It's a riotous and colourful ceremony in Northern England, a Pakistani Muslim wedding. The nerves
are on show from the groom, Usman, as tradition collides with the new.
As is custom, bride to be Nagina sits in a separate room, and Imam Irfan Chishti asks
three times if she's marrying of her own free will.
"I have to ask you, under no force, no pressure, do you Nagina...
No pressure, despite Mum and Dad sitting alongside, and a phalanx of cameras hired to capture
every precious moment.
Marriage is a pact between freely consenting and equal partners -- something most would
take for granted in 21st century Britain - and yet as the ceremony unfolds, Imam Chishti
stresses the point about women's rights. "But if the lady, if the bride, if the woman,
if the wife, if she says no then it ain't happenin'. If she'd had turned round and said
to me I'm not happy for this wedding to take place, then it doesn't matter how much has
been spent on this afternoon, it doesn't matter what thousands or millions have been spent,
that consent of hers is the most important thing".
The wedding of Usman and Nagina certainly gives every appearance of a happy, mutually
But for many young British women in the country's Asian and Middle Eastern communities, that's
not the case. Partners are preordained by parents. A code of behaviour enforced, and
if daughters step out of line, consequences can be severe.
"There are probably between eight to ten thousand forced marriages or threats of forced marriage
in the UK every year. We prosecuted more than two hundred cases last year of honour based
violence. What we have here are crimes in the name of
the father, the son and the blessed male members of the family".
"I think people who do these actions know categorically that what they're doing is religiously
wrong. There isn't a misunderstanding of the faith.
What there is, is just themselves trying to justify their actions through the faith.
Perhaps we need to speak out more about it".
Violent crime resulting from the honour codes of ethnic communities is a major problem.
British authorities acknowledge they don't know the true scale of it.
"We have kidnappings, abductions, assaults, sexual offences -- you know, anything that
you could imagine could happen does happen in the name of honour.
The most extreme examples are homicide and we have perhaps ten to twelve of those in
the United Kingdom every year which are honour related".
These young British women were murdered in a perverse attempt to restore family honour.
Twenty seven year old Surjit Athwal killed on the orders of her mother-in-law.
Twenty year old Banaz Mahmod, raped and strangled on the orders of her father and uncle.
And seventeen year old Shafilea Ahmed, suffocated by her parents.
Shafilea had rejected her parent's choice of a Pakistani Muslim husband. She wanted
to be a lawyer and to make her own choices. Her parents decided she was shaming the family,
beat her frequently and finally forced a plastic bag down her
throat. Her siblings were made to watch as a warning to them. Family honour was paramount.
When Shafilea's body was found in a river, her parents put on tearful displays feigning
innocence and outrage. Years later one of Shafilea's sister's smashed
the parent's conspiracy by giving evidence against them and they were sentenced to long
jail terms. Shafilea's repeated pleas for help were ignored,
even a suicide attempt failed to convince police she was in desperate trouble.
"She couldn't be any clearer - and they failed her. And that is the story
of many of our victims here in Britain today. There are many Shafilea Ahmeds out there.
When somebody is murdered, for example -- and we've seen horrific murders here in
Britain -- Shafilea Ahmed was one -- there was a silence in that community. Where was
the outcry of people standing up and speaking out, and saying 'This is wrong.' Nobody is
doing this in the name of Islam. You know, we need to go out there and preach in our
communities not to do this to your children. That doesn't exist. Who is being silent? Who
is being...? Silent. Who is being silent? The people within our communities that are
being silent are those who commit these crimes, those who don't commit these crimes. So good
people are turning a blind eye. Our so-called community leaders. So they exist in the form
of a religious leader, a community leader, a councillor, a politician. They're the people.
And the ones who are breaking the silence are the victims themselves. Organisations
like us. We're the ones breaking the silence, but we do that at a cost.
Saturday night in Leeds, one of the biggest cities with a significant Asian population.
Teenagers flock to the city square, having fun. Many Asian girls don't enjoy these freedoms.
