Alright. I know a lot of what I have written carry the themes of forced marriages and honour killings. All those dark and terrible situations you would never had wished for yourself to be in. You may never know… more terrible stuff might just add on to the list. Let me just share with you why I write what I write.
After O levels, I read a book recommended by Rashvin (I share over 10 years of friendship with this woman. She’s more than a bestie.) The book was titled Shame authored by Jasvinder Sanghera, who now runs Karma Nirvana, a non-profit organisation supporting victims of forced marriages and honour based violence. In short, the writer ran away from a strict Sikh household that tied her into a forced marriage. She escaped and led her life by herself. It’s coupled with all the ups and downs of running away from home, being lonely, home-sick and even living on the edge.
But most importantly, it revealed facts that I had never imagined before. UK reports many cases of force marriages each year. The current statistics (January 2013 to December 2013) released by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), are at 1,302 cases. Freedom Charity, another non-profit organisation supporting victims of these events, added on that “[t]he Government estimates that as many as 8,000 young people are pressed into early or forced marriage in the UK each year, so despite the reported statistics we cannot assume that forced marriage is decreasing.” If you take a look at the FMU report, you would see a breakdown of some of the 74 countries involved. These 74 countries were where the victims were at risk of being taken to or had already been taken to. The regional distribution within the UK, from which the victims belonged to, are also stated.
WHEN IMMIGRATION GOES WRONG
What struck me first was the biggest downfall of immigration – adapting to a foreign culture. Asia is a continent with a variety of races and religions. They come, of course, with many traditions and cultures. As I read on, along with the many other books on this issue, with UK as the country of focus, a lot of these immigrant communities are afraid of losing their identity when they mix with the western culture. It’s tough to generalise this theory with all the countries involved but it is quite prevalent in the Asian communities. Read The Imam’s Daughter to understand this better. This is obviously riddled with stereotypes of how westerners are drunkards and drug addicts. Of course, we all know these are false. With this mindset, a lot of Asian households end up limiting their children’s world within their own communities and the furthest the children can go to get a breeze of the foreign culture is in school. Some children end up living with double identities.
The typical story goes, especially for many girls at the age of 16, where these young minds are plucked off from school and are assumed to be travelling to their native country for a holiday. Instead, they are forced into a marriage against their will. Some stay and lead a village life while some return to complete their school, graduate and work to bring their husbands over. And let me tell you, not every girl get treated well by their husbands.
It’s funny how such a modern society like the UK inhibits these separate societies which also end up being one of the reasons why segregation occurs, resulting in ethnic tensions and riots. However, not every immigrant household live with this mindset. There are also many who have embraced the culture and adapted to it. When I say ‘adapted’, I do not mean being a complete Westerner. Modern Asian households for instance do keep to their roots such as those during marriage ceremonies, festivals and not forgetting, food. I think the idea is very simple. Respect the rights of the human.
IT’S BECAUSE OF TRADITION, RELIGION AND CULTURE? I AM A HUMAN FIRST, NO?
From what I have read, the elders in the household use their roots to determine what is right and what is wrong. I can recall in Shame, the writer’s mother kept using Sikhism as the reason behind what the daughters are allowed or not allowed to do. No western clothes, must learn how to cook, no boyfriends, no sleepovers, no partying…. but oh wait, the son gets to do whatever he wants? It’s very difficult to find a boy being tied to these restrictions though I don’t deny that there could be. I guess this is something I should find out more on. Nevertheless, in an Asian context, boys are often favoured than girls and the issue of gender inequality arises. ‘You don’t need an education. You are a girl. You must do the household chores. What will your mother-in-law say to you? Please don’t embarass me in your in-laws. You MUST keep your husband happy.’
Give me a break.
In addition to the list of restrictions imposed in the name of Sikhism, the writer was also told that the marriage was part of it all. Imagine if you are brought up in a culture whose religion practices denies the basic human rights, you begin to detest the religion, claiming it unlawful and inhumane. You want to leave that religion. These happen. What hurts the most is when they try to find out the truth behind the religious practices, they are astonished by the fact that whatever they were imposed with, were not part of the religion at all. For instance, Islam and Sikhism state that marriage is the right of the individual. A human right. Where mutual consent is absent, the marriage is not valid.
Arranged marriage is a different phenomenon, where the marriage is arranged with the consent of both parties. However, we could also argue some emotional and psychological factors involved in bringing about the ‘yes’ from both parties. Though these factors may classify the marriage to be a forced one instead (with the use of emotional blackmail for instance), some other factors that remain arguable include the individual feeling the need to marry, especially if she is the eldest daughter. This is because in some communities such as the Indian community, the younger daughter cannot marry first unless the elder one does. This makes the eldest daughter feel that she must accept the marriage to allow the younger ones to be married off easily. Some parents would provide options for their children and the children decide whom to pick. Let’s argue. ‘You need to get married. Choose who you like.’ Would this be a forced marriage? My brain is about to explode. I don’t know what is going to happen in my Sociology tutorials.
YOU DON’T KILL ME FOR THE SAKE OF THE COMMUNITY. YOU KILL ME FOR YOURSELF.
Honour based violence occur when a certain individual is known to have shamed his or her community and disgraced the honour of the family. As such, it is believed that he or she should be killed. I don’t get how killing an individual rids the shame he or she had caused because people would continue to talk. Secretly, perhaps. However, in my opinion, the reason why killing is an easy option is because firstly, the family members do not have to deal with the individual. It’s a way of getting rid of a responsibility that eats your life away. This leads to the second point where they believe that no one will then have to question them and remind them of a living irresponsibility they had. Lastly, they want to set a record in the community to show how much they care about their tradition and culture.
On 16 June 2014, UK established forced marriage as an unlawful act and forcing a marriage on an unwilling individual is a criminal offence. This forms Part 10 of the The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. I guess all the hardwork of the many non-profit organisations paid off. But this is not the solution. Cases of force marriages will not take a plunge immediately. In fact, authorities must now step up their game and cover any loopholes that may appear after the enactment of the act.
I became interested in these issues after reading Shame. And like how you dream what you have seen, I write what I read. I guess it’s a different way of storytelling where you have so many elements to play with and so many cultures to enact in your story. Definitely, I will try to experiment on something else. Let’s see how Sociology plays a part in this! 😀