Life as furniture

An item from last August, which I hadn’t seen before. For about £5,000 a taxi driver in Bradford would track down women and girls who had run away from home to escape a forced marriage.

Zakir’s job was never to harm his targets, but to return them home to face their “destiny” of being made to marry someone their parents had chosen. Despite the fact that runaways can be beaten for having escaped, he sides with the families on the issue. The softly spoken driver, speaking to G2 on the condition his real name was not used, insisted: “I did it as a favour to the families, as I knew most of them. It wasn’t about the money. It was about izzat [honour]. I saw the effect it had on them when their daughter ran away. The worry and the shame from the community talking about them. I was part of the ‘taxi driver network’, so we shared information about who we picked up and where they got dropped off.

Of course, returning them home to be forced into marriage is harming them, to put it mildly. Returning them home to be beaten is also harming them. And notice how the concern is all for “the families” and not for all the individuals who make it up, which would have to include the escaped women and girls. Notice how the families are assumed to have every right to treat women and girls as inanimate objects to be forced to do whatever the families ordain.

One woman who knows what it feels like to be hunted down is Jaspreet. She ran away from her home in Sheffield after discovering that her father was arranging her marriage. The 21-year-old said: “I overheard my dad talking to his brother in Pakistan about getting me married to my cousin over there. He’d never discussed marriage with me.

“I didn’t want to get married yet. I wanted to finish my law degree. I would have been happy to have an arranged marriage in my mid-20s. But when I protested, my dad threatened me physically and said I would be letting the family down if I refused. I couldn’t take any more of the rows, so I ran away.”

Like that. It’s her life, but she doesn’t get to decide what she does with it, “the family” does, as if she were the dining room table.

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