Some would even be barred from attending an event as benign as the annual light show,
restricted in what they can wear, whom they can talk to, where they can go.
"These teenagers, born here in Britain, have a life whereby the only place they have
independence and the right to think freely is in school. As soon as they go home and
the front door is closed, it's as if they're living in some rural part of Pakistan or India
even though they're living in Britain". More than four million people in England identify
as Asian, almost eight per cent of the population, predominantly from South Asia - India, Pakistan
and Bangladesh. In a recent survey of 500 young British people
from Asian backgrounds, two-thirds said families should live according to the concept of honour.
Almost one in five said physical punishment of women was justified for certain behaviours,
such as going out at night unaccompanied, dressing a certain way or wanting to marry
a man deemed unacceptable. And six per cent of the young men surveyed said, under certain
circumstances, honour killings could be justified. Changing deeply entrenched attitudes and practices
that subjugate women is not proving easy, and so law enforcement agencies are developing
more sophisticated approaches, starting with professionals who understand what drives honour
crimes. "At the moment in so many communities, in
so many families, it's merely used to suppress women, to oppress women. They are the only
ones that carry the honour on their family. So if they are perceived to have misbehaved
in some way or made their own choices, then they have dishonoured the family. If men do
the same, well it's men. You know, they can do what they like, and as I said, honour can
be good, a force for good -- regrettably it's been used too often to control women".
Nazir Afzal is the chief prosecutor in England's North West. He's a Muslim who makes a very
clear distinction between cultural practices and crime.
"Forced marriage is one of the last forms of slavery in the world. You can imagine total
and utter despair. So many of our victims of forced marriage will
harm themselves - will actually kill themselves - and that... because that's the only way
they can see out of this". From the law courts to the police beat, there's
a growing realisation that some Asian families and communities have been using their culture
as a shield to justify the notion that family honour can be regained by violence. "That
concept exists in every Asiatic mind, whether they be in Great Britain, whether
they be in Switzerland, whether they be in Pakistan... India -- wherever -- it's a concept.
It doesn't stop just because you have crossed a border".
Detective Constable Palbinder Singh is a Sikh who's helped crack some difficult honour crime cases.
I've always advocated to ignore cultural sensitivity.
It's a ruse. 'We won't interfere with that family, it's
their culture.' Well hang on a minute, crimes are being committed, people's lives are being
destroyed, people's freedoms are being suppressed. 'Oh but that's okay, that's their culture.'
Well, have you actually spoken to the people who've been denied these basic freedoms? And
that's the problem with this concept of diversity, it's now crossing over into political correctness
and it's simply not working". There is this mistaken perception that you
know it's culturally acceptable for forced marriage to happen, and police officers, along
with many of the professionals have been scared to address that issue, which is why we really
need to change that mindset and that moral blindness. How much does a fear of being called
racist play into it? I think it can play a big part. No police
officer or any other agency wants to be branded racist, but that's something we've absolutely
got to get past because we just have a clear duty to protect the victim and safeguard them.
Detective Sergeant Trudy Runham of the West Midlands Police has worked with many victims
of honour based violence and tries to educate other officers.
What we do know is that the rate of Asian females, their suicide rate is three times
higher than anybody else. That has been said to compare only to soldiers' suicide rate
coming back from Afghanistan, which obviously they're coming back from a war zone. So what
does that tell you about how these females in this case are feeling and self-harm is
absolutely a key indicator of these issues.
It was the horrific killing of Banaz Mahmod that catapulted honour crime into public consciousness
in Britain and exposed the failings of police. "On the fourth occasion she takes a list and
she names the people that are going to kill her. At the top of there is her father, her
uncle, other male members of the family, she said these are the people that are going to
kill me. If anything happens to me, these are the people who did it".
Banaz Mahmod was a young Muslim woman from an Iraqi Kurd background. She told police
her family was planning to kill her because she'd left an abusive arranged marriage and
was seen kissing a man outside a tube station. Months later, lying in a hospital emergency
room, she explained how her father had tried to kill her.
