Asian Sunday is appealing to anyone suffering from ‘honour’ related abuse to speak out and find help

BY Alison Bellamy

A hard hitting new drama, inspired by brutal honour killings in the UK, has been made in the name of victims and the fight for justice.

Extreme violence, threats, rape and in the worst cases, murder awaits those who break family honour or ‘izzat’ by refusing to take part in a forced marriage, with responsibility often at the hands of their closest family members.

Now BBC Three’s factual-based drama Murdered By My Father, is due to air online later this month and is inspired by real life events.

This mix of thriller and romance has been written by young British writer Vinay Patel and ‘bores into the psychology of this hideous crime’, telling the story of the so-called ‘honour’ killing of a 17-year-old girl by her father, in a riveting exploration of how family love and duty can be turned to violence and murder.

Focusing on the bonds of love and grief uniting a daughter with her widower father, as well as his need to control her burgeoning teenage wish for freedom, writer Patel examines this shocking, but surprisingly prevalent crime.

His script is based on the testimonies of a range of individuals as well as charities and institutions set up to deal with the problem of ‘honour’ based violence. It tells how a teenage girl’s crime was to fall in love with the wrong boy, and like hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country, she was constantly in fear of having her tiny acts of deception and rebellion unmasked by her parents.

Vinay Patel
Vinay Patel, Writer of ‘Murdered By My Father’

Patel, from London, said: “It’s a subject that, to me, feels familiar in the ether but not necessarily examined properly and whilst I’m proud to have the opportunity to do that, I moreover recognise the massive responsibility that comes with it.”

The heart-wrenching story about the destructive power of love has shadows of a brutal Romeo and Juliet story for a multicultural Britain. Starring Adeel Ahktar and Kiran Sonia Sawar, it airs just months before first ever national memorial day for victims of honour killings, to be held on July 14, 2016.

Marco Crivellari, development producer, said: “It is a drama about honour killing as it happens, and continues to happen, in the real world. The girls who are killed for honour – and the victims are far more likely to be women than men – come from a range of communities, ethnicities and religions. They are our friends, our colleagues, our schoolmates – their deaths concern all of us, and we have to understand why they happen.

“And it happens a lot – more than any of us involved in the filming ever imagined. Nearly 12,000 cases of ‘honour-based’ violence have been reported in the UK since 2010, including abductions, beatings and an estimated 60 murders – only estimated, because many of the victims of honour-based crime simply disappear on ‘holidays’ to distant homelands that they may never even have seen before.

“We all felt a heavy weight of responsibility to those women as we made this film. They were British girls desperate to resolve the contradictions between the morality of their home – the home they grew up in, Britain – and the morality of a place their parents left behind. It’s awful even to try to imagine the anguish and the terror they must have felt in their last moments, as the people they loved most took their lives from them.”

“The film we’ve made is for them, and we only hope that it does them some justice.”

An estimated 5,000 women across the world are killed each year for bringing ‘shame’ upon their families; at least 12 of these victims are British, but the true figure is thought to be higher. A new law introduced means that forcing a marriage is now a criminal offence, and can mean up to 7 years in prison.

It is shocking that the average age of those responsible is just 22 years old, with uncles, brothers or male relatives taking over as ‘head of the family’, especially where the father is absent.

More prosecutions are happening as the victims, mainly young women, get support from charities such as the Halo Project, Karma Nirvana and Ashiana. On the upside British authorities, including the police, are training in how to deal with ‘forced marriage’.

One area where the crime is prevalent is West Yorkshire, in cities like Bradford and Leeds, where police saw an increase in reported incidents related to forced marriage between 2014 and 2015, with 252 reports in 2015 compared to 234 in 2014. During 2015, 47 crimes were recorded for a variety of offences and 29 Forced Marriage Protection Orders put in place.

Sadly, the thorny issue only ever hits the headlines when there is a tragedy, like the horrific murder of Shafilea Ahmed, 17, who was found dead in a river in Cumbria in 2004, 70 miles from her family home in Warrington. Her parents Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed were charged with her murder after they suffocated her, and are now serving 25 years in prison.

Asian Sunday spoke to Yasmin Khan, founder of the Halo Project. She said:

“Those suffering must speak out. It shocks me that forced marriage and honour abuse still exist here in the UK, in a westernised society.

“The abuse remains hidden but crimes being committed are horrendous and done in the name of ‘honour. If

someone goes missing and is not reported missing by her family, who may be responsible anyway, then who actually cares?

“People are afraid and do not want to go against their families, if they do, they fear they will lose everything, and they

Yasmin Khan of Halo Project
Yasmin Khan of Halo Project

probably will.

Khan explains that suicide rates among Black Minority Ethnic women are also higher than the white British woman: “Often they see no alternative but to end their lives.”

The Pakistani Prime Minister has promised a tougher stance, recently pledging to help change the law.

Nawaz Sharif said perpetrators of so-called honour killings must not be allowed to be forgiven by family members, in a challenge to sharia laws that could trigger a confrontation with religious conservatives.

“This is totally against Islam and anyone who does this must be punished very severely,” Sharif said. “Changing the law is something that needs to be done at the earliest possibility.”

 

Case study

Noreen Iqbal, who is now 18, sought help from Sheffield based charity Ashiana. She said: “When I was 16, my mum told me that my grandmother was very ill in Pakistan and that she wanted to see me. I loved my mother so much and could not say no to her and decided to go to Pakistan. I was so happy that I was Woman Despair Shadowsgoing to see my father’s homeland. I never thought that the two most trustworthy people in my life would deceive me. When I arrived I was shocked to find my grandmother was healthy. I asked why and my mum said that she had recovered.

I felt very strange when lots of people were visiting us giving me funny looks. I felt something was going on but I did not know what it was. Then one day, a lot of relatives came to my grandmother’s house. They were all happy. The women were cooking food and most people were wearing clothes as if going to a wedding. I asked what was happening and my mother told me to go and get ready as I was getting married.

I went to my grandmother’s room and started crying. I asked my gran to tell my mother to stop, but she said she did not know what to do. I approached my father but he said it was the right age for me to get married. I went to my aunties and they refused to help, instead telling me how happy I would be after the marriage. I did not know which one of my cousins I was marrying, but they were all praising him.

I begged my mother to stop it, saying I was too young to get married, but she did not listen and made me marry a stranger. After the marriage I stayed in Pakistan for six months. I told my husband to send me to the UK and then I would arrange his sponsor. He agreed but when I arrived back in the UK, I started to hate my mother and did everything I could, to upset her because she ruined my life. Then my mother started abusing me and forced me to call my husband which I did not want to do. I decided to leave my parents and went to Ashiana for help. I received counselling and applied for an Islamic divorce. I feel a lot stronger now and I am now rebuilding my life and looking into a career in beauty therapy.”