Help and Support for Mixed Couples

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Punjabi & Mixed Heritage couple

This is a true story written by another very brave woman who is a friend of Karma Nirvana and MixTogether.

Balarena’s story

[transcript of her talk at the launch of the Honour Network]

I am here today as a Survivor of a forced marriage, to share my experience with you.  It is difficult to know where to start, but here goes.

 I was born in a small village in the Punjab region of northern India, and brought to the UK aged one. My family settled in Darlington. But within the four walls of the house it was as if we had never left India.  We had to wear Indian clothes and speak Punjabi, were allowed no friends, even monitored when watching western TV programmes.  I was basically conditioned and moulded from a very early age that my life was going to be controlled, not only at a physical level, but mentally and emotionally if I ever stepped out of line.

We attended western schools, and with the contrast between school and home, even as a child I felt I was living two different lives. School such a western society and home such an asian world – I can describe it now as almost living in a schizophrenic world. I missed two years of junior school when we were taken to India from the age of 7 and on return, I spoke no English.

In adolescence the control from my family became worse, aged 13 in my 3rd year of Comprehensive School – my attendance from school fell from 100% to below 50%.  I had to stay at home, learn to cook, sew and look after children from my extended family – we had cousins with their wives and kids living with us.  Why did the school never question why I was not there?  My father told me there would be no need for an education where was I was going!! I was always aware I would have an arranged marriage, but not a forced one.

When at just17, I was introduced to the man who was to be my husband, the family and I met him in Huddersfield with his family – we met for just half an hour, never allowed to spend time alone with him.  On the way home, my father said “Well, what do you think, I said I feel no connection or chemistry, he is not for me, he replied “That I’d best get used to the idea whether I liked it or not – and if I thought about running away, he would find me and kill me and then go to prison.”.

A Civil marriage took place 3 weeks after I met him, before his visa expired. I was forced to tell the immigration that it was a love marriage!!!!  The registry office wedding took place on 21st Nov 1987– why wasn’t I questioned, if I wanted to be married (my body language and face would have said the words – I didn’t need to) – I said my vows, they meant nothing. During the months that followed, I thought about running for freedom, but where would I go, where would I stay, how would I live, what would I do for money – I didn’t have the basic skills in life to cope. From my early years, I remember cousins (both men and women) who had run away and were brought back to be forced into a marriage.  All my thoughts were, how did they find them, maybe they didn’t run far enough or had they left a phone number or address behind.

I remembered one case in particular, a cousin had escaped to London, but the family somehow found out where he was living and my father sat outside his flat in a car for 2 weeks until they caught him and brought him back.   I knew if I ran, they would find me and kill me – my life was out of control and I felt absolute terror, but to an outside world I appeared normal. If only this helpline or Karma Nirvana had existed some 20 years ago, I would have had somewhere to go and someone to turn to for help, guidance and support.

On 10th July 1988 we had a full blown Indian wedding – the whole 4 days were surreal. Straight after the wedding, having known only Darlington as my home I was shipped off to Huddersfield with the total stranger who was now my husband to live with his family, and he had the right to do as he wished.  On the wedding night, I was given some milk to drink, someone saying it would help, the drink made me drowsy, later I suspected it was drugged. That night I was raped by my husband, I was 17 years old and had never even kissed a man before. I felt humiliated and degraded.

My mother had told me that once you are married you are the property of your husband and you must do as you are told, it is your duty. Two years later; I was forced to sign documents for the immigration and to declare my love for him to enable him to stay in the country permanently – there were no face to face interviews.  My life at this stage was totally controlled and unbearable. Going out to work was my only sanity, again this I was only allowed to do because I had to show the immigration office that I was supporting him.  However, just taking half a day holiday off from work, without the family knowing, was a major crime – they  would get together and lecture me for hours on end.

During this time, probably due to all the stress,  I had 3 miscarriages, each time driving myself to the hospital and not one member of either family came to see me. All I thought was, this is it, this is my life?  It felt like a life prison sentence without the walls.  The only two choices I felt I had at the time. was to live this way, or suicide, end it all – and the latter, I thought about more and more, as it would not cause any dishonour to the family. Again, there was no-one to turn to for help or advice – I just needed to speak to someone.

Then came a so called family holiday to Canada, to visit his parents and sister who had moved there from India.  The family in Canada had set up job interviews and meetings with solicitors.  I was told we were moving there, the family made promises that I could visit home whenever I wanted.  On return to the UK, the family set up an interview with the Canadian Embassy. I couldn’t go, trembling I picked up the phone to the Embassy and asked him to refuse my visa – gosh, was that timing, he was just about to put the accepted visa in the post. That one little act, made me feel in control.

A few months later, I went to my parents with a plea for help, I told them I no longer wanted to be married and would they help.  The house exploded into a rage, the answer was NO, and you are expected to go on living with him forever – go back to Huddersfield to your husband.  I sobbed to sleep and woke up still sobbing. I was afraid to bring shame on the family, I didn’t want to be labelled an “Outcast” a “Runaway”, a “Divorcee”.  I would be better off dying.  I felt very alone, with no-one to talk to, or understand my dilemma. Another point in my life where I needed a lifeline and Karma Nirvana – but I wasn’t aware that help was out there.

