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Allegations of CSE cover up and misogyny within the Labour Party

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Shaista Gohir Source: Facebook

Shaista Gohir
Source: Facebook

 

Shaista Gohir is pulling no punches. The chair of the charity Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) UK is continuing to deal blows to the Labour party, accusing it of covering up misogyny and intimidation of Muslim women from the men in their own communnities.

Gohir has been gathering evidence from Muslim women across the country in order to get the party to address the allegations and make some serious changes.

But more revealing is the allegation made by a former Labour councillor, who  claims that abuse is being covered up within the Labour party. The Muslim woman told Newsnight that Pakistani councillors on the council where she served are regularly protecting men who may be exploiting white girls, simply because they are important business allies.

Zahara – not her real name – claims that the police presented councillors with a sexually explicit video as they ruled on whether to shut down a club where these alleged offences were taking place.

She said: “The decision ultimately should have been to close the establishment down because of inappropriate behaviours going on of a sexual nature between young white girls and Asian males that was being shown on the video.

“I was clearly told to stop questioning by a hand gesture and nudge by senior male councillors that were Asian who were sitting next to me… I was told: ‘Do you know who it is? It’s a very prominent Asian businessman that supports us’.”

This woman claims that, on this occasion and many others, she was deselected because she refused to do as these powerful councillors of Pakistani heritage demanded. When she arrived at the selection meeting, it was full of Asian people she had never seen before. “They’re in the pocket of influential male councillors,” she added.

This, in my opinion, is the angle on which Newsnight should have led. Instead, it was almost buried within the report. It is almost as though allegations of covering up CSE were an afterthought of this report.

It seems evident to me that Labour is doing anything to keep  the ‘minority’ vote, at the expense of leaving those groups effectively to be ruled by ‘their’ men.

 

“Systematic Misogyny”

Councillor Arooj Shah Source: Oldham Council

Councillor Arooj Shah
Source: Oldham Council

 

From about 2:50 in the Newsnight video, Oldham councillor Arooj Shah is seen leafleting in her neighbourhood, along with fellow councillor Shadab Qumer. Councillor Shah is doing the talking yet the Muslim man they visit only shakes hands, and speaks directly, only with the male councillor, instead of Councillor Shah.

She told the BBC: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”

Councillor Shah also said that she has received disgusting letters where her head has been attached to images of Page 3 models, in an effort to silence and intimidate her.

MWN has been heard from many Muslim women across the country on the “blocking” of vocal, independent Muslim women by male members of the Labour Party who are of Pakistani heritage – or ‘biraderi’ (clan) politics. The charity has called for an inquiry by party leader Jeremy Corbyn into the “systematic misogyny” within Labour. If this is happening in the Labour party then I wonder – is this also happening in other parties?

Unfortunately this is no surprise to many women of Muslim heritage. We are all aware of the fact that most of the hostility faced is by those from within our own communities. We receive support when we toe a certain line, but as soon as we go beyond that we are quickly silenced.

Well done to the brave women who are continuing to speak out against the misogyny and campaigns of harassment they have faced. It takes a lot of courage to speak out.

On the campaign trail with George Galloway

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on April 21

George Galloway ncr

Few people, when casting their vote on polling day, will have Judgment Day in mind. But Oldham’s Muslim population are being told by George Galloway to consider the ‘final day’ when they choose their candidate for local elections.

The Respect party leader, who is standing for re-election in Bradford West, visited the town on Sunday to officially launch the campaign for Respect Oldham council election candidate Tariq Mahmood Ullah.

According to Galloway, not only do the borough’s Muslims have to consider choosing the right candidate for their ward, but they have the added burden of voting on behalf of the Palestinians.

“The people of Gaza don’t have a vote,” Galloway declared. “If they did, they would vote for Tariq. A vote for Respect, therefore, is a vote for Palestinians.”

The green and red Respect Party bus visited Waterloo Street with Galloway on board, alongside Ullah – a married father-of-three – who is fighting for election in the St Mary’s ward, a predominantly Pakistani area. Labour’s Shadab Qumer will be fighting for re-election.

The atmosphere may have been electrifying for the majority male members of the community, who greeted Galloway as though he were the Messiah, but it was intimidating for someone like me, one of a handful of women at the campaign launch. During the rally  most women chose to stay on the other side of the road, away from the men.

Starting with the Islamic blessing bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful), Galloway described Ullah as a “lion” who has got the “sheep” (that’s politicians to you and me) ‘nervous already’.

It is commendable for politicians to try to get more people involved in the democratic process, and this is what Galloway seems to be doing. He is defending a 10,140 majority in Bradford West, where he won support from a cross-section of the city.

When Galloway claims to be speaking ;for those Labour has abandoned’ there may also be some truth to it. Although Oldham is a Labour-run council, two UKIP councillors were elected to the Council for the first time last year, with the party coming second in many of the 20 wards.

After winning Bradford West in 2012, Galloway claimed to have “smashed” the clan-based/biraderi bloc voting. “We don’t believe in biraderis,” he said in Oldham. “There’s nothing Islamic about biraderis, there’s nothing democratic about biraderis.”

Traditionally, when a candidate was chosen for the election, it would have been an elder selected by his clan on the basis of bloodlines rather than merit. For the second and third generation Pakistanis in the UK, the biraderi system is not as relevant as it was for the first generation of Pakistani settlers, who found that it provided essential support in the form of links back to the villages of Punjab and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

But despite Galloway’s bluster, this continues today. And the journalist Nick Cohen was correct when he described Galloway’s politics as ‘unashamedly communalist’. Those who once identified with their ethnicity or their parent’s country of origin – i.e. British Pakistanis – now identify more with their faith, i.e. Islam. In this respect Galloway has found his ‘new revolutionary proletariat’, as Cohen puts it.

