I recall working with a rather nice lady in her early 30s. To protect her from being identified I’m going to slightly lie about where she came from, and I’m going to change her name. Let’s call her Abida, and pretend she was from a rather remote area of Pakistan.
The rest of this story is true.
When she was 12 she was forced into a marriage to a gentleman from a neighbouring village to her own. She was removed from her family and all she had known, and was kept under virtual house arrest in the home of her husband’s parents with him. By the time she was 14 she was pregnant. By the time she was 15 she had already repeatedly suffered broken ribs, black eyes, head injuries, and had a permanently stooped back owing to the injuries her husband had inflicted upon her. She can recall no real reason for him doing this to her, as she spent most of her life in fear and trying to please him in order to avoid the next beating.
At the age of 17 she managed to run away, taking her son with her. She was rescued in a manner that we don’t need to cover, and she ended up in London, England. In the UK she lived in a very Western way. She mainly forgot her religious upbringing, and wore modest European clothing. She educated herself and built a new life. She made contact with her family back home, and also tried to divorce her husband. This he refused, although he wanted nothing to do with her or their son. Indeed, he had since remarried a number of times (more than one concurrent wife is perfectly fine; they are after all nothing more than property, like having more than one pair of shoes).
Eventually, Abida found love. A kind and gentle man with a different cultural background to hers moved in with her and they lived … well, not quite happily ever after.
Don’t get me wrong, they were and are very happy together. They’ve been together for many years now. However, they live in a state of absolute secrecy and public denial.
The guy has all his stuff permanently in suitcases, and they have a well rehearsed plan to ‘disappear’ him from their house and into a hotel at a moments notice. Her son knows he has to pretend that he lives alone with his mother. They’ve had to evoke this disappearing plan on three occasions when distant family have visited Abida and her son.
Now, you might be thinking they have this plan ready because they are a bunch of social security scroungers worried about losing benefits. However, both have extremely well paid jobs and have always worked, and her son is sitting A levels hoping to go on to University. They are very respectable people.
But, here’s the problem. With her husband refusing divorce she cannot marry the new guy, under local ‘laws’ back from where she came. Yes, she could legally do it over here, but over there it wouldn’t be accepted as a true divorce. Currently she is living with a man to whom she is not married and that is forbidden.
Now, you and I might say, “So fecking what? She lives here, not over there in a backward village, and she can do whatever she wants to do, it’s a free country.” And, yes, we’d be right. Except for the fact that there’d be consequences for her family.
You see, what she’s currently doing brings shame onto her family. It brings shame onto her village. If anybody was to get wind of her situation back in Pakistan, her family (parents, grandparents, siblings) living back where she came from would have to be ‘cast out’ by the rest of the village, in order to ensure the whole village wasn’t rejected by the elders controlling the area.
Now, you have to understand what this ‘casting out’ means. It means that nobody can talk to you. You cannot buy or get food. You cannot work with others, you have no means of getting an income, and you literally starve to death, or kill yourselves to show remorse.
This is what will happen to her extended family if it ever becomes known that she is living with a man to whom she is not married.
Strangely, the facts that she lives as a Westernised woman, doesn’t cover herself or dress in traditional ways, doesn’t go to mosque or pray, drinks alcohol and does all the ‘evil’ stuff that the rest of us do, doesn’t seem to bring with it the potential for her family to be rejected in their village.
The fact that she lives with a man that she chose because she loves him brings shame and dishonour. It doesn’t bring with it a punishment for her. It brings with it a punishment for those related to her.
How can this primitive and barbaric way of life be allowed to continue in this modern day and age? Surely these people have to be educated away from all their mumbo jumbo and totally insane mentality that seem based solely on bullying, revenge and punishment.