When you were young, do you remember how you used to imagine what your life would be like when you grew up? When you were at weddings, did you ever fantasise what your wedding day was going to be like? What you would wear, what your husband would look like, how your family would dance around you? What about children? Did you ever play happy families in your mind?
I was one of those girls. A normal, Indian Sikh girl who imagined all of those things, just like anyone else. But I’m also the girl who had all those things taken away from me, all my dreams shattered. Not because I married someone who was also Sikh, but all because I married someone who was a different caste – the ‘wrong’ caste.
HE WAS THE SUPERVISOR…MY FUTURE HUSBAND
It was the year 1999. I was 20 years old. I was at university studying politics and Media studies, something I had always wanted to do. I was happy to have got a place at university and often thought about how I wanted my future to be. I wanted to work in media, I wanted a husband and family one day and being Sikh myself I wanted also to marry a Sikh. Whilst studying of course you always need more money so I found a part time job mainly at weekends at a local retailer. It was here where my life was about to change. He was the supervisor…my future husband.
Within a couple of months of me starting work there, we started dating and I found myself falling in love with him. I just knew he was the one. My dad had always been open with me and told me that it’s ok to find somebody myself as long as he was Sikh. This is the thing, he wasSikh, just not the same caste. I am a jat Sikh which is known to be the highest caste. He on the other hand is chumar which is known to be the lowest caste. Despite me knowing deep down that this might have been a problem with my family (not me of course) I chose to ignore that little voice inside me and carried on dating him, meanwhile falling more and more in love. I thought it might take some persuading for my parents to let me to marry him. But what I didn’t know was that one day they would disown me.
I LISTENED TO MY INSTINCTS
The day came when I decided to tell my dad that I had met someone. Initially I left the caste bit out as I wanted to break that in slowly and first get him used to the idea that I had met someone. Eventually when I told them that the person I love and wanted to marry was a lower caste, they were not happy. I was told they would never accept it. Never ever. What would people say? What would they tell relatives? “We are the highest caste, people would think we don’t care enough about our daughter if we marry her off into a lower caste”. My mum kept repeating she wanted to hold her head up high in society and that she wouldn’t be able to do this if I married a lower caste. Not only was reputation an issue but there sadly was a general belief that ‘we are better than them’. A belief that a lower caste was not worthy of us and we ‘stick to our own’. Being the eldest of three didn’t help. I had a younger sister and brother and I was expected to set them an example.
The weeks and months following this was very hard for me, here I was in love with somebody and wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person yet my family were stopping me. I wanted to give up on the relationship so many times but something inside me was telling me to stand my ground. One weekend my boyfriend’s dad had gone to a relative of mine asking them to talk with my parents and see if they will come round. This in fact made it matters worse and the emotional blackmail I received from my family was phenomenal. ‘Who would marry your sister’? I was told nobody would marry my sister if I married into a lower caste. I was told my parents health would deteriorate if I married this person and they might die. There were arguments, shouting, cries, sleepless nights, begging, loss of apetite and sobbing. All because I wanted to marry a different caste. I just didn’t know what to do and was going insane.
It was one Monday after an awful weekend at home that I had arranged to meet my boyfriend. In a state of confusion and helplessness I need to see him. He was very concerned about my state of mind and how my family were treating me. And just like that, something strange happened that Monday. Within a few minutes of meeting him I had made my decision. It was like a click and there was no way I was going back. I was going to be with him regardless of what anybody said. Looking back now, I think I was stronger than I thought. I listened to my instincts. I didn’t want to go back to a family that had put so many conditions on me and who had complete lack of understanding.