Galloway’s speech in Oldham was littered with Islamic terminology and religious rhetoric. He claimed that Muslims would have to account for their actions and the way they vote. This is nothing new – these were words recycled from a speech he gave back in 2012 in his by-election campaign.

Galloway also made references to grooming cases that have recently been in the news – two of the men who were jailed in 2012 for preying on vulnerable girls were from Oldham –  claiming that it is unfair to label them “Muslim criminals”.

“These men are not vile perverts because they are Muslim, they are just vile perverts,” Galloway said, before going on to say that “the biggest terrorists in the world are white Christians in the White House. They killed one million Iraqis and they’re still doing it.”

Ratna Lachman, a human rights campaigner who chaired the hustings in Bradford earlier this month, remarked that personality rather than issue-based politics dominate in Bradford West.

That seemed to be the case in Oldham on Sunday. The Oldham candidate preferred to let Galloway do the talking for him, though when he did speak he merely said he wanted to “ease concerns some may have for Islam”. Very little was said about local issues and how Respect would address the needs of Oldham’s residents.

Opinion seems divided over Galloway. Some Bradford residents claim he has done little for the city. Records show he has spoken in four debates in the last year and has voted in 11.19 per cent of votes in this Parliament – well below average amongst MPs.

Meanwhile West Yorkshire Police are investigating after allegations were made on an anonymous website against Labour’s candidate Naz Shah. At the hustings earlier this month Galloway went on the offensive against Shah, accusing her of lying about her forced marriage. Muslim Women’s Network UK described Galloway’s comments as “irresponsible” and “counter-productive”.

Dan Holden wrote on Left Foot Forward in 2012 that Respect was running a ‘divisive and regressive’ campaign. Three years later and little has changed.

Written by Iram Ramzan

April 25, 2015 at 6:03 pm

The hypocrisy of Maajid Nawaz’s critics is hard to swallow

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on April 13, 2015

Can you be a feminist and visit a strip club?

That is the question some people are asking after footage obtained by the Daily Mail showed Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn and co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation, on camera allegedly harassing a dancer in a strip club.

The Mail has described Maajid as a married father-of-one, but it is worth pointing out that he was not married at the time. His child is from a previous marriage. He got married in October and the ‘stag do’ took place in July. His wife, Rachel Maggart, took to Twitter to defend her husband and said she was fully aware of his actions.

Yesterday Maajid took to Twitter again to blast the ‘hatchet job’ against him.

It would seem as if a Muslim can own and manage a strip club, just cannot visit one. The club owner Abdul Malik said he wanted the video to be seen by the public because of the way Nawaz portrays himself as a feminist and a family man:

“He’s always talking about religion on TV and I thought, what a hypocrite,” he said.

Mr Malik claimed ‘arrogant’ Nawaz acted like a ‘spokesman for Islam’ but visited the club during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Thank goodness we had Mr Malik defending the honour of Islam and the dancers in his club. So concerned was he that he waited nine months before speaking out. The timing of this story is very suspicious. Why wait until now to release the video footage unless the intention was to damage Maajid’s political campaign?

Maajid has openly said he is a ‘non devout Muslim‘ and he has said on several occasions that there are no spokespeople for Muslims. But he does still identify as a Muslim. As a friend of mine told me upon hearing of the scandal:

“You can never escape the Islam police. Like being caught with a Marlboro light as a teenager by a friend of your third cousin’s neighbour. And suddenly it’s all around the community that you are a chain smoking junkie. Its that – amplified.”

Whatever you think about strip clubs, it was very stupid of Maajid to have gone to one, and in East London of all places. He is fighting an election; he should have known better and he has handed a gift to his enemies on a plate.

His spokesperson said he denied touching the dancer ‘inappropriately’ and added that his reputation for advocating women’s rights was ‘in the context of Islamic extremism’. What does that mean? This needs clarifying.

The frustrating part of the strip club controversy is the hypocrisy. Maajid’s enemies are suddenly declaring ‘concern’ for the vulnerable women in the sex industry and discussing issues of consent.

Yet some of these are the same people who, for example, would not challenge the Muslim scholars who refuse to condemn domestic violence or female genital mutilation. The same people who were happy to blame Western culture for the groomers who sexually abused and exploited children. Any woman who does not conform to their standard of Islamic modesty are treated with contempt.

Take Dilly Hussain, deputy editor of 5 Pillars, who has been enjoying the drama unfold. He was exposed last year for comments towards a blogger of Muslim origin whose timeline he stalked, then copied and pasted pictures of her (which had been edited) with the words ‘pisshead, drunken liberal garbage’. He also apparently views Ahmadi Muslims as lower than monkeys.

Opinion is divided over this story. Some deem it not to be newsworthy because visiting a strip club is what most men do – what’s the big deal? – and others, including Tory Nadine Dorries, have called for Maajid to resign.

I’ll be honest – Maajid’s behaviour has really disappointed me; I expected better from him. Perhaps that is my own issue, because I place too much faith in people and will inevitably be let down when they fail to live up to my (impossibly high?) standards.

At the end of the day, though, it is up to the public to make up their own minds over this story. Those who support Maajid can only hope that the accusations of harassment are revealed to be tabloid sensationalism. I doubt this will make much difference to his chances in Hampstead and Kilburn, as the odds of him winning that seat were slim anyway.

But has it damaged his reputation in the long run? Maajid’s work is indispensable; it would be a shame if this were to distract us from the good work he has done.

