My father tried to murder me “by honour killer daughter” By Fezanna Riley


I remember clearly the first time I feared for my life. My father was visiting my mother and their new baby in hospital, leaving my ten-year-old sister and me at home taking care of the younger children.

The other two babies, aged one and two, were asleep and the original Godzilla film was on television. We were so absorbed that we didn`t hear my father come in.

Hearing my baby sister Farah grizzling in the cot, he strode over to discover her nappy had leaked and her clothes and bedding were a mess. The room shrank as my father loomed, more terrifying than Godzilla, very real and very angry.

Predictably, the verbal and physical abuse was directed solely at me, but although I was used to his assaults, on this night the violence took a terrifying new turn. To my horror, he grabbed a big knife from the kitchen. Roaring that he was going to butcher me like an animal, he pulled my head back by my hair, exposing my neck, and held the knife across my throat.

I was barely conscious, but aware these were the final moments of my life. My sister fell weeping to her knees, begging my father not to kill me. He released me and left us both cleaning up the mess, sobbing in fright. My father had almost murdered me. I was six years old.

I grew up being called a bitch, a bastard and an idiot. I answered to a variety of names that roughly translated into the same thing. Sali, harami, haramzadi, kameeni were the insults in Urdu that I was most familiar with. Bhahenchode (sisterf***er) and maaderchode (motherf***er) were ones I heard frequently, but only understood years later.

My mother rarely disciplined me, but if necessary she would administer a reprimand or a slap. To my father, however, that was child&£39;s play. A punch with a closed fist inflicted far more pain.

He would drag me around the room by my hair, punching me and battering my head against hard objects. Sometimes he would choke me, releasing his grip just before I lost consciousness. Or he would hurl my body against a wall, a door, a hard floor. He would use his fists and feet and anything he could lay his hands on: a belt, a boot, toy car tracks.

Perhaps things might have been different for me if, like my elder sister, I had been able to form a relationship with my father before he emigrated. I was a few months old when he left Pakistan to prepare for our new life in England. He arrived here in the Sixties with £6 in his pocket to take up a job in the Courtaulds factory on the outskirts of Preston, Lancashire, leaving his young wife and two daughters in the care of his parents in Karachi.

I was three when I saw him again. By then he was simply a face on a photograph to me. When we came to join him, my shyness must have felt like a rejection to him, and it wasn&£39;t long before my cowering angered him. He&£39;d shout at my mother to keep me out of his way and turned all his attention and affection to my sister. I remember a singularly joyless and unhappy childhood of crockery hurled against walls, smashed windows, verbal abuse, screams of terror and deathly silence in the aftermath.

Throughout my childhood we had little contact with Preston`s Muslim community. For all his faults, my father believed in integration and used to say that if you look or behave differently, people don&£39;t understand you. Most of my own friends were English, and as we got older and marriage became a prospect, news of our eligibility did not seem to reach the Pakistani marital grapevine.

Many Pakistani parents returned to the `homeland` to find spouses for their offspring, but my sisters and I felt having an imported husband would be a most unsatisfactory arrangement.

We were willing to have arranged marriages, on the condition that the grooms spoke English and were educated to at least the same standard as ourselves. My mother seemed to interpret this as a refusal to consider any marriage at all. By leaving us unmarried and free to sin, she believed that she would be held responsible on Judgment Day in the eyes of Allah.

Meanwhile, the violence at home only continued. By now, there were seven children, but for some reason I was the family scapegoat and I refused to accept my fate. As I grew older, I had increasingly stood up for myself, with dreadful consequences. On one occasion, my father was so angry with me that he flung me against a wall with such force that I was knocked unconscious and spent days in bed recovering.

My mother was torn between her loyalty to her husband and anxiety for me, but I was aware of her increasing frustration. If only I would keep my mouth shut, he wouldn`t get so mad. `The day you leave this house, we will have peace,` she would say.

I wanted to go as far away from him as possible but respectable Asian girls belonged to their parents until they married. They certainly didn`t leave home and set up in a flat to live a bachelor-girl lifestyle. Only disreputable girls lived outside the protection of their families.

They were no better than prostitutes and were treated as such. Even worse, their reputation would transfer itself to other members of the family, who`d also be shunned by the community for being disreputable and having no izzat (honour). And when it came to preserving their izzat, for most Pakistanis no price was too high. So, as far as I was concerned, I`d be killed before being allowed to leave home.

There was really only one other way to get out and that was by going into further education. My grades at school had been excellent and my father was prepared to let me go, as long as I studied law like his sister, my Aunt Zainab, who lived in Pakistan.

London was a gratifying five-hour drive away, meaning no spur-of-the-moment visits. As my father always read all my letters, I intercepted the post and destroyed everything that came addressed to me from nearby universities. I told him that the only college to offer me a place was in Ealing. My father drove me down to London and within a day or two I had found a room in a lovely old house.

For someone who had had a cloistered upbringing, Ealing felt like the most thrilling place on the planet, with its restaurants, nightclubs and boutiques.

