving of the abuse I experienced. I have never had the courage to share my story or feelings in person to anyone and I doubt I ever will. A numbing sensation always pierces my body when someone curiously asks me where the scar on my face or body is from. How can I tell them that my father had slammed my face in between a door and left me only until I was covered in my own blood? Or that he had stood on my legs, digging the heels of his shoes in until they bled? Instead I just look at the floor and feel my face flush, as I scramble for a lie to cover up the truth.
At the age of 22, I can now talk to my mother about what happened to us. My mother learnt English and finally got to wear jeans and be free. God may have given us many days of uncertainty and suffering but he also blessed me with an amazing step-father and young brother, who I love dearly. As for myself, I am currently at university and trying to make something of myself.
I will never know what led that family to torture us the way they did.
We did nothing to deserve such hatred and I will never get closure, as my abuser lives a life of happiness and freedom. But by sharing my story of the abuse that goes on behind closed doors of arranged marriages in 21st century England, I am hoping that our community does not continue to let it slip by. I dream of a day when women are not owned by the men they marry, not treated as slaves by in laws, and not hushed when they plead for help.