Butterfly locked in a jarBBC Three

I was a victim of forced marriage

But I don’t blame my husband for what happened


I always knew I would be forced to marry somebody I barely knew and didn't love. In my family, being a woman was all about being somebody else's property - first you belong to your parents, then your husband. I was an object, expected to wait on men and produce children.

It is an experience shared by the 3,500 people who have reported forced marriage to the police within the past three years - and the thousands more suffering in silence.

There is a difference between forced and arranged marriages. The latter is a marriage set up by family members of two people over the age of 18, who can both choose whether or not to participate. This becomes a forced marriage if either partner is unwilling or unable to give permission.

In the UK, forced marriage is illegal and has been since 2014. This includes if people are taking someone abroad or bringing them into this country for this reason. Yet, in England, it's believed that only one in 30 suspected forced marriages leads to a prosecution, and it's clear many cases are still flying under the radar.

Growing up in an Indian Hindu family, I had a lot less freedom than my two brothers. They were allowed to date girls, and go to university, but I was taught how to cook and clean. I started my A-Levels but dropped out halfway through because my parents told me to not to bother - I wouldn't be going to university. Instead, I was told that I needed to learn to be a good wife.

I was born in England, after my parents moved to the UK from India in the late 1960s. They had an arranged marriage after only knowing each other for a week and have always lived separate lives - I've never seen them hug, kiss, or even hold hands.

My childhood was very difficult. I was sexually abused by a family friend, bullied at school for being the only Asian kid in my class, then groomed and beaten by an older Pakistani Muslim man. I was seen as ‘damaged goods’ because of this and, aged 19, was sent to India where I had an exorcism which was supposed to “cleanse” me. Then the process to find me a husband began. I kept saying I wasn't ready and rejecting any matches, so after two months I was brought back to the UK.

Forced Marriage 02BBC Three

One night, a few days after I returned, I ran away to a homeless shelter. I took an overdose and slit my wrists, but was devastated to wake up alive in a hospital bed.

Just two weeks after I was discharged my parents began the process of finding me a husband, putting my name up in our local temple and setting me up on Hindu dating websites.

We saw about ten men before we found my husband a couple of months later - the first few men weren't the right fit, they were deemed either too old, too forward, or from the wrong caste.

I met them all at my parents’ house. I would be kept in another room while both sets of parents talked to the man, then I would be called in for a few minutes when the other family was ready to see me.

One day, the family of a man in his mid-20s contacted us through a temple visitor. I met him just for a few minutes. After that our families agreed we'd be married. I thought he seemed very quiet, and wrongly took that to mean he would be caring and kind.

In the months before our marriage, he regularly wrote me letters – he didn’t live in the same town as me - saying he would "treat me like a princess".

When I showed them to my parents, they found it awkward at first as it wasn’t normal to them, especially when I had cards saying that my future husband "loved" me, but after a few weeks they told me they were happy that I would be going to "a good home".

I was scared of having sex after the abuse I'd experienced. He told me we didn't have to do it on our wedding night, that we could wait until we got to know each other better.

Forced Marriage03BBC Three

Still, on the day of our wedding, I was terrified - in the photographs from the day I look desperately unhappy. We had a registry office wedding followed by a traditional Hindu ceremony in a temple.

The plan was for me to move into his family's home. I was only 20 years old, and the thought of living with strangers filled me with dread.

On the night of our wedding, the abuse began. My husband pinned me down while I was getting ready for bed. He got violent and, then, afterwards he called his mum to say he'd "done it now". I sat on the bed in agony, thinking this wasn't how your wedding night was supposed to go.

It was so different to the treatment he had promised me in those romantic letters.

When I moved to his hometown, things got worse. His mother was furious because she didn’t think my dowry was big enough. She asked for thousands of pounds, a new car and an expensive TV from my family. But they couldn't afford it, so she punished me.

She would wake me up at 5am to clean the house every day from top to bottom, and wouldn't let me go to bed until 3am. She cut my hair and monitored what I ate  - I had no privacy.

Eventually, I collapsed and ended up in hospital. Doctors called my parents, and they came to take me home – that was when I started divorce proceedings.

I didn’t blame my husband for what happened. All I knew was that I wanted my freedom.

Once I was divorced, I was finally a free woman. As time went on, I started to properly rebuild my life. I had hypnotherapy and became an expert at Reiki healing, a Japanese method of stress reduction and relaxation.

I met another man and we had a daughter, although we have now sadly split up.

Now I'm in my mid-30s, happily single, and I've promised myself my daughter will never be treated like an object. I want her to know she is a human being with her own mind.

I try not to hold a grudge against my family. Like so many people from my background, they are a product of their own culture. Their parents did the same to them, and they didn't have the strength to speak out to say they wanted to marry for love.

To me, life is for finding love and for living - not simply existing and suffering. 

As told to Natasha Wynarczyk

*The names of those featured in this article have been changed