"And she was still not believed. She was dealt with as being melodramatic, fantasising".
Jasvinder Sanghera knows the horrors of honour violence. She knows that Banaz Mahmod should
have been saved and she needs these trainee detectives to know where police went wrong.
"Would you believe her? As a professional the response was surely not. You're not going
to be killed for being seen kissing a boy". Just a month later, the twenty year old was
dead. She'd been raped, garrotted, her body packed in a suitcase.
Her uncle and father were convicted of ordering the killing. Banaz's sister Bekhal gave evidence
against them. "And all I could say is devilish... that's all
I could say... nothing good. How could somebody think that kind of thing, and actually do
it to their own flesh and blood? Jasvinder Sanghera has a strong sense of the
suffering of Banaz and other victims because she narrowly escaped a forced marriage and
now campaigns against it. She was the sixth of seven daughters, plus
a much favoured son, raised in a close-knit Sikh community.
"This is the house that I grew up in and yeah this is the wall me and my sisters used to
sit on. My dad would be standing at the fence having his crafty cigarettes.
Today, looking at the house, I see nothing but pain in honesty. It's really an empty
shell for me now".
Jasvinder Sanghera describes a claustrophobic upbringing where girls lived by strict rules
or were claimed to bring shame on their family. One by one she saw her older sisters married
off, at about fourteen or fifteen years of age. "I watched at least three of my sisters
being taken out of school and then being taken abroad to marry a stranger. They'd disappear.
They'd come back as somebody's wife. Their appearance changed. They'd wear a wedding
ring on their finger and nobody was seeing this as abnormal, it
was just a normality".
When her sisters complained of beatings by their husbands, her mother
would insist their duty was to stay in the marriages.
Then one day after school, fourteen year old Jasvinder was shown a photo of the man her
parents declared she would marry. "And then she told me that I was promised
to him from the age of eight and I just looked at her, not taking it seriously.
I took an overdose and one of my sisters said 'If you think you're going to get out of it
that way, you've got another thing coming'. Everywhere I turned they were just sending
me back in and I felt isolated... suicidal. I felt completely trapped".
"The bedroom there with the window slightly ajar, is the room where my family locked me
in the room there when I said I wouldn't marry the person. They took me out of school and
I was held a prisoner in that room for a long time". "How long for?""I can't remember the
exact time. It was a number of weeks, but I remember planning my own escape".
When she eventually did run away, her mother said Jasvinder was dead to her.
Jasvinder now runs a charity called Karma Nirvana that tries to prevent honour crimes
and supports victims. On a tour through her old neighbourhood, she worries about girls
suffering at the hands of their families, just like she did.
She wants schools to be
more alert to the signs, in particular, unexplained absences. "If you're Asian and missing from
education, the same questions are not asked as the white counterparts here in Britain,
and that has not changed because we know there are hundreds go missing off our school rolls.
Maybe they're not being forced into marriage but the point is, ask the question and look
into it. They're not even doing that".
What's being recorded as truancy may well
be punishment by parents or being sent overseas to be married much earlier than the legal
age in Britain. In 2008 the British Government reviewed school records to see how many pupils
had gone missing. "They discovered hundreds, hundreds of young
girls and by that I mean eleven, twelve, thirteen year olds who would just disappear off the
school rolls". The prosecutor says no one knows how many
of those girls were taken from their country. "Imagine the fear, you're a British born and
bred schoolgirl and sent to the airport. You know you're being
sent to marry a man you've never met, in a different country. Or maybe you don't know.
Many girls think they're going on an exciting family trip, only to discover the truth later.
Many girls go on the school holidays and simply never return. What about those ones who do
suspect? What can they do here, their last chance to avoid a life not of their own choosing".
Police and security are being trained to spot young women who may be in trouble. Jasvinder
Sanghera's son-in-law Anup Manota, represents the charity Karma Nirvana. His message is
that alert officers can save lives and that sometimes passengers will take desperate measures.
