Run for your life

‘Ayesha’ (not her real name) – get out of there. Get out, and don’t come back. Ever. Get out right now.

Her father died when she was six, and her mother married his very conservative cousin, who hit her hard in the face the first time they met, and went on from there. She was beaten up throughout her childhood. At fifteen she was forcibly engaged to a cousin. She ran away but was tricked into going home for another beating. She told a doctor; he told the social services, who questioned her mother, who denied it all, and Ayesha got the worst beating of her life.

Her stepfather spied on her and one day saw her without the hijab. That evening, she was thrown into the bath and beaten. “My mother told me that if I didn’t start listening to her then my stepfather was going to rape me.” Ayesha confided in a female teacher, but her story was not believed. As preparations for the marriage moved forward, the bride-to-be was locked in a house whose outside walls were now topped with studded nails and barbed wire. Her stepfather spelt it out bluntly. If she tried to run away again, he would find her and kill her.

She phoned Jasvinder Sanghera; she got out of the house and ran; she phoned the police, who almost took her back home, but Sanghera managed to convince them not to. She was safe; she moved to another city, she was about to start a degree course. But then she phoned a relative.

Promises were made. She could come back. All would be forgiven. Four months ago, Ayesha went home. And so resumed her role as victim in an escalating cycle of threats and violence. The family is still insisting that she marry her cousin. She still refuses. A happy ending is not in sight.

Get out, Ayesha. Run, and don’t look back.

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