Written by Iram Ramzan

April 20, 2015 at 10:10 pm

Naz Shah – great story, but what about her politics?

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If you have not yet heard of Naz Shah, you must have been living in a cave for the last two weeks. Naz is Labour’s candidate for Bradford West, who will stand against Respect MP George Galloway in the general election in May.

Naz, the chair of mental health charity Sharing Voices Bradford and mother-of-three, was forced into marrying her cousin when she just aged 15. Her biological father ran away with their 16-year-old neighbour.  She spent 12 years campaigning, with the support of Southall Black Sisters, for the release of her mother – a woman imprisoned for murdering the man who beat, raped and pimped her for over ten years.

No doubt her inspiring story could not be further from the Westminster elite of professional politicians. But none of the interviews have revealed much about her political views. As interesting as her background story is, what does she want for Bradford? What can she do that George Galloway has not done for the city?

The word ‘biraderi’ (patrilineage) has become synonymous with Bradford politics. I worry that Naz may not be so dismissive of identity politics as her background might have initially suggested, judging by some of the comments she made in The Times this weekend (£) about the headscarf (“To a Muslim man you’re more respectable, it’s not because you’re a victim”) and integration (“People can live amongst each other with different identities and different languages because that’s the way the world is.”)

I guess we will have to wait until after the election to find out.

Do British Muslims have a problem with apostates

Nothing riles Muslims more than the presence of ex-Muslims.

On the Big Questions Abdullah al Andalusi, who describes himself as a ‘thinker’ (no, me neither) was very aggressive towards Amal Farah, an ex-Muslim of Somali origin, and constantly interrupted her while she was making her point. He claimed that Islam has no apostasy laws – try telling that to the Muslim countries who have blasphemy laws and punish those who speak out against Islam. He translates “irtida” as “sedition” or “treason”. Misinterpretation – that old chestnut eh? So then I ask, what is the punishment for treason?

Andalusi then took to writing a post-show blog, denouncing the entire thing as an “anti-Islam fest”. Of course it was. That is the problem with people like Andalusi. They want a debate, but on their own terms. They claim they will not compromise on their Islam but in certain public forums they will twist and turn so much so as to hide their real views.

The BBC also wheeled out Mohammed Shafiq who spoke about the importance of religious freedom. This is the same man who once described Quilliam Foundation’s Maajid Nawaz as ‘gustaakh-e rasool” (defamer of the prophet) when Nawaz tweeted a Jesus and Mo cartoon. Thankfully, he has now apologised though I am not sure if it is much of an apology if he still stands by his reasons for saying what he did.

Shafiq also said we cannot have a rational debate with ex Muslims – in other words, don’t bother talking about Islam unless you are a Muslim. Some Muslims do, however, discuss and and even denigrate other religions but get defensive when their own religion is attacked. Why the double standards?

I have met many ex Muslims and they are not anti Muslim at all. All they want is the right to leave Islam without being persecuted or disowned by their families.

If, as Muslims, we preach that Islam is peaceful and tolerant, and “there is no compulsion in Islam” then we need to accept people like Amal Farah and other ex Muslims who do not wish to follow Islam. We happily wave the Islam-is-the fastest-growing-religion” banner and talk with such pride when someone converts to Islam but silence those who are no longer Muslims. Some will say, leave Islam, fine, but why do you need to talk about it?

My response would be, why shouldn’t they talk about it? Do other Muslims ever consider the possibility that the reason why ex Muslims continue to talk about Islam once they have left is precisely because it is still such a taboo? Perhaps if they weren’t met with such hostility they would not need to do so. Let us not forget the fact that many ex Muslims are still “in the closet” – they still cannot openly talk about the fact that they no longer believe in Islam because they now the consequences.

Well done to Amal who stood her ground despite being shouted down by some Muslims on the panel and in the audience, and to Dr Usama Hasan, imam and a senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, for preaching the message of peace and tolerance.

Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 17/3/2013

 

Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!

 

When I first heard of the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ I imagined it to be something kinky (or perhaps it was wishful thinking), a silly joke on social media. The reality, however, was less amusing and far more sinister. The new rules, due to come into effect in April, will affect housing benefit, which is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week. This change will affect council tenants and those who rent from housing associations, who are housing benefit claimants. The government estimates that 655,000 households will have their benefit cut.

social housing

The ‘bedroom tax’ will penalise households in social housing deemed to have more bedrooms than they require. Under the government’s so-called “size criteria” (how do you decide what is the ‘right’ amount of space a person needs?) families will be assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need.

The government says that it is a necessary policy to get the £23bn housing budget under control and that the savings to the taxpayer ‘will amount to £505m in 2012-13′, and ‘£540m in the year after’.

Photo3258

That’s the theory anyway, but reality doesn’t quite work like that, as there is no way the local authorities will be able to move everyone around and put them in the ‘right’ properties. As Theo Paphitis rightly pointed out on Question Time this week, it’s just ‘theoretical economy’.

Ministers have pointed out that foster carers and families of armed services personnel will be exempt from controversial changes to housing benefit. Furthermore, anyone with severely disabled children is supposedly exempt from the spare room subsidy, yet Guardian’s Patrick Butler  highlighted the fact that government lawyers were still actively seeking to quash an appeal court ruling last May that would ensure exemptions for severely disabled children did not apply.

Katy McCauley, a volunteer at the CAB in Rochdale, believes the policy is “not thought through.” She said: “They’re forgetting that people on housing benefits are on a low income anyway.” She was among the many who came out to protest in Manchester city centre on Saturday in solidarity with the 60 or so towns and cities that had planned demonstrations against this policy.