I had the time of my life and dropped out after a year of my law degree. I lied to my parents, telling them I had been thrown off the course, but that I had to remain in London to do retakes. There were angry exchanges over the telephone, but I stood firm.

I got by with a series of jobs. Within two years of my leaving, my sister Farah, five years my junior, packed her bags, left behind a life of subservience and came to live with me. My parents were furious and they accused me of assisting her flight. Predictably, they also blamed me for what they considered to be her moral decline.

On one occasion my mother begged me to send Farah back, saying: `You`re already going to hell, but if you care about your younger sister then you can still save her from your fate. It isn`t too late for her`

She said I had exposed the family to the shame of having two daughters who lived like prostitutes. We agreed to monthly weekend visits back up North, but in spite of our parents` displeasure, our independence appeared to be secure.

I was 24 and I had just applied for a job as a journalism trainee at the BBC when my mother announced that she wanted to make a trip to Pakistan for the sake of her health and she needed someone to accompany her. We were told that my father had to manage things at home and the boys were too busy.

Our elder sister was married with a baby, which left Farah and me â€" and my mother promised she would need only two weeks.

Everyone joked that we`d be snatched off the plane and forced into marriage. We laughed at the very thought. We`d heard about these things happening, but they happened to simple, uneducated girls who didn`t know any better.

It took almost a week to acclimatise to the culture shock of Karachi. The heat and dust mingled with the unmistakable reek of the open sewers that ran alongside the streets. There was the overwhelming sight of so much humanity crammed into one space; the street food that we never imagined could taste so divine.

This was my father`s family home, where I too had been born, and it was amazing to meet our extended family. We were midway into our second week in Pakistan before we knew it. I began reminding my mother to confirm our return flights. She seemed to be in no hurry and only after much badgering from us did she curtly inform us that she had no intention of going back yet.

`But you promised us we`d be back after a fortnight,` I said, an awful sense of foreboding descending. `We have to go back to work!`

`You have always been a harami,` she spat. `No more! From now on, what I say goes.`

There was only one reason why my mother had brought us to Pakistan: she wanted to get us married off. She said she needed to do it quickly before word got out that we had been running around England behaving like harlots. Farah was presented with a suitor, but she found him disgusting. They continued to invite his family over for meals, and when she stuck to her guns, they turned their attention to me.

One of my older uncles started to come to my room every day to talk to me. These conversations began as friendly chats but soon became threatening. He told me he wasn`t happy that my parents had brought their problem to his home, but my father was his elder brother and he had to respect his wishes. All he wanted to do now was get this wedding over with.

`But she doesn`t want to marry him,` I told him.

`Tell her to change her mind then,` he replied. `If you don`t, I`ll break every bone in your body.`

Our first thought was escape, but our passports and return tickets had been locked in a safe. We realised we could easily be killed and no one would ask any questions. After all this was an Islamic state and in Pakistan honour killings happened every day.

If anyone from home did ask, the family would tell them that we`d been married and our husbands had taken us away and not told them where. We were on our own.

My sister and I made a pact: if things began to get out of control, we would take our own lives. Our situation was already bad, but it was about to get even worse. My father was on his way.

Initially, I was relieved to hear he was coming, because unlike my mother, he had never really had much time for religious fanaticism. But when my father arrived, my mother had succumbed to one of the fits she had recently begun to have, rolling on the floor and moaning that she would die before she let us go home unmarried.

When we were children, our father had had the upper hand. Like most Pakistani husbands he did as he pleased and the wife simply went along with him.

But I now realised that by the time we were all grown up, my father had become dependent upon my mother emotionally. The tables had turned. Now that my father was faced with the unthinkable prospect of losing her and living life without her, the handover of power from husband to wife was complete. He would do anything for her. I knew then that our hopes of a quick return to Britain were in vain.

Our lives became a nightmare from then on. There would be violent rows during which my mother would collapse. My father would look frantic and turn on me. We were forbidden to talk to anyone and confined to our room, which became our prison.

As far as my mother was concerned, my father was paying the price for the irresponsible way in which he had brought us up. She ranted at him for the way he`d allowed us to run wild, mix with English people and learn their ways.

One evening, my father snapped and lunged at Farah, yelling: `Haramzadi! It`s all your fault! You`ve left me nowhere to go! You`ve shamed me in my own house!` To my horror, he grabbed her by the throat and started to choke her. I hurled myself on his back to get him off her.

He let go of Farah and turned his wrath on to me. While he was beating me, I was vaguely aware of my mother exhorting him to finish me off. After that, I can only recall waking in the dark to find Farah urging me in a frightened voice to wake up.

From that day, we cowered in our room, sometimes not daring even to put on the light. Weeks crawled by, but every night we would scarcely dare to close our eyes for fear of being murdered as we slept. My sister looked like an old woman, gaunt from terror and lack of sleep.

We began to contemplate giving in. If we agreed to go through a marriage ceremony, we would be allowed to go home because we would need to apply for a visa for our husband. Once home, we could secretly write to the Home Office and tell them that we had been made to marry under duress. But before that happened, we would be made to consummate the marriage.

