Samina Younis’s compelling biography charts her courageous attempt to escape from the shackles of her strict family
All my life I felt like I was trapped, tied down, controlled.
Growing up, my parents thought it was their duty as Muslims to be controlling over their children. Correction: over their daughters. My father would have his favorite slipper ready and waiting for when we entered the room to beat us with if we did something wrong, or even to just get our attention. As for my brothers, in my parents’ eyes they could do nothing wrong. Deep down I knew this wasn’t normal. Especially when my parents brought my younger brother a computer to help him with his education, whilst I had to learn the fine art of chapatti making. But, I couldn’t do anything about it.
When you’re a child, you think the world of your parents. However, when my parents died, all I felt was relief, especially when my dad passed away.
I was so scared of him – but the all of a sudden my sisters and I had freedom. We could watch whatever we wanted on the television, stay up late, and even call our friends on the house phone…but my elder sisters made sure these liberties didn’t last long.
I was 16 and it was the summer after my mum passed away. My sisters decided we should take a trip to Pakistan to pay our respects to where our parents were buried. Within hours of returning from the graveyard, we were visited by family who seemed to have a keen interest in me, complimenting me and telling me how beautiful I was. I knew what they came for. My whole life was being planned out before me and I could do nothing but sit there and let it unfold before my eyes. This wasn’t a break, or a holiday. It was business.
My sisters made it very clear that my marriage was going to happen, even though they could see me crying and sobbing in protest. I had to go through with it. I had no choice. I don’t know how many times I made the mistake of trying to speak my sisters, getting them to understand, and how frequently it was slapped in my face with emotional blackmail of how this is what our parents would’ve wanted. I would often hear about the responsibility I had to bring the two families together, as prior to this we never got on. The boy in question was my father’s cousin’s son, and apparently it was my father's aunt’s dying wish for our families to be united again. So I had no choice but to agree, for the sake of the family. That was what I was told.
He was 18, came from a poor family, was completely uneducated and didn’t speak a word of English. He told me he loved me at our first meeting. How could he say that, he didn’t know anything about me? There was probably a physical attraction from him but I didn’t feel any and I knew that love was something else. I knew he only said those things because he wanted to marry me, but my mind couldn’t see beyond his unwashed salwar kameez. I ‘agreed’ to an engagement on the basis that I could go to college when I returned to England, and my sisters reluctantly accepted.
Coming out of an all girls’ school and going to a mixed college was such a daunting and exciting experience. I could be myself and talk to my friends about anything, whereas at home, I spoke only when spoken to. Eventually I started wearing English clothes, which annoyed my sisters as we were all expected to wear the traditional salawar kameez. They didn’t like it and would occasionally hit me because of it. Eventually they gave in because they knew I was engaged and they couldn’t do anything about it. I was becoming a woman. But it wasn’t even about the freedom to dress how I wanted. It was about being able to emotionally open up to someone and to be my own person. My friends had so much confidence in the way they talked and I wanted that. When I was growing up I was always told that I was ugly. My mum would say wish regularly that I was dead at birth because I wasn’t born a male. I think they thought if I believed I was ugly, I wouldn’t do anything wrong like go out and get a boyfriend which would have brought shame on the family.
Then a friend of mine introduced me to a chat room site on the Internet. She said it would be a great way to boost my confidence. And it did. I spoke to some really interesting people, but there was this one guy who really stood out. He was so different, so sweet and so unlike the way my dad described British guys; irresponsible, non- religious sex addicts.
We spoke via email for a long time, almost a year, because I wanted to be cautious. I didn’t know if I could trust him. But the more we spoke, it was clear to me that he had a kind heart. Eventually I got a mobile phone. It felt so scary speaking to a guy on the phone especially as my twin sister and I used to share it. We used to speak, but I would have to delete the messages and numbers incase the mobile was found by any other family member. In time we met up. I had to lie to my sister, saying I was at college until late. I was so afraid she might follow me and see us together. We lived such a sheltered life, they only time we left the city was to go to Pakistan and that was it. But I wanted to see the world! And he showed me a bit of that.
He would take me to the cinema, or to the takeaway. I had never been to the cinema before or even had a takeaway. He would take me to Birmingham, to visit Asian stores and buy clothes for me. My friends had always spoke about shopping there, and for so long I’d wanted to do that, to be normal and I could with him I could. But with most things in my life, my happiness didn’t last long. I was having dinner with him when I received one of the most unforgettable phonecalls of my life. It was my younger brother. This was it, game over. He was furious, shouting at me saying how the family knows about me and my relationship. He was upset and he was making it clear that my brother-in-laws would greet us with sticks if we came home. Apparently my other brother who is a year younger than me hacked into my email and found my most intimate and personal conversations with my boyfriend. I was terrified and lost complete control. I didn’t know what to do. If I went home, I would’ve got beaten up badly, or worse, sent to Pakistan.
My friend was studying at university at the time, and offered me a place to stay. It was just one of those moments. I didn’t have anything with me apart from my handbag and the clothes I was wearing. I didn’t have anyone else to turn to, so we just left. I knew I would never see my family again and it was one of the hardest moments of my life.
If you would like to read more about Samina Younis and her courageous story, read her biography; Shackled To My Family, available as an eBook, or paperback from Amazon.
Interview by Aneesa Malik