The government has persuaded many people that all benefits recipients are scroungers and shirkers and so this discussion of the welfare budget always seems polarised. What some people don’t seem to understand is that some of the people who will be affected will have lived in their home for decades.

Take Janet Southgate, a 55-year-old disabled woman from Hyde who came to the demonstration in Manchester. She ‘under-occupies’ a three bedroom house in which she has lived for 27 years, a home where her children grew up. She cannot afford to move out and there are no bungalows available for at least two or three years in her area – to move out would cost her £1000, assuming she has somewhere to go.

“I’m stockpiling food, tins of soup, or I won’t be able to afford to eat,” she said. She will be left with £150 to live off each month, before what is spent on the gas and electricity bills. She adds: “The doctor said I’m suffering from trauma because of all this. I’ve done jobs you don’t want to know about to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’m epileptic, disabled and trapped.”

Photo3260

Andy Bentley, a 50-year-old ex-soldier from Halifax, said that some of his friends would be made homeless come April. A disabled friend of his ‘under-occupies’ his house because he can’t get upstairs, so he sleeps in the living room. What will he do?

When I suggested the possibility of living with his mother, he replied that she did not want him living with her, which begs the questions – what will happen to vulnerable people who cannot rely on family or friends to help them? More people now still live at home with their parents in the UK, but what about those whose parents do not want their children living at home any more?

Yes, housing benefit is a huge bill but that is because property prices and rents have been allowed to rise without control. It is clearly an ill-thought out policy or, as Andy from Halifax put it, “It’s lunacy.”

There are many more in this desperate position and although the government’s explanation suggests that there is an element of choice, that people are being asked nicely to decide whether to downsize or pay extra to have a bit more room, in practice there really aren’t many suitable smaller properties for people to move into, nor can those people afford to have their benefits reduced.

Is the theoretical half-a-billion pounds savings really worth it?

Written by Iram Ramzan

March 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

Guns and glaring stares: a fortnight in Pakistan/Kashmir

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As most of you will know, I was not looking forward to going to Pakistan/Kashmir at all. I can’t even handle Pakistanis in the UK, how would I cope with them in their natural habitat?!

I kept a travel diary and noted any observations throughout my time there.

Please bear in mind that these are only my views based on my experience and are not intended to reflect every Pakistani or Kashmiri. Nor is this intended to be a travel guide; it is simply the narrative of a rather bored, ranty beige lady.

Guns are unavoidable in Pakistan - even I had to get in on the act (mercifully this was not even assembled)

Guns are unavoidable in Pakistan – even I had to get in on the act (don’t worry, this was not even assembled)

11/1/2013: As the passengers boarded the plane, there were continuous announcements, requesting the ‘Khawateen o Hazraat’ (ladies and gentlemen) to claim a blue suitcase. Ten minutes later and still no one had claimed it.  I was beginning to panic slightly – what if it’s going to blow up? I don’t want to die in a plane that has not even taken off surrounded by strangers! A few minutes later I was positively hysterical, screaming in my mind, “khawateen o hazraat will you claim the goddamn suitcase?!” Fortunately the announcements stopped and nothing was blown up.

Later on, I asked my aunty if we would go exploring around the north of Kashmir. She laughed and replied, “Good luck with finding someone to take you!” *sigh* what a ‘holiday’ this was going to be; more like a jail sentence. But I was aware of the disputes that had been taking place around the Line of Control in the Poonch district of Kashmir, which meant that even if, by some miracle, my family had found their sense of adventure, it would have been very difficult to travel there.

12/1/13: Arrived at at Islamabad Airport (I refuse to call it by its new name Benazir Bhutto International Airport) at around 7am. I stepped off the plane only to be greeted with rain – and I thought we had left Manchester behind. The airport is actually located in the city of Rawalpindi and serves as a military airport too, something which, according to a diplomat source of mine, the army is not happy with. Thankfully, the new airport in Islamabad is under construction and due to be completed some time next year. We, that is my aunty, mum, brother and I, had to go to the ‘unaccompanied women and children’ counter at immigration, which, to be honest, made me feel even more vulnerable that I already did. We walked past immigration and I could feel glares of the men boring into me, something that I could not get used to during my stay there. The men in that country just stare, and stare, and stare until you are out of sight. ‘Land of the pure’ my foot.

After we collected our luggage, we made our way out and were greeted by my uncle and his friend. His friend took us to freshen up in his flat in Bahria Town, which is a relatively new development and a short drive from the airport, and fast becoming popular with expatriate Brits, such as my uncle’s friend. At the flat, which was lovely and had all the comforts of living in an English home, my uncle was telling his friend that he wanted to sell the family home in Kashmir (where we would stay for the next few weeks) and possibly buy a property in Islamabad instead. His friend thought it was not such a good idea. “It’s your dad’s home and where he’s buried,” he said. My uncle replied that he could not see his own children coming to Pakistan or to the house in the village.  He had a point. I for sure do not want to go back to that country and I said as much, which is why his friend then told him to take me out and about, “otherwise she won’t come back!” Aside from my grandparents’ graves, I have no other connection to the land, as all my family is in England.

In Pakistan, as my uncle claims, they cannot enforce the law. Every rule, regulation and code is broken there and in India. He also reckons (though I would take it with a pinch of salt) that there is ‘more money per square footage’ in the city of Mirpur, Kashmir, but the people don’t know how to invest their money properly. It was not difficult to see why he would say that. Looking around, people have spent a lot of British money in building lavish homes for themselves and their family (which would stay empty for 11 months of the year), with all the comforts in England inside, while the roads surrounding them are in no fit state to drive on and there are no pavements. Certain parts of Kashmir, especially Mirpur, depend on British money because of ex-pats which is how the city and the surrounding areas are developing but, according to my uncle, the place will stagnate, as the next generation will not go back there.

