One Sunday morning I was driving my children back from their regular soccer game. It was a warm summer day, sun shining ever so brightly, making the uneven town picturesque. As I drove along in my Holden with rigid brown seats and the windscreen wipers that didn’t work, I looked over to my sixteen year old daughter sitting next to menodding and shaking her head rhythmically to, in her words, ‘legendary’ music band One Direction. An image of Asreen flashed through my mind…
…“Kiran?” the voice on my mobile phone was barely more than a whisper. “Kiran? Is that you?” .The train ride back home was a typical for Friday eveningIt was very busy Friday evening train ride back from work, “Are you able to speak up a little?” I asked, raising my own voice overagainst loud chatterschatters from fellow passengers and rattling noise from the train.
“I found your number in Indus Age, My – ” the line went suddenly went dead. Indus Age is a local monthly newspaper. iIt has largest circulation to Indian and South East Asian community in the country. I was interviewed a week ago concerning about my plight with honour based violence. After two years of lengthy legal proceeding over evidence of injury which included tampered medical records I managed to get a divorce. I was sure that such crimeshonour based violence against women was prevalent and practiced behind closed doors, after my divorce I wanted to assist other women in similar situation and have my phone number published in the newspaper.
I thought I lost her but then, few minutes later, she was back. “Sorry I had to hang up I thought someone was coming. My parents are forcing me to marry a 35 year old man who I don’t even know. I am a prisoner in my own house. I can’t take it any longer. I need help.” She stopped for breath. “Please help me,” she said in a trembling voice. She sounded frantic; it seemed that she was at the mercy of her family.
I didn’t know who I was talking to but I knew I had to help. I spoke quickly, “Can you get out? There are all sorts of help available if you can get out.” I knew from my own experience that if a girl has made up her mind to run she usually finds a way to do it. This woman could be anywhere in the country but she was desperate and I had to reassure her. “There is help for you,.” I said. “There are women refuge houses, people to support. I would support you. You’ll be okay.”
“But how…Wait, that’s Dad. He’s coming. I have to go” Her phone went dead.
I felt anxiousiety, my pulse shot up as I tried as best I could to get on with my daily household choresroutine and parental responsibilities. Later in thethat evening while I was preparing dinner my phone rang again. I tried hard to understand but couldn’t make out anything except the gasping sound panting. I turned off my range-hood and enquired, “Hello?”
“It’s me, Asreen,” she spoke, her voice penetrating as if she was right next to me. “I did it, I ran away”
“Where are you?”
“Asreen, you have to call the police. DailDial 000” I had put my phone on speaker as I washed my hands.
“No, I don’t want police. My family will never see me again. My community will disown me,” she said claimed almost hysterical.
I could imagine why Asreen didn’t want police to be involved. She was in a state of fear and frustration. Her parents who loved her dearly until very recently changed overnight and now consider family’s honour more important than that of their daughter’s well-being and happiness.
“Meet me at Redfern railway station in 45 minutes,.” I said cleaning up my kitchen.
“Please don’t be late,.” she hung up.
I called on my children and explained them that I need to go out on an emergency. I drove as fast as I could past the motorway speeding up to maximum limit. I reached Redfern at 8 p.m. it was crowded, people pushing one another to get ahead in line. Few country trains hurried past while the intercity trains stopped at the platform for passengerss dark and deserted. I walked across the automatic ticket machine to find myself staring at a tall slim woman leaning against the closed door humming what I could understand a very popular song. from Justin Beiber.
She looked no more than sixteen dressed in a traditional outfit her head was covered in a veil. I caught her eye and she smiled and then waved at me.
“Kiran,” she said enthusiastically.
“Yes.” I walked closer I could see her eyes swollen lips dried smeared make up over her face. I offered her a bottle of water and walked with her to my car. No one spoke, the two minute walk felt like an eternity.
Breaking the silence she spoke softly, “Thank – thank you Kiran. You saved my life. I read your story and only after I spoke to you I found courage to leave my house.”
I didn’t know what to say, I was in a state of shock. I felt rage I could barely focus on my driving I wanted to say something. Asreen continued, “There were bolts on all doors and someone from the family was always home. I didn’t know how to get out. And if I did, where would I go?”
We talked about family, food, school, fashion and many other issues on our way back. We talked as if we were best friends and had known each other for many years. I introduced Asreen to my children Maya and Vicky and offered her rice and lamb curry for dinner. It was close to midnight she looked very tired and fell asleep as soon as she sat on the lounge.
I imagined her situation; it was her mother who arranged her marriage. She grew up knowing that one day the subject of her marriage would come up but didn’t expect it when she was sixteen. She was one of the smartest girls in her school; she wanted to become a psychiatrist. One day when her parents woke her up and told her that she was going to get engaged Asreen said bluntly, “But I don’t want to.”
For the next few days I enquired at women’s refuge centre, department of community services, legal aid and other community based organisations. What followed was another court proceeding lasting more than 12 weeks. I became Asreen’s foster parent while she continued her education. Later that year Asreen and I started Honour to help other women from South East Asian family facing honour based violenceI sat next to her contemplating on the events of the day. I wanted to help Asreen and reach out to other women in similar situations confronting criticism and oppression from inside their communities and often close family members for not being obedient to the traditional rules set by men for thousands of years.
“Are you alright?” Asreen said waking up suddenly. I realised that I accidentally dropped my glass on the wooden floor breaking it into pieces. “Why can’t I live like any other sixteen year old girls? Why can’t I have boy-friends like girls from my school?” she cried while cleaning up broken pieces of glass.
It was close to two, I was so exhausted I could barely feel any strength in my legs. I could hear Asreen’s voice slowly fading away. With my eyes closed I tried to seek explanation for such acts against own daughter.
The issue of status of women is always in question in a patriarchal society. For thousands of years people from Indian sub-continent had considered daughter a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father. Family is vital principal group and marriage hallowed as sacred. Women are deprived of their freedom and those who rebel or go against the norms faces threat the people of the community so much so that they are even killed for honour. …perhaps this comes out as it makes it like a newspaper article, not a narrative.
… As we arrived home I hugged my daughter tightly and said with tears running down my cheeks, “I love you.” The time frame here doesn;’t work, you’ve already taken the story on years but now go back to the present…