NO CAKE, NO FIRST DANCE, BUT A WEDDING
That night I stayed at a friend’s house. Despite my parents constantly calling me I didn’t answer. They then called the police and reported that my boyfriend had kidnapped me. I found this out from my future father in-law who was concerned that their son was being accused of kidnapping. He told me to contact police in which case I did and they told me there was nothing to worry about. In fact, they found it quite humorous that my boyfriend was accused of kidnapping by my parents as they clearly saw us both just being over 20 and in love. After staying a couple of nights at my friends, my future in-laws suggested I move into their home until we got married as I had we had nowhere else to go. I guess they didn’t want to lose their son and so to keep their son with them was the only option. I shared a room with my sister in-law up until the wedding. After 2 weeks we got married. Nothing big, nothing special, no party, just a quick wedding at the registry office and then straight back home. I even remember getting into my joggers after the wedding and doing the washing up. Not exactly the wedding I had dreamed of as that young girl growing up. My husband spent the evening driving and dropping people home. There was no father to give me away, none of my family, a simple wedding outfit in which I had two weeks to buy, no cake, no first dance. I had officially lost all contact with my family. I even tried to send them some weddings pictures but they were sent straight back. All because the man I wanted to marry was a different caste, same religion but a different caste.
MY IN-LAWS STARTED TO CHANGE
Shortly after we were married I started noticing a change in my in-laws. My mother in-law one day told me that I had brought shame to their family, being a girl who ran away from her own family and living in this house, there was a risk that nobody would want to now marry their daughter. I was suddenly made to feel ashamed by what I had done, not only from my family that had dis-owned me but now also from my in-laws family as well.
On top of that, I had to give up my degree and leave university as financially I couldn’t afford it anymore. Instead, I started work with three different part time jobs and then eventually I found a job in HR recruitment. At home I soon found myself doing all the house chores as this was what was expected of me. I just wanted to be liked and be part of the family so I hardly said no to anything. There was a lot of pressure to look a certain way, not go out too much, make sure roti was made for the whole family every evening despite me working. I was controlled in every angle from what I wore to who I went out with. Even if I went out for an evening with my husband we were told we went out too much. Financially my father in-law persuaded me and my husband to give all our wages to him. He told us he would save the money for us and that when we decided to get our own place he would give all the money back to us. I had no idea at the time that this was all lies, and that his intention was to save our money for an extension on their house instead. Basically, we had to ask for pocket money from the money that we earned. If I wanted money to buy something I had to ask my husband to ask my father in-law for it. He even made us explain what we needed it for, even if it was for a bus fare. We were living like paupers, yet the one thing that kept me going was the fact that the wages we were giving was for our own future home and that one day we would get all the money back and will be able to move out, like he had promised. Looking back, we were manipulated, we were lied to and he took full advantage of me having no family of my own to support me. My husband had always been controlled all his life by very domineering parents, so he really didn’t know any different. His father was a prison officer and of course he brought that alpha male domineering, controlling personality home. My husband’s sister who was with us at the time could do as she pleased and didn’t do any household chores. Being born after two boys she was put on a pedestal and could do what she wanted. She could do the degree that she wanted whereas my husband was persuaded from his parents to work from an early age. He wanted to study but instead worked his way up in retail. As a consequence he has a lot of resentment towards his sister. Thinking about it now, there was a lot of verbal and mental abuse I was putting up with. I was young and naïve and had no family of my own and because of that I was completely manipulated. My husband however, was my rock. He was always there for me and he’s the only reason my marriage hadn’t ended a long time ago and I never regretted marrying him, the love was still strong.
I kept going. If it wasn’t for him, my marriage would have ended a long time ago.
FINALLY A FAMILY OF MY OWN
I was thrilled when I found out I was pregnant. Finally, I was going to have something of my ‘own’, a blood relative who was going to be mine, there was hope that I will no longer feel so lonely and that I would now have a family of my own. I was still expected to make roti for my in-laws throughout the whole pregnancy. No one including the extended family really cared and asked how I was. There was one occasion I remember where my husband’s cousin was pregnant and she had a little baby shower with the family. I was at the occasion and suddenly it hit me. Nobody would do this for me. I had no-one other than my husband and unborn child. The feeling of envy took over as I watched this pregnant cousin (who I was happy for) receive love and gifts from her family. I remember how lost in thought I was and suddenly whilst sitting down, tears started rolling down my eyes. Nobody comforted me or asked me what the matter was. Maybe they thought I was trying to spoil the party, I don’t know but I just couldn’t help it and didn’t mean for it. I was aching to hear the words “we are your family now, don’t worry’. That would have been enough on that one occasion. I had never felt more like an outsider my whole entire life and somehow managed to get through the occasion.