A typical example of a home built with British money - most of these properties remain empty for most of the year

A typical example of a home built with British money – many of these properties remain empty most of the year

The first thing I demanded when we were closer to home was a sim card, as my previous Pakistani sim, not having been used for over three years, was blocked. I was informed that obtaining a sim now was more difficult, due to the increase in terrorist attacks. Sims can no longer be purchased from the local bazaar (market) but from the network provider, and after showing your Pakistani ID card, the number must then be registered. Great. This meant that I was without any means of communication and could not rely on my friends in England to help pass the time.

The village is in the Bhimber district of Azad Jammu Kashmir, the only region in AJK which consists of plains. Throughout my stay here, it would be very cold, with few spells of sunshine in the morning. Not having packed appropriate clothes or thermals (I packed very last-minute, as I had been trying to get out of going altogether), the nights were extremely cold. However, this has to be one of the safest areas in the whole region – whatever happens in the rest of Kashmir or Pakistan does not really have an impact on the village here, which means one can spend time with the family in peace.

The view from the house in our village

The view from the house in our village

13/1/13: We have satellite TV! Thank goodness for that! I spent most of my time finding out what was going on in the world, but the majority of the news channels were Indian. Their news programmes are very much like their dramas and movies – exaggerated and full of bizarre special effects. The reports are biased and alarmist so I wouldn’t be surprised if the population was constantly on edge, waiting for the next terrorist attack. What saddened me the most was hearing the report of the rape of a woman in the Punjab region of India – women in these countries (yes that includes Pakistan) are simply not safe.

Load shedding, or power blackouts, has become even worse here in the ‘fourth world’ (as my uncle describes it)  since I last came three years ago.  The power is supposed to go at set times, but often the power goes randomly, when you least expect it. At times, when there was power again, it was taken again after ten minutes, which can cause huge disruptions to people’s daily lives. But it is still not as bad as mainland Pakistan apparently, although this was of little comfort when, on a number of occasions I decided to take a shower, the power suddenly went out! There I was, cold, wet and naked (apologies for the disturbing visuals), in the dark bathroom with only a tiny book light to guide me.

The process is supposed to save money and is a response to a situation where the demand for electricity exceeds the power supply capability of the network. I found it hard to believe, given the close proximity of Mangla Dam, which is the sixteenth largest dam in the world. (If you can fathom this system then please comment below)

Interesting fact about Mangla Dam: Over 280 villages and the towns of Mirpur and Dadyal were submerged and over 110,000 people were displaced from the area as a result of the dam being built, something which, according to Ali Baraan, is still affecting people from that region.  Some of those affected by the dam were given work permits for Britain by the Government of Pakistan and, as a result, in many cities in the UK the majority of the ‘Pakistani’ community actually originated from the Dadyal-Mirpur area of the disputed region. So next time you meet a ‘Pakistani’ person in the UK, they are more likely to be from this region in Azad Kashmir.

15/1/13: The nights here are the worst; despite sharing a room with my mum and auntie, my fears are not alleviated after hearing the howls of the jackals all night.

For some reason, the issue of second marriages came up. In the village, there is a growing number of men, in their late 50s and early 60s, who are having second wives. Most pensioners take up golf or fishing in their old age; here, the men take up a younger wife,  younger than even their youngest child. In one case, I found that one of the new wives was just three years older than me. Suddenly, I could feel my breakfast coming right back up. One such man, trying to explain his decision, apparently said that “when we first got married, we were just children, we didn’t know what marriage was, we didn’t know what we were doing. Now we have got the choice to do what we want.” I suppose I see his point. In my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, marriage was a matter of convenience, decided by one’s elders and something you entered into with little or no objection. But what about their first wives? Women do not have the choice of having two husbands at the same time (quite frankly, one is enough), unlike their male counterparts, who can have more than one wife simultaneously.

Personally, I am not in favour of polygamy unless in very, very extreme circumstances and if all parties are happy with it. Most of the time, there really is no need for a man to take another wife. It’s usually done  for very selfish reasons, i.e. the man is bored of his ageing wife (you’re no spring chicken either mate) and because divorce is a taboo, and no one else will want to marry a divorced, middle aged woman, the men instead have co-wives – one to keep mummy happy and one to keep him happy.  The first wife has to put up with her husband frolicking around with a younger, firmer model, while she is left to have to explain to her adult children that their father is having some sort of Muslim mid-life crisis. The funny thing is that Muslim men go on about their ‘right’ to have multiple wives yet fail to fulfill their Islamic obligations, such as praying, giving to charity, etc. They forget all those requirements, but suddenly remember that they can have more than one wife. The first wife is left stranded and the second wife is sometimes kept hidden away. All because these men cannot stand up to their mummies.

18/1/13: It started to rain all day and night, with thunder and lightening, and would continue to do so for the next few days, which meant another day stuck in the house. As the roads become muddy and slippery in the rain, going for a drive to the city down the cliff would have been tantamount to suicide. After fuming for hours on end over being kept under house-arrest, I spent the whole day, along with my aunty, in bed, reading or just sleeping. However, my mum and brother suddenly became quite sick; when my aunty and I got out of bed we experienced feelings of nausea and dizziness. Outside, I collapsed and could not stop shaking. Why were we all feeling so ill? The it hit us – we had had hot coals in the room to keep us warm but had completely forgotten to keep the room ventilated. Effectively, we had almost poisoned ourselves to death. When my uncle found out he was livid and called us all idiots.