`If we can buy our freedom by being raped, could you bear it?` I asked Farah. `Because if you say you`d rather die first, then that might be the only other way you`ll ever leave this place.`

That was Plan B. As if she`d read my thoughts, my sister said, `It`s time, isn`t it?`

We retrieved the pills we had stashed at the bottom of my bag â€" our aunt was careless with her medication and left it lying all over the house. There were several dozen, which we counted and shared out.

But as Farah was about to put the first handful in her mouth, I stopped her. I knew she was following my example and I couldn`t let my own despair force my sister to take her own life. Acting more bravely than I felt, I let the pills fall through my fingers.

It must have been a few days later when we heard my father talking to one of his younger brothers â€" the one who had threatened me. My uncle was trying to placate my father, telling him they`d all done everything they could but it was clear that the situation had got out of hand.

My father ended the conversation abruptly, telling my uncle that he was the elder and that he would do exactly as he thought best where his daughters were concerned.

That night, we sat in the darkness of our room, barely daring to speak. We were certain that the awful thing we had dreaded for the past few weeks was about to happen.

`I`m frightened,` my sister whispered. `Me too,` I replied. `They`re going to murder us, aren`t they?` she asked. `I think so,` I admitted. A chill gripped my heart as I heard footsteps approaching and my father`s voice. I leapt out of bed and backed away from the door as it flew open. `Sali! Haramzadi! You`ve made a mockery of me! I`m not going to leave you alive after this!` he cried as he lunged at me.

The strength in my body just drained away as if a switch had been turned off. The last thing I heard before I lost consciousness was my mother screaming at my father: `What have you done? You`ve killed her!`

I have no memory of what happened after I lost consciousness that night, or of the days that followed. I assume I had some kind of breakdown. I was only 24, but my hair had turned white at the temples. A heart that had once been full of joy and hope was now filled with grief and a deep sense of loss.

By this time, even our Pakistani family believed our ordeal had gone too far, but it still seemed like a miracle when, not long after that beating, our cousin Imran came to talk to my father. In the courtyard, outside our room, Imran told my father that he had heard what had been happening and had come to tell him that it wasn`t right.

`I`m respectfully warning you that if you lay a hand against my sisters again, if you harm them, I`ll hear about it,` Imran said. `If that happens, I`ll forget that you are my elder. It won`t go well with you.` He left without another word.

Suddenly, things began to happen fast. It was as if those terrible months â€" we had been here for 14 weeks â€" never happened. My parents knew they`d failed, and a day later my father was on his way back to England, with my mother and the two of us booked on a later flight.

During our last days in Pakistan, we could scarcely bear to look at our mother. She sat silent and motionless, grief etched deeply into every line of a face that had once been beautiful. I felt nothing.

To my parents; fury I went back to live in London and Farah joined me. I endured some turbulent times as I dealt with the emotional fallout of my experiences. I had a daughter, Sophie, in 1995, but the relationship with her father failed. I became a Christian.

I saw it not so much as turning away from the faith of my parents as embracing a religion that made sense for me. Today, I am happily married to Ion, a man who loves Sophie and me unconditionally. I have gained experience in the police force, with Customs and in teaching, but I have found real contentment in my life as a writer.

Meanwhile, Farah also joined the police and then worked for many years in a City bank. She and her partner are now about to set up their own business.

I had to be strong to survive and that has made me the person I am today. However, I wept when I read about 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod from Mitcham, South London, whose father Mahmod Mahmod and uncle Ari Mahmod were convicted of her murder at the Old Bailey earlier this month.

Banaz had been in love with a man her family did not approve of and was killed by a gang hired by her father and uncle. Her body was found in a suitcase in a garden in Handsworth, Birmingham.

`Honour crimes have risen in profile in the UK because of the increased reporting in the media. More people are now aware of this issue.

I am prepared for the criticism that will come from telling my story and indeed I know I will be vilified by some for speaking out. This is not a condemnation of Pakistani culture in Britain, but on those who perpetrate these crimes.

My father died of a heart attack while on holiday in Pakistan in July 2002, three days before I was due to have major heart surgery myself, having discovered that I have a congenital heart condition. Farah and I were the only members of the family not to attend the funeral.

A few years after the trip to Pakistan, my father and I did have a partial reconciliation â€" Pakistan was simply never talked about ever by anyone. To this day I find myself having mixed feelings about my father. It may sound odd but, despite the terrible things he did to me, he had started off with relatively progressive views, favouring integration rather than segregation when he first arrived in England.

But gradually he adopted my mother`s far more hardline interpretation of Islam and Pakistani cultural beliefs, with devastating consequences for Farah and me.

My mother is still alive and used to telephone me once a year or so, although even this has now stopped, which is a relief because the conversations were an ordeal for us both.

Within a matter of seconds, any attempt at self-restraint on her part dissolved and she would unleash a torrent of pain-ful criticism on me for being a bad, uncaring daughter. I`m told she hates me. I wish I could love her. But it`s hard to love a stranger.

Adapted from Unbroken Spirit, by Ferzanna Riley, published by Hodder &£038; Stoughton on July 5, price £12.99.

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