If only someone knew what I was going through.
At age 19, I met the man I was told to marry. I knew something was not right, but the decision was final.
My mother-in-law was strict and I needed her permission to see my parents. I felt trapped but couldn’t tell them what was really happening. I didn’t want to upset them.
My sister-in-law, Surjit, shared a similar experience. Surjit spoke about wanting to be independent but was told she must be a housewife. We were constantly watched over. We were told to protect the family honour and could not risk bringing shame on the family. We had no freedom.
Surjit and I both gave birth to beautiful baby girls. It was a time of great happiness and a time to bond with my daughter, but my mother-in-law wouldn’t allow it. One day, I rushed home to feed my daughter, but she had already fed her by bottle and put her back to sleep. I couldn’t even feed my own child. I was heartbroken. I missed many special moments that I’ll never get back.
My mother-in-law feared that Surjit was becoming too ‘westernised‘ and called a family meeting, expressing her plan to get rid of her. She announced that she was taking Surjit to India. Nobody objected. I didn’t think she would commit such an act, but grew more fearful on the day they were due to fly out. I could not keep quiet. I rushed to a telephone box and rang Crimestoppers to warn them. I also wrote a detailed letter to the police.
When my mother-in-law returned from India, she returned alone. She said Surjit would return a few days later but she never did. She then confessed everything. I was in shock and knew I was in danger.
The family claimed that Surjit was missing. Pressure grew to find her, but I knew what had really happened. I told the police everything, but they didn’t believe me. It was my mother-in-law’s word against mine. I didn’t give up. I kept trying but the police kept on dismissing me. They told me I was crazy and likely made the whole thing up. They chose to believe the perpetrators over me.
My mother-in-law always reminded me that the same thing would happen to me if I ever spoke out. She told me that if she went down, then I would go down with her. I felt weak, isolated and alienated, like a prisoner.
I became ill from the stress and trauma and was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation. I had lost seven pints of blood and was told I was lucky to be alive. They almost got away with it. I knew I had to tell someone, especially when my mother-in-law proposed to take me to India. I informed my parents who went straight to the police. I was losing hope but knew I couldn’t give up.
Ex-DCI Clive Driscoll was the first officer who believed me and took me seriously. He gave me his word that he would protect us and get justice for Surjit. He went the extra mile and saved my life.
Nine years later, in 2007, we finally managed get justice for Surjit. My mother-in-law and her son were convicted of murder and sentenced to prison.
After the trial, the MPS invited me to share my experience with the police force. With great encouragement, I decided to become a PCSO. This was one of my proudest moments; my parents were thrilled. I was ready to make a difference. However, six years later, officers would still ask questions such as, ‘Why does she keep calling?’ and ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ I felt disheartened to learn that there was still so much work to be done, that there were still victims out there not receiving the urgent support they needed.
Knowing I had to think bigger, I left the police force and founded True Honour in 2015. True Honour raises awareness of hidden crimes among different communities, and provides training and education for all frontline professionals, including the police force. Most importantly, we support victims. Stigma around these issues prevents victims from seeking help and this must end. I want to ensure that all frontline professionals understand the importance of acknowledging and supporting honour-based abuse victims, as well as the ‘one chance rule’. A victim may only have one chance to seek help or report a crime and we must listen.
Establishing True Honour was the best decision I have ever made. I will never give up and I have shared my story in ‘Shamed’. I can’t change the past, but I can focus on the present and share special moments with my family and friends, precious moments that no one can take away from me. The love we share will last forever and make us stronger.