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Pak brides face death for choosing groom

Within a week of the killing of the 21-year-old Sahda Bibi, another killing of a bride, Balqis Akhtar who studied in Birmingham has been reported.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2003 22:27 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt

Fear has mounted for young British Asian women who want to marry against the wishes of their family. Within a week of the killing ofthe 21-year-old Sahda Bibi, minutes before she was to be married on January 11, another killing of a bride who studied in Birmingham has been reported.

Balqis Akhtar, 20, was a student in the city college but was sent to Pakistan by her West Midlands-based family for an arranged marriage. It is said she had argued with her father over the marriage before she left. Ten days ago her body was found with two gunshot wounds in Kangar village, near GujanKahn in Pakistan. It has been reported that her father has confessed to the shooting.

Apart from these two murders, it has emerged that a 20-year-old cousin of Sahda, in Keighley, west Yorkshire, had also to be rescued by the policefrom being forced to fly to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. She had beenpleading for marriage with a boyfriend of four years. But she was threatened and was booked to fly to Pakistan.

When police arrived at her family house at 7.30 in the morning, they found her sobbing. She wanted them to take her passport away so the family could not force her to fly to Pakistan. But her brothers said that if herpassport was to be taken she must also go with the police.

At the police station, her boyfriend and his parents told the officersthat if her family did not want her, then "she is part of our family". But she is living in fear.

A few years ago a young woman was burnt as she started seeing amarried man after being forced into a unwilling marriage. Her mother and brother were jailed.

The question cogitating community leaders and social workers is how many brides have to die before the obduracy and cruelty in forced marriages are addressed. The younger generation in the community, like in the Indian families way back in 60s and 70s, are not willing to conform to the strict traditions.

The stabbing to death of the young and pretty seamstress Sahda Bibi in Birmingham while she was almost ready for her marraige ceremony with Zafar Hussein, her "first real love", was explained by her family as an act of an unhinged relative opposed to her marriage.

Although her marriage had the approval of both sets of parents, it was said that the alleged assailant Rafaquat Hussain wanted Sahda to marry some one else from Pakistan. A countrywide manhunt for the alleged assailantfailed to nab him and the police believe that he has already flown to Pakistan. Some say he left for airport after the stabbing.

The police suspect Sahda's killing was another tragic case of a young Muslim murdered for the sake of honour, in her case by a cousin infuriated by her refusal to marry a relative of his from Pakistan.

Authorities say that most such families are unable to accept the independence and western ways of the young. They fear that incidents like the killings in Sahda and Balqis could explode alarmingly because more young people are reaching marriagable age.

The Home Office claims that around 1000 marriages in a year are forced ones. The Government set up in 2000 support groups under the aegis of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It has reportedly dealt with nearly 450 cases and helped repatriate 75 young British people sent out for marriage. Of these75,85 per cent were women.

The problem is most acute in Bradford in north England. There the cells which were opened to received appeals from women under pressure to marry against their wishes have dealt with 300 cases so far. The feeling is thatthis is just the tip of the iceberg.

First Published: Dec 27, 2003 22:27 IST