Sana: From Pakistan to the UK, my life was controlled by men
Sana was born in Pakistan and moved to Birmingham in 2005, after being forced into marriage. She identifies as a lesbian and is currently living in London as an asylum seeker. Back in Karachi, Pakistan, my
Sana was born in Pakistan and moved to Birmingham in 2005, after being forced into marriage. She identifies as a lesbian and is currently living in London as an asylum seeker.
Back in Karachi, Pakistan, my mum never had time for me. Our house was male-dominated and the men had control over everything. She spent her time making their lives better.
You know how when you come back from school, and your family ask you how your day was? In my house, no. Nothing. When I had good grades, nobody would appreciate it. I always wanted to be a gynaecologist or a midwife. And my uncle always used to say to me, “You can dream on. After you are ten, you are going to cook aloo gosht”.
It was very depressing. My mum used to tell me not to stay with the boys, come inside the kitchen, go and give them tea. She was always busy; this is the time for tea, this is the time for lunch, this is the time for cooking, cleaning, cooking, cleaning.
By 16 years old, I was desperate to meet another female personality. My mum never told me anything about puberty, or getting my period. It was my best friend in school, Hadia, who told me all of that. In my break time, I could lay my shoulder on her, and just talk to her. Everybody in our school thought we were best friends.
I knew I was attracted to girls, but I didn’t know the word ‘homosexual’ until I searched it on Wikipedia. I found my feelings terribly disturbing and tried to stop them. I knew it was not normal to have those sexual desires for my best friend. I was scared and terrified of realising that I am attracted to her.
This sexual attraction towards my best friend turned me as a possessive and depressed person. I could not accept that I was homosexual and I tried to deny these feelings. The situation was unbearable- my class performance was getting bad, I hated my school homework and hated myself. There was a huge fear of my family finding out especially my father and uncles. I knew if my father and other family members found out that I was homosexual, I would be killed.
Leaving Pakistan, forced into marriage
When I was 18 years old, I had one aunt who lived in Birmingham. She came to our house, and she brought her son to Pakistan. He was seven years older than me. She said to my parents, “Sana is the only girl in the family. I want you to give me your daughter.” But, I wasn’t ready. I was in year nine, and I had my biology exam. But my mum said, “you know what, tomorrow you’ve got to be ready for your matrimony contract, your nikkah.”
I said, “Mum, have you seen me having an affair with a boy? Have you seen me writing a letter to a boy? I’ve been a good girl, why are you sending me away?” She said, “It’s not my decision. It’s your uncle’s decision. Tomorrow you’ve got to be ready.”
Immediately I went and explained to my father that I didn’t want to get married. I said, “If I am not allowed to go to school I wish to get home schooling.” My father and uncle started beating me up and they said, “how did I manage to gather the strength to come in front of them and reject their decision?”. They locked me in a room for almost nine hours.
In October 2004, I got married, though it wasn’t until April 2005 that I left Pakistan and came to live in the UK. With that boy, there was a language barrier. There were no conversation, nothing at all. Afterwards, I came to know he had a criminal report and had spent time in prison. When he came out of prison, his mum said “I’m gonna sort you out, you’re gonna get married. When you have a wife, you have a responsibility and your life will be changed”. Now I was the girl who needed to change his life.
As I landed in Heathrow, I was trying to talk myself out of the feelings I had for Hadia because in Islam, it is haram, forbidden. If anybody came to know, I’d be persecuted, there would be ‘honour killing’. I was praying, “Okay God, let me just come out of the situation I left in Pakistan and concentrate only on my married life”.
I thought my husband would be at the airport, but my mother-in-law was at the airport with my husband’s uncle. His sister taught me what would happen on the first day, how you’re gonna have your husband touch you and everything. And you know what my mother-in-law did? When I had my first night she lay a white sheet down. I didn’t know it at the time, that this was a test. She said, “Mum is gonna lay a white sheet, just so when you have sex, the bed won’t get dirty, the mattress won’t get dirty.”
He was so big sexually, that I couldn’t take it. He did not listen to me. At first, I’d say “can you just leave me? Like I can’t bear it any more, it’s hurting me.” And forcefully he pushed me. In the morning, I could not sit properly.
After a couple of weeks living with my in-laws I was treated as a maid. They used to make me work so hard. I used to wake up at six-o-clock. My father-in-law worked at night, and he’d come at five-o-clock, I used to give breakfast to him. Then my mother would say “can you give me breakfast as well?” Then I used to hoover the house. Then before leaving for school I needed to make sure the house was neat and tidy. I was exhausted.
I was studying as well because they had already made a promise to my mum back home in Pakistan that they would let me. But my mother-in-law so wanted me to fail. I was pushing myself, I can do it, I can do it. I can do it, in a house with a husband who wouldn’t love me, though I was there because of him.