This pattern continued for 8.5 years of my life. You may well ask why I stayed for so long.  You see to an outsider all would appear quite normal, it is such a complex issue. You feel torn between duty to your family and the desire to live life as you choose.  However, the fear that the family put upon me, the emotional blackmail that was used was driving a wedge between us.  I didn’t feel loved, wanted or cared for in any shape or form.  I decided if I had children, I would have somebody to love and somebody who would return my love.   

After my 3rd miscarriage was when I made a life changing decision, I needed to escape. I decided to run on 28th December 1995, I had made a mental choice that I deserved more, his family, didn’t care, my own family didn’t care – there had to be a better life somewhere out there.I sat down and did a S.W.O.T. analysis – what I would need to survive, how much I would need, (as I had been working for 8 years now) and how to ensure they wouldn’t find me I went to London for a job interview by telling the family it was training from work, and fortunately, the job was offered to me.

Now I had a job and soon after also found a place to live – somewhere to run to. It took some careful and thorough planning, ensuring that all paperwork with my name on it was destroyed – especially my national insurance number.  I told one English friend, as she was helping me pack.  I trusted no-body else, not even people I had worked with for over 8 years. The day before I left, I went to the police station and explained that I was leaving my marriage and that my husband and family would report me missing or the car stolen.  I asked them not to waste police time, as I was leaving of my own free will.

Then came the day of “My Great Escape”, as I call it, on 28th March 1996.  I knew I had to take what I could and had to be gone before he got home and out of Yorkshire before his friends that drove Taxi’s were hanging around on the motorway exits.I was a nervous wreck packing – looking out of the window, what will happen if a car pulls up, what if he comes home early, some many ifs! As I was driving to London, I actually, felt like I was flying. For the first time in my life I was free.   

I had a week to get to know London, before, starting work – I had never used the tube system before. I felt like the picture on the wall and me in it! Two days later I called my parents; my father started screaming down the phone, that my mother was in hospital of a heart attack, because of me I later found this was untrue.  The message was to come home and all would be forgiven.  My heart strings were pulling me back, but I could not go, I had to think of all the reasons why I had left in the first place.  I suddenly, felt isolated and very alone all over again – I had runaway, but I still missed them – there was no-one to talk to who would understand. Over the years this was to become a familiar pattern, I would call hoping just for a few kind words only to be faced with hostility and rejection.     

This has lead to me suffering severe bouts depression and nightmares, which still wake me to this day.  I have undergone many forms of counselling but have still to get to the root of my problem. I later found out that my family had reported me missing; they had put leaflets through doors in Huddersfield to see if anyone had seen anything, they also paid a Bounty Hunter to find me. Here, I was in London, with my new found freedom.  But still I was full of fear, I scanned every brown face, wondering if I recognised them, always looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed – I did this for years.

My new life was amazing – I was free!  When you’ve never had this kind freedom, there are no boundaries – I made new friends (none of them Indian), went drinking with them – I had my first ever drink at the age of 26!  Now looking back I could have got myself into many dangerous situations because I didn’t know any better. I decided to get myself an education, which I did part-time, whilst working full-time for 5 years.

I now have 2 Diplomas, one in Export Management and one in Business Studies & Finance. When I graduated I sent my family a photo and called them once again – but got just the same response as last time.  I missed them all over again; I missed them on birthdays, Christmas, Diwali.   I wanted both worlds, my freedom and my family, but even after 13 years, my family still refuse to acknowledge that I exist.

On the positive side “My Great Escape” has given me Freedom, an education, and control of my own destiny. I have lived in many places and seen many things; been where the job took me, to London, Oxford, Cambridge, and have travelled abroad with work. In 2003 I took a trip around the world on my own, I did a sky-dive, and white water rafting, I have been walking on a Glacier. I have even been to rock festivals.

But the best thing that happened in my whole life is my husband; I am now a part of a new family.  He is of mixed race (Japanese, German & English) and loves me unconditionally, he has a heart of gold and sometimes, I still can’t believe it’s for real.  His family love me dearly and accept me just for who I am.  Our wedding day was wonderful with 300 guests (but none of my family came).

They are never going to change.  I have my life with a lovely husband, a lovely home and if children come along, it will be a blessing. Another wonderful thing that has happened for me, was meeting another brand new family at Karma Nirvana. People who fully appreciate the trauma I have been through and truly understand the emotional struggle I suffer. But do you know they were there all along; I just never knew about them. I wish I had.   

The survivors here today, we are just the tip of the ice-berg, but knowing where that tip is means we know what lies beneath.  I was one of the lucky ones to have escaped; there are many many more who are still suffering and are silenced by their families, they are just waiting for us to lend a hand and that’s why we need this Network, I wish it had been there for me.

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