It was thundering all night. I have never been scared of thunder, but because of the mountains, the sound of the thunder echoed, which made it even more frightening.

We had a few guests come over, but as it was raining and most of us had decided to stay in bed, I really could not be bothered meeting anyone. Middle aged aunties who ask the same questions, discussing their bunions and latest antics of their daughter-in-laws really is not my cup of coffee. Usually, my uncle would warn me beforehand by announcing, “the biddies are coming, I’d get in your room if I was you.” Unfortunately that day he was nowhere to be seen.

An old lady who had known my late grandmother came to see us. Normally, I find old women boring and I managed to blank out most of what she said, with a John Grisham novel keeping me occupied.  However, what did make my ears prick up was when she began discussing her marriage (what is it with me and marriage, eh).  She was married off at the age of 14 to a much older man who had been previously married to one of her cousins. Her cousin died, hence why she was given to this man in marriage. I assume there were children in the picture, though she did not say – usually in south Asian cultures (and perhaps in the Middle East too), when a woman dies, leaving children behind, the husband will marry the late wife’s sister or another female from that family to help raise the children. In addition to this injustice done to her at such a young age, her husband also used to beat her. My heart went out to her – imagine being married off while you’re still a child, not knowing anything, not knowing who you are marrying, not knowing about relationships or men. I would have been terrified. But I suppose in those days it was common and men and women just got on with it.

21/1/13: My uncle once said that “Pakistanis don’t know how to be diplomatic.” I think, however, that he said that without bearing in mind the people of our village. Diplomacy is how everything runs here. Even if one person is not speaking to another, they are still invited to the wedding or funeral (or any other gathering) just for the sake of saving face. If you are not seen at a gathering then people will talk. “Did you hear, so-and-so wasn’t invited to the wedding,” or “So-and-so didn’t go to funeral, how insolent.”  I know people who have to live there need to do this to maintain harmony, but I found it all so bloody ridiculous. Personally, I do not know how to be diplomatic – if I do not like someone, I just do not speak to them. I cannot be doing with all this acting and pretending, it’s such a nuisance. At one event, the hosts of a gathering were not speaking to three of the guests who had turned up and vice-versa. It was silly! How can you go to someone’s house and not speak with the owners? Again, it was all so save face, but my God what a waste of time.

At one of these gatherings a middle-aged lady came and sat next to me while I was tending to my one-year-old cousin. The lady said: “You know Iram, he used to be so cute before, when he was fair, but now he’s gone so dark because they’ve been sitting him down in the sun.” About a baby for Pete’s sake! What is even more baffling is the lady herself was very dark. At least 95% of the people here are tanned because they are out working in the sun all day. Tip for you all: when you live in a hot climate, chances of you being dark are very high! You cannot live in a hot country and be pale as milk unless you stay within the four walls of your home and not venture out. But here, light features are highly coveted. It is one of the reasons why I am glad that at least my skin is not dark, otherwise the daily taunts over my skin colour would have been unbearable.

As well as Fair and Lovely, it's Fair and Handsome too!

Go away darkies, we only want fair and handsome blokes

22/1/13: We packed our bags today as we were setting off for Lahore, the capital city of the Punjab province. Every Pakistani you meet will remind you of the old saying that if you haven’t been to Lahore you haven’t lived. We reached the city of Mirpur where I was finally able to purchase a sim card. My auntie did not see the point – “you’ve got less than a week left, why bother” – but I needed to communicate with the outside world. And I had had enough of sharing her phone, knowing she would probably read my messages. Not that they were risque or anything – most of my messages were declarations of boredom and irritation of being here. Getting a sim was a bit of a mission. My uncle took me to the network provider where there was a huge crowd already inside. As I mentioned before, the increase in terrorist attacks meant that one has to register for a sim card personally and go through a rather long and tedious process. I had to ring a number and answer questions such as “is the number for you?”, “are you speaking on behalf of anyone?” and bizarrely, “what is your mother’s full name?”

Whenever we go to Pakistan, we always travel to Lahore too. Usually, we travel by a hired van or car. This time, we took a coaster. The way my uncle had raved on about it, I was expecting a long, air conditioned, luxurious coach. It was essentially a converted van with a dozen seats, in which we were packed like sardines. After an hour and a half, my entire lower body had become numb.

On the journey I noticed many school girls and college girls wearing niqabs (face veil) as well as headscarves. In our village, a niqab stands out like a sore thumb, so imagine my surprise when I saw a veiled lady just hours earlier. My auntie said it was part of their uniform, though I found that hard to believe. Why would a niqab be a mandatory part of the uniform? A friend later clarified for me that in some government schools, the headscarf is a compulsory part of their uniform (though many girls here wear it anyway). The headscarf is not mandatory by law in Pakistan, but it is worn by many and in some areas you will not see a single woman without it, or even without a full face veil, and in government and official buildings, the women who work there will wear a headscarf, so in a way there is the pressure to wear one.

It did lead me to wonder: does wearing a headscarf ensure better gender relations? Does it protect women from unwanted glances from men? I remember when we went to Auriga Bazar in Lahore, a market-place run by Pashtuns, the men there were leering over several women, including myself, with such a dirty gaze. They stared, and stared, as though they had never seen a woman before, although given that many of their wives and women were probably confined to the four walls of their homes, most likely wearing a burqa when venturing out, for them it probably was a rare glimpse of a woman’s face and hair. It was only out of principle that I did not cover my head – maybe I should have, who knows, but I refused to be bullied into wearing a headscarf because of some drooling me. At the same time, I cannot blame some women who, when going to that particular bazar, wear long chadors, often covering half their face with the fabric to avoid the leering gaze of the market men. It made me feel uncomfortable, so sometimes I’m not surprised that women cover up.  Is this then why men stare inappropriately when a woman is not dressed to fit in with the norm? Or are there deeper, underlying issues there?

