I recently got interviewed by someone who misquoted me when I told him my story so this is my version:
A brave survivor and mental health campaigner has spoken out of the honour-abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents.
Asha Iqbal, 30, says she was shamed into silence for years about the hidden physical abuse she grew up with and years of emotional abuse she endured.
The years of honour abuse that Asha had faced included being condemned for the so-called westernised clothes she dressed in, wearing makeup and how her hair was cut. She recently had one of her siblings shame her for campaigning about mental health and using her own personal experiences to do this, her sibling claimed it brought shame to the family and this is what led to the explosive evening that changed Asha’s life.
Despite been subtly manipulated and groomed since a young age to behave in a certain way, Asha was in denial after being conditioned into thinking it was part of the Pakistani culture.
She finally managed to break free months ago after calling the police following an explosive argument with some of her family. Asha felt like she had no other option but to put a stop to her abuse by walking away even if it meant leaving behind everything she had known.
Asha only had half an hour to grab a bag of belongings because of the hostile environment – taking her passport, laptop and bank card along with a handful of clothes.
It came weeks after her parents had attempted to coerce her into a family holiday to Pakistan in August this year and following an explosive arguement started by one of her siblings who claimed Asha was bringing shame to the family with her mental health work.
Although her parents never directly said they had lined someone up for her, she knew it was on the cards because her dad wanted “to please” certain people. She felt like she was part of the cattle in a market and that is what her relationship was like with her parents. Asha only had support from one of her siblings who was the only one that supported her decision in not forming to cultural expectations by realising her worth was more than a marriage certification.
Asha had anxiety and moments where she felt suicidal because of the harrowing ordeal she has been through as well as the social isolation she had felt following her escape. She had been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the years of abuse she faced, which had resulted in many flashbacks but Asha has overcome this with the right support from mental health services. This is something she has managed to overcome and abled her to help other survivors and victims in introducing a support group for survivors of abuse in West Yorkshire. Asha is hoping to bring survivors together to celebrate usual family events, which they would have spent with their famalies but end up in isolation following abuse.
Growing up in a South Asian community as a Muslim, Asha says she saw young girls and boys being whisked off to Pakistan whilst still teenagers and returning married.
She claims many victims believe it to be a way of life and accept it as part of the culture and family tradition they live in.
At the age of around 17, Asha witnessed a traumatic event involving her siblings which led to her thinking marriage was on the cards.
She also read the book Shame written by Karma Nirvana founder Jasvinder Sanghera which was the first time Asha recognised she was a victim of honour-abuse.
“I was in denial because I thought it was part of the culture and everyone around you in the community and your own family will make you feel like it’s completely normal,” she added.
“But you know yourself that it’s not normal to have anxiety or be in fear of going home.
“You don’t realise how much a victim needs to hear the survivor stories. I think I would have been married by aged 18 if it wasn’t for hearing victim stories.
“A lot of people are so afraid of offending communities that they don’t bring it forward.”
Asha desperately tried to break free from the clutches of her traditional family who attempted to control every aspect of her life and at one point aged around 19 lived in a women’s refuge.
But she was lured back on the promise things would change, however, Asha quickly realised she had been lied to.
“I was a different person and stronger after coming back from the women’s refuge, this time I knew my rights and knew I could walk away,” she added.
“It continued for many years, every time I started a job my parents pressured me to quit and try tired to get me to remain at home and be a good obediant lass. Reasons for wanting me to quit would simply be if it was far too far from home or if I was coming back late home and late was usually 9pm! but I had ambitions I wanted to be somebody out of the four walls of home!”
“What they kept promising me was they would get me a small house nearby as long as I listened to them and did exactly what they said.
“That’s how it works in a lot of Asian families but there is always a hidden meaning behind it. They may give you a house but there is a condition.”
Asha has battled her own personal mental health for a number of years and began campaigning through her mental health organisation ‘Generation Reform’ to break down barriers and stigmas within communities using her own experiences – much to the disgust of her family.
She said: “As communities we need to change the usual culture we live in, I think a lot of South Asian families create a culture where they rely on family and they aren’t taught to be independent and think for themselves.
“We set certain expectations on ourselves and we shouldn’t do, we set expectations on others as well and it’s quite prominent in the Asian community.
“We have expectations of Asian women to be a certain way, to be obedient women, dress modestly, spoken in a certain way, married at a certain age, doing a certain career the family approves of. The communties that embed this in their famalies need to change their way of thinking as the pressure of this culture can be tough to live within.
Months prior to Asha’s escape, Asha’s parents attempted to persuade her into quitting her job and going on a family holiday to Pakistan which she says was a tactic to marry.
“They didn’t say certain things directly to me. I heard from certain people including my siblings that certain people are quite interested,” she added.
“To be honest knowing my dad, he liked to please certain people but I knew if I ended up there I would get married.
“There was never love there whatsoever, my dad would never come up to me and ask how things are going, that’s the relationship we had.
“I was the only single one left in the family, the only one fighting the whole culture.”
But she has gone on to criticise the lack of support she received after leaving home and how she was left to her own devices for a week with no support from services due to her not wanting to press charges.
“I had a whole week where I was left to my own devices and was the one who had to refer myself to safeguarding.
“It shouldn’t be the victim having to step up for themselves and fight for their own recovery and safety.
“The emotional blackmail that you face as well, it’s so crucial to have that support around you.
“It was hard to open up and you are relying on professionals to help you in your recovery and for me personally it would have helped if I was informed of the help offered by charities like Karma Nirvana.
“I was very lucky that I had an amazing landlady and a best friend, who offered me more help than professionals did.”