Honour abuse victim speaks out as Leeds charity receives 50,000 calls for help
Nisha* woke up one morning to find herself wracked with pain and unable to move.
Battered and bruised, a lifetime of beatings, bullying and violence had finally taken its toll and her body simply gave up.
Tragically, Nisha’s injuries had come at the hands of those closest to her, the result of years of systematic abuse by her own family.
Now aged 22, having escaped her family home, she is determined that other young victims of honour-based violence don’t have to suffer and is bravely working with a Leeds charity to give them the choices she fought so hard for.
Attending conferences, where she speaks about her ordeal, Nisha helps educate organisations and businesses about how they can empower women to speak up and make their voices heard.
Speaking exclusively to the YEP, she said: “That’s a big thing for me because of everything I have gone through. It’s a big deal to have the courage to speak up.”
Like most young girls, Nisha had dreamed of going to university, getting a job and forging a career for herself. But her family had plotted a different path for her and were determined she would marry, cook, clean and be a “good wife”. As a consequence, from an early age, she was subjected to insults, intimidation and brutal beatings. She said: “I was so tired, beaten and abused that I couldn’t even walk.
“From a young age, I was told I was ‘an ugly child’. I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair or wear nice clothes.
“At 13, I was handed over all the duties of the house to know how to cook and clean to be more ‘suitable’ for a husband.
“I was a walking, talking robot that did the chores for everyone.
“All I was doing in life was to ‘get a good husband’. But I wanted an education.”
As she grew up, Nisha fantasised about ways to end her life in a bid to find an escape from the abuse.
“I used to look at the knives and think about cutting my wrists,” she said.
“I felt like, ‘what’s the point carrying on?’ Nothing made my parents happy.”
She made the difficult decision to attend university in secret, commuting six hours a day and working four jobs to get by.
But when her family found out, things took a turn for the worse.
She said: “I started to get threats from my family. I didn’t want that. All I wanted was to get an education.”
After her friends received threats too, Nisha called the police. “It’s hard to get anyone to believe you. You don’t know where to go. You are constantly scared. You have to make a choice.”
Thankfully Nisha reached out to Leeds-based charity Karma Nirvana, which gave her the support and advice she needed to move on with her life.
It’s been four years since Nisha spoke to her family, but she has gone on to get two degrees, a job and has made a new life for herself in West Yorkshire.
She added: “I thought to myself, ‘there is more to life’. I didn’t want to be a lost woman who couldn’t speak up.”
Nisha now works with Karma Nirvana to help victims of honour-based violence and forced marriage.
The charity took 126 calls from victims in Leeds in 2015, and 358 from the West Yorkshire area.
The shocking statistic contributes to the 6,700 calls received nationally, including 190 pregnant victims – seven of whom were under the age of 15 – and 182 calls from victims with a learning difficulty or disability.
The figures have actually fallen year-on-year – which charity founder Jasvinder Sanghera blames on under-reporting.
“Without a doubt, Leeds has more cases than what we are seeing reflected in the figures,” she said.
“The worrying thing is there are young people across the city that don’t know that forced marriage is a criminal offence and it is wrong. They have been taught to be silent.
“It is under-reported and we have a duty to bring it above the ground.
“We want an increase in the number of cases being reported, to reduce isolation and ultimately save lives.”
In a bid to tackle the problem, the charity is hosting talks in schools to raise awareness of the issue.
Last year, Karma Nirvana visited 18 schools, with 14 schools going on to refer 36 students to the helpline.
Jasvinder, who is a survivor of honour abuse, said: “Emotional blackmail is huge in these cases.
“Either you are going to be raped on your wedding night or you are going to be disowned by your family. Lots of young people are faced with that choice.
“I have been disowned for 35 years and have three children now. They are never going to inherit the history of abuse that I had.”
*Nisha’s name has been changed to protect her identity.