Does covering up protect women or does it re-enforce this idea that a woman must cover in order to go about her daily business without being harassed or molested? Does it give men and women appropriate boundaries and a framework within which they must, and should, live, or does segregation and veiling exacerbate tensions and misunderstandings between the two sexes? (I would like to hear your views below)

A hair advert...showing no hair!

A hair advert…showing no hair!

24/1/13: I love this city! It makes a change from the sleepy village environment.

Lahori street art

Lahori street art

The girl, whose family with whom we’re staying, is surprisingly quite talkative and more liberal than I imagined. When I first met her a few years ago, I assumed that she was very quiet and dull. First impressions can often be quite deceptive. It did not take much for her to open to me  – I think she was ready to burst. Her parents are stricter than I had seemed them to be. Living in a city, I imagined thy would be quite open minded. But as the saying goes, you can take the person out of the village, but not the village out of the person. The girl, (I’ll call her Zahra) is not allowed to watch television, except news channels, watch movies, or even read books!

At the moment, Zahra is doing her masters’ degree in I.T.  Her university is about one hour away from home, so she leaves the house at 6.30am each day and returns quite late in the evening. She asked her father to let her live in the hostel, mostly for convenience and because she is the only girl o her course who still lives at home. Predictably, her father said no.

Zahra was studying medicine some years ago but found the course dull so she decided to change her course. Her father did not approve of this decision, but there was little else that he could do. Her parents told her to stop studying after completing her undergraduate course, but she wanted to continue studying – she wants to do a PhD and eventually start working. Daddy dearest does not approve and instead wants her to get married, probably with a boy from their village with whom she will have little in common.

When talks of married come up, parents come out with the classic line: “We need to fulfill our obligation as your parents.” As long as a girl’s marriage is sorted, that’s it – end of one’s parental duties. I suppose that’s fair enough, wanting to see your children settled and married, but isn’t educating your children just as much of an obligation? Girls are raised primarily to become wives and mothers – anything else is just an extra. So what if a girl is educated, can she make a good wife is what is more important.

I could resonate with some of the stories she told me of her fellow classmates. Some of the girls who live in the hostel do not like going back home to their parents because of the crap they have to deal with. One girl, a close friend of Zahra’s, goes home every so often only to find a rishta (potential suitor) waiting for her, and in-laws asking questions such as, “can you cook? What can you cook?” and “will you be able to look after our son?” etc. If that was me, I would have responded with “your grown-arse son should be able to take care of himself without hanging on to mummy’s apron strings” but fortunately my own family has never put me in that awkward situation. I do not know how people do that – if I was put through the farce of making tea for prospective in-laws and their beloved son, while adorned in a sparkling salwar kameez (no western clothes allowed) being judged like a prize-cow, I would run out of the door faster than you could say ….

Anyhow, I digress. Zahra wants to move out as soon as she gets a job, but given how her father is, that would be nothing short of a miracle.

What makes her situation even more difficult is that her mother contracted TB a few months ago, which took me by surprise. I did not think that anyone in this day and age, especially the more affluent, can get TB but clearly I was wrong. Her eyesight has completely gone – she can only see blurred shapes, which means that she cannot do many household tasks without any help. Over dinner one evening, she was saying how she is trying to find a second wife for her husband, as he needs a wife who can look after the house.  I assumed that she was joking – after all, what heartless man would take another wife while his first wife is ill – but apparently she was serious. Her husband, however, told us a few days later (on our way back to the village) that he could not do that to her. “She looks after my both my parents, takes them to the toilet, cleans them and feeds them too. In addition to that, both her parents are dead and so are her brothers. She has no one left in this world except me – how could I possibly do that to her?”  My sentiments exactly.  I hope he was being sincere and not just saying this for our benefit.

If there’s anything Lahoris know, it’s how to eat. I awoke each morning to be greeted with a rather lavish breakfast feast, too much for my delicate English stomach. Parathas, channey, halwa poori, stacks of fried, sweet bread, you name it – all the, er, delicacies of the Punjab were laid out for us. It is not wonder that many Lahori people are on the large side, eating such heavy food and sleeping most of the day, only venturing out after dark. I managed a fried egg with toast and a glass of orange juice. It would have been nice to have washed it down with a nice, hot cup of black coffee, but this is Pakistan – they only do tea here. Coffee drinkers are marginalised, our desires and needs suppressed. Here, “I don’t drink tea” is translated to “I’m not in the mood for tea right now” – they simply cannot believe that there is a person out there who does not drink tea.

Masoom's Cafe - I highly recommend their apple-pie shake

Masoom’s Cafe – I highly recommend their apple-pie shake

We ventured out shortly after breakfast. There was a protest in front of Governor’s House, staged by the PML-N party over a murder in Karachi just a few days earlier. There seemed to be more policemen than protestors though.

The one thing I dislike about Lahore is the sewage system. In certain parts of the city, one can expect to get a whiff of smog mixed with the smells of the open drains. My theory is that this is precisely why there are so many veiled women in Lahore – to protect their delicate noses from the noxious fumes. I found this report on the Lahori drainage system really enlightening and explains what causes such problems in the city.