MOTHER FOR THE FIRST TIME
My daughter was born, for the first time I was a mother and I can’t explain how much joy this brought me. It was however bitter sweet. I wish I had had my family to break the joyous news to, I wish they could see me as a new mother and would have loved for them to be proud of me. I wish I had all the traditions that went with being pregnant – like my parents taking me home for a while before the baby was born and all the little traditions that came after having a baby from my side of the family. I had none of that. My in-laws were very happy especially as it was their first grandchild, and however they were with me, I couldn’t fault how they were with their grand-daughter. However joyous they were, I didn’t have my family, and that was hard to accept sometimes but that was my fate, all because I married a different caste.
Things were slightly starting to get better being a new mother. My father in-law decided to stop taking our wages as he realised our life was more expensive now, with a baby so it would be cheaper for him to let us keep our wages. I therefore got a bit of independence back, started getting more stronger and wiser and one day made the decision it was time for us to get our own place.
BEGINNING OF DEPRESSION
When it was finally time to get our own place we didn’t get the money we had been promised. All the wages we had been giving our father in law all those years, he didn’t give back. That left us with no choice but to get 100 percent mortgage. Our money was kept from us and there was nothing legally we could do. Eventually we moved out but the resentment and bitterness I had towards my in-laws grew more and more.
Although I now finally had my own house, had my 2 children, a good job and loving husband, something was missing. After everything I had been through with first my family, and then my husband’s family, I was just constantly feeling down. Thoughts would constantly keep coming back to me, like what horrible comments had been said to me or what unfairness had been done to me and ultimately the lies we were told. Little things kept coming back to me and I would get lost in sad thoughts. Although I was doing my normal routine everyday and looking after kids, going to work etc I don’t think I was fully mentally there. The time where I should have enjoyed the kids being little and giving them my full attention, I just wasn’t able to do so. At work I always put on a hard front, always absorbed in my job and worked very hard with my head down and became very professional in doing so. But in the midst of my home life where I was constantly feeling sad, I’d forgotten who I was. Two years went by and during this time I found myself getting more and more depressed. This was the beginning of my depression and the beginning of my life collapsing around me.
I COULDN’T STOP CRYING
It happened one morning, my turning point to get help. I was getting ready to leave for work, the kids had been dropped off to school. As I picked up my keys and was approaching the front door to leave I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t physically and mentally open the door to leave to go work. Instead I fell to the floor and broke down. I couldn’t stop crying. God knows how long I must have cried and cried. I didn’t believe I could carry on anymore. I was feeling that low that I stayed on the floor for hours. I didn’t go back to work. I got sick leave and medication (anti depressant tablets), was signed off work for 6 months and started counselling. After 6 months I still couldn’t go back to work so I ended up losing my job. As a consequence, my husband had to reduce his hours at work so he could look after the kids, and there was a huge drop in salary in doing so. My children were 11 and 8 years old at the time. As a result, we struggled to pay the mortgage and to make matters worse, eventually lost the house.
MOVING BACK IN WITH IN LAWS
After we lost the house, my in-laws offered for us to move in with them. By this time they had extended the house to a 5 bedroom house (with our former wages may I remind). They painted a lovely picture on how we could all live together in their larger house, they would help us with the children and we would just pay monthly rent. We agreed and moved in. But within months my mother in-law had stopped talking to me. Her mood swings had started again and her and my father in-law were constantly arguing which made the atmosphere even worse. When me and my mother in-law weren’t talking, my father in-law constantly said to my husband ‘don’t worry it’s just women – they can never get on’. This is what he fed my husband instead of trying to sort it out. My husband was supportive but he just wanted me to bear it for a short while until we got on our feet again.