So as the last resort we always said the 'spoon in the knickers' technique... if you have
that suspicion and you don't want to go, and you have that doubt.
The idea of hiding a metal object to trigger security alarms was suggested by a counsellor
at the Karma Nirvana help line, advising a desperate young woman on her way to a forced
"So the call handler said, put a spoon in your knickers, which when you go through security it will go off and at that point you're going
to be stopped by a security guard, and say I'm being forced to marry". "And did she?""Which
is exactly what she did and it saved her life".
One of the volunteers is Sal, a vision-impaired Muslim university student. Her desire to leave
home for student accommodation led to harassment and rejection by some members of her family.
It's seen as dishonourable, a girl wanting to do these things, a girl wanting to gain
this independence is seen as dishonourable in Asian families. I mean I don't think what
I've done is dishonourable, and you know, I'm proud of my roots, I'm proud of being
Pakistani and I'm proud of my religion. What I'm not proud of is the way that people kind
of manipulate culture and religion and kind of, and you know, as a result of that sort
of honour based violence occurs. Sal says that despite abuse and forced marriages,
many girls choose to stay with their families. Losing your family is really, really difficult.
It's not -- you know, even though I might be in touch with sort of distant members of
my family, often losing that immediate family is really hard. It's really difficult to cope
with. But one senior Sikh figure says while a huge
problem exists, it's not in his community. It is just a big misunderstanding of who Sikhs
are..." Veteran journalist Indarjit Singh, was appointed to the House of Lords two years
ago -- a measure of the importance of the Sikh community. He insists honour-based abuse
is not a major issue for his community. There is no honour code, I don't know this
is all jargon that is borrowed. Jasvinder Sanghera is a prominent campaigner
with a Sikh background, and she tells a story of... she has made a
career out of saying these things! Are you saying that what she's saying did not happen?
To get a full picture, you need to look at the wider picture. If she looks at her own
family background and then expands from there, that is wrong. That does seem to
contradict accounts we've had from people within the Sikh community that there is a
problem? So those sort of things occur, I wouldn't
dismiss them for a moment, but it is the exaggerating,
The British Government is so alarmed by the frequency of violence that it plans to criminalise
forced marriages, like Australia did earlier this year, and the Foreign Office has a special
forced marriage unit which attempts to track down British citizens taken overseas.
And there's another significant problem. And there's another significant problem. Some
Asian officers subscribe to the traditional honour code.
I'm not saying they can't properly investigate, I'm saying they don't wish to investigate
it. They may have the same ideological view as
the suspect family. What about you as a Sikh? Are you feeling
divorced from your community? I think it would be fair to say I was divorced
from my community, using your words. And when I say 'my community', I'm talking about community
leaders because they're the drivers, they don't wish for me to speak publicly on these
and other issues on which I do so frequently. They are from a generation that's completely
different from mine. They have come from an Indian sub-continent and there's a vast gulf
separating the two
Today, honour crime campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera enjoys life on her own terms as a mother of
three. Her eldest daughter Natasha is a lawyer and expecting a child
Natasha married for love in a ceremony blending the old and the new.
Jasvinder needed to learn from scratch about the Sikh customs, never having had her own
traditional wedding. It was a bittersweet day. No one was there
from Jasvinder's family. Running away to avoid a forced marriage caused a deep rift. Thirty
years on, most of Jasvinder's remaining relatives still shun her.
"When I think that had she not have made that choice, then a lot of the other things
that ... well, the life that we've all lived, me and my brother and my sister would not
be the same.... I probably wouldn't have been able to study in the same way that I did.
I wouldn't have made the same career choices that I did....."
How do you feel about your mum and everything she's gone through?" "Immensely proud. I don't
think I could be prouder of my mum and we're just like, you know, best friends
really, and I think it's because of my mum's experiences".
For many British-Asian women there will be no fairy tale wedding. The notion of family
honour will continue to dictate whom they marry and when - and even where the marriage
will take place. Not a happy ending.