My mum wanted to visit Daata Darbar, which is one of the oldest Muslim shrines in the sub-continent. Sufi shrines can expect to be visited by both Hindus and Muslims, but since partition most visitors have been Muslims. On special occasions, such shrines will be decorated with bright lights. Apparently, whatever you pray for at Daata Darbar is granted. I can’t say I believe any of that. I also find it amusing how Pakistani Muslims make fun of their Hindu neighbours for worshipping idols, but they do something similar themselves at these Sufi shrines. A few Pakistanis have told me that this is not that case, that no one prays to the saints, they just pray to God there for their wishes to be granted. If that is the case though, why are only prayers granted at such a shrine? Surely God answers your prayers regardless of where you choose to pray? My mum and auntie asked Zahra’s father if they had gone to pray at Daata Darbar for his wife’s eyesight to be restored. Zahra and I rolled our eyes at each other.

We had the opportunity to visit Daata Darbar the following day. I went because, well, it was a day out. All the phone networks were down as it was Eid Milad ul-Nabi, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Apparently, terrorists in the past have used mobile phones to detonate bombs, hence why the decision was made to close down all mobile phone networks in the major cities.  Our relatives in Kashmir had been trying to contact us all day with no success – the networks were still working there.

For several nights, because of the religious holiday, mosques were brightly lit, with the sounds of prayers and religious music being heard all across the city.

Because of the bomb blasts in 2010, security at Daata Darbar was tight, meaning we could not take any bags or even mobile phones inside the shrine. However, when inside, I noticed a few women using their mobile phones! Clearly they had managed to sneak them in, probably inside their bras (no one checks there). The security women were something else though – after we had generously donated money at the shrine, probably a con (so I’m cynical-sue me), the female guards came after us and asked us to ‘donate’ to her. My aunty told the lady that we had no money on us, having left our bags in the car. However, two minutes later she came after us. “Baji (sister) do you want me to come and wait for you outside the car?” Er, no we bloody don’t thank you! My aunty managed to get rid of her eventually.

News crew near Daata Darbar

News crew near Daata Darbar

ARY News Channel capturing the Milad gathering

ARY News Channel capturing the Milad gathering

Gatherers for Milad - we spotted one woman, though it may have been a mirage

Gatherers for Milad – we spotted one woman, though it may have been a mirage

We also went to see Badshahi Mosque, or the ‘Royal Mosque’, which was built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It is also the second largest mosque in Pakistan, the largest being the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. The Tomb of the poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement, is located at the entrance of the Badshahi Mosque.

Allama Iqbal's tomb

Allama Iqbal’s tomb

A Sikh temple, Gurdwara Dera Sahib, is also situated near the mosque. The gurudwara was built by the Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the memory of Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth guru, and is a major Sikh pilgrimage site.  It is also Lahore’s largest GurdwaraI wanted to go inside but we were told that it was not possible. Why, I am not sure. I assume maybe it is only open for Sikh people, which goes against the principles of inclusion which Sikhism is supposed to promote.

Gurudwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi

Gurudwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi

Gurudwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi

Gurudwara Dera Sahib Panjvin Patshahi

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The gurudwara is visible here The gurudwara is visible here

Naturally in the mosque, I draped my dupatta over my head. I was the poster girl for modesty that afternoon. Unfortunately, it did not stop some men from gawping. I think this is a disease prevalent in the sub-continent – the people there just stare at you until you are out of their sight. I came to the conclusion that people here stare no matter what.

At Badshahi Mosque

At Badshahi Mosque, Lahore

But this did not stop me from enjoying the sites.  From inside the courtyard, Minar-e-Pakistan,  or “Tower of Pakistan”,  is visible. The tower is constructed on the site where, on 23 March 1940, the Muslim League passed the Pakistan Resolution demanding the creation of Pakistan. Unfortunately, we did not get to see Minar-e-Pakistan – I just had to make do with seeing it from the distance, within the walls of the Badshahi Mosque.

From here one can get a glimpse of Minar-e-Pakistan

Minar-e-Pakistan in the distance
Minar-e-Pakistan in the distance
The closest I got to Minar-e-Pakistan!

The closest I got to Minar-e-Pakistan!

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Incidentally, Heera Mandi, or “Diamond Market”, i.e. the red-light district, is very close to the mosque and other religious places too. But, ahem, I am sure this is coincidental…

A glimpse into the famous red-light district

A glimpse into the famous red-light district

27/1/13:  We were informed that the family’s driver, whom they hire regularly, especially when we come to visit them, had had another girl. He and his wife were trying for another boy, making it a grand total of four girls and one boy. Why they wanted another boy is beyond me. One of his daughters had received a scholarship to study at university. In a country that spends less than 2% of its budget on higher education and almost 20% on the military, a scholarship for poor families is a godsend. That, along with allocating enough funds for a wedding, having a daughter in this country is seen as a burden.

Two days before our flight back to England, we had to go back to the village first. I was sad to see the back of Lahore, but I consoled myself with the fact that it was not long before I was finally back in England.

On the way to the village, we passed Mangla Cantt, an army garrison near Mangla Dam in the Jhelum District of Pakistan. During the construction of Mangla Dam, several villages were evacuated to build residential colonies and offices. According to Zahra’s father, who had kindly offered to drive us back, “the army just seize a piece of land that they like and occupy it.” Having observed several soldiers around our village and the surrounding areas, I was rather hard-pressed to know exactly what they do all day.

Mangla Cantt

Mangla Cantt

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29/1/13: (writing on the plane)

I went to a house where I came across two fellow British girls – one was 17 and one was 16. The 16-year-old sat down with us and, when asked, insisted she was having the time of her life