It never felt like home. It got the point where I constantly used to stay in my bedroom and not go downstairs for food unless the in-laws were out. As a consequence, I kept lots of unhealthy snacks my bedroom. I started putting weight on and losing all my confidence. The kids were ok but from time to time they used to tell me how their grandma called me hurtful names. I couldn’t feed my own children properly unless their grandparents were out and I couldn’t leave any dishes out in the kitchen. Despite all this we were still expected to pay £400 a month in rent and still had to buy our own food. In parallel to that my sister in-law was having a great life, she didn’t do any housework, went out when she wanted, and was treated completely differently to me. I hated it, the feeling of being an outsider made me more and more depressed, and it even affected how good a mother I was. Then one day I got a phonecall from my daughter’s school. The headteacher told me my daughter who was 12 years old at the time had had a breakdown as school and couldn’t stop crying. I instantly knew it was because of the way things were at home, the arguments, me always hiding in room, my absence mentally, and the fact that she was treated differently to her brother from my in-laws for the mere fact she was close to me. The moment I got that phone call I knew things had to change.
RENTING ONCE AGAIN
After that phonecall, my councillor suggested that we should go to a safe guarding group. This is an organisation where they home people who are not safe in their homes and have nowhere else to go. After my husband approached the subject to my father in-law about leaving there was a massive argument. He got very angry and wouldn’t stop swearing at me in front of my children. My daughter instantly started recording this occurrence, and that helped us get a place at the safeguarding group for a few weeks. After that we found a decent place to rent.
MEETING MY PARENTS
I now have no relationship with my in-laws. The time when I left was the last time I saw them. They have caused me so much hurt that I couldn’t bear to see them. My husband still goes and visits them and sometimes with the children. He is totally supportive of me and understands why I don’t want to go to visit them, and for his support I am grateful.
In the last 2 years things have improved slowly for me. Counselling has helped me and I am pleased to say I am off the anti-depressants now. About 2 years ago I met my parents at a mutual wedding, my dad took my number and asked me to go round and visit them with my two children. Since then I often visit them but not with my husband yet. I know that will come in time. The first time I went back home, it felt strange and I knew this was step in the right direction and I do love my parents but I cannot forget what they put me through all because I wanted to marry a different caste. There are no photos of me at their home. For all those years I was dead to them. My sister had since got married and they haven’t even told her in-laws that I exist. My sister doesn’t want to know me as she says it was hell at home after I left and her and my brother had to deal with it all and cannot visit if she is there. My mum tells me how ill she became after I left, not once asking me how I have been the last twelve years. My brother is however slowly building the relationship back up with me. It will of course never be the same after what I have done but at least me and my children have some contact now.
THINGS GETTING BETTER
Things have now got better. About a year ago I started my own business. I have an inner creativity and I noticed for a while how it’s difficult to buy Asian names on tee-shirts so I had the idea to start foil printing on baby grows and tee-shirts. Now I do not only do Asian names but also English names too. I’m happy the way it is going. Something creative and positive for myself and something to focus on. As I have slowly got out of depression, with positive thinking and focus, my dreams are beginning to coming true. I was always made to feel ashamed for what I had done. For years I couldn’t even walk down a supermarket aisle without the fear of bumping into someone from my family or relative. Now I can finally say I can hold my head up high, my marriage has worked and I have my own business which is doing well. My parents are also beginning to be happy for me. There is a long way to go in terms of building relationships again but the start is there.
In hindsight, I had to have that break down in order to make my life what it is now, in order to have the courage to leave my in laws, to get counselling, and to become stronger. I advise anyone who is going through a similar situation that there is light at the end of the tunnel, nothing is forever. Get help, and counselling if you need, always listen to your instincts, and it’s up to us to change the future by abolishing the caste system. It is never too late to start your dreams. If I can help just one person by telling my story, that is enough for me.
An Anonymous Business Entrepreneur.