Following the story about Faryal Khan speaking out about the treatment she has faced and continues to face from her in-laws, I was inspired to share my story to help raise awareness and show that this happens all too often.
My husband caught my eye at a wedding and things started out like a fairytale. He was the most charming man I had met – caring, reassuring, encouraging me to confide my insecurities and intimate details about myself and my family. I felt like this is what I was waiting for all my life.
Little did I know that my dreams of marriage, a family and a happy home with a man who loves me, would all turn into my worst nightmare. Leading up to our wedding, I used all my savings and splashed out on a lavish wedding because this was his dream and I wanted to make him happy.
A few days later, while on our honeymoon, he said he was going to change his mobile number and wanted mine to be changed because it was a new start. During our honeymoon he also told me he wanted me to resign from my job, because he wanted me to work for "his company" when he decided to open it. Every instruction by him seemed to have valid reasoning so I never dreamed of questioning him.
From the moment we got back home, I noticed my mother-in-law's attitude change completely towards me. No longer was there praise and adoration for her new daughter-in-law, as was played out in front of my family members, instead there was hate and resentment. She made it clear that "my son will always love his mother first; a wife is nothing in comparison".
As weeks went by, it became my duty to cook for the family of six – including fresh breakfasts, lunches and dinners – making shopping lists ready for whenever I would be taken accompanied by a family member, and washing everyone's clothes (I even learned whose underwear belonged to whom).
Over time, my mother-in-law became more and more picky about things that didn't exist, such as creases on the bed sheets or apparent splashes of water around the kitchen sink. When I would go to clean up after apologising to her, I would find that it was spotless. She deliberately set standards which were impossible to achieve and then filled my husband's ear about how my mother never taught me how to be a good housewife. The rest of the family just watched or joined in. Eventually I would get hit for incomplete tasks or not having been completed to the standard they expected.
I wasn't allowed to see my niece when she was born, or go to my grandmother's funeral when she passed away.
My phone and bank card were taken away from me, and passwords were changed on my social media accounts, laptop and iPad – so none were available to me anymore. It was made very clear to me very early on in my marriage that because I did not bring more dowry, they needed to punish me. I was refused access to friends and family – I wasn't allowed to see my niece when she was born, or go to my grandmother's funeral when she passed away. I still hate myself for this to this day.
Life became a monotonous realm of fear, waking up with a list of chores to complete from 6am until 2am. I would pray that they would wake up in a good mood because if they were in a bad mood, even if there was perfection surrounding them, I would be attacked. This could be for the way I looked, being a cheap bride, not being a good cook, or for nothing at all. My mother-in-law would give me chores until the early hours whilst my husband would sleep. Once I was locked out of our marital room, so I slept outside the bathroom on a towel on the floor.
I wasn't allowed to register with a GP because I was accused of potentially sleeping with him or her, or snitching on my in-laws. When we did go out, I was too scared to look up in public because I would be accused for "knowing" this guy, or be "checking him out". One time we went to the cinema as a family and my husband pinched my upper arm extremely hard, commenting "You slut. How dare you look at him with so much lust?" about the actor on the screen. He would then give me the silent treatment to show he was angry in front of his family, who in turn would hurl abuse at me for upsetting their son.
They became better and better at this game – and I became weaker as the time went by. I was told to always smile at family gatherings, especially photos for their social media. If I did not, I would be beaten, such was their power to show the world what a "good" family they were and to ensure no one would believe me if I dared to speak out.
I accepted my life to be their forever slave – until the police started to come by. Immediately they started to change, making fake promises, crying and begging me never to leave. I should have found the strength to say no but I wanted to believe them – even though deep down I knew it was all an act.
One time we went to the cinema as a family and my husband pinched my upper arm extremely hard, commenting "You slut. How dare you look at him with so much lust?" about the actor on the screen.
I eventually left the marital home but sadly things didn't end there. They still won't leave me alone and fabricate stories about my character to tarnish my reputation in my community – which is too difficult to ignore. They have publicly protested that I am a liar and even a "fallen" woman.
They repeatedly come to me in my dreams, making the trauma very real and difficult to move on from. I am trying to get back on track but I'm still nowhere near the finish line. After attempting to take my own life several times, I am seeing counsellors and psychiatrists to help with my fears and nightmares. I've got a long way to go – but I am grateful for having left that life as a slave living in constant fear.
My biggest support by my side has been my family, and the support I received from The Sharan Project – who believed me. Without them both I wouldn't be alive today. We all need to stand together and call out this behaviour for what it is - abuse.
If you have been affected by any of the issues here, contact The Sharan Project firstname.lastname@example.org
Sara Ahmadi is a pseudonym. The writer is a British Pakistani Muslim who works in the health sector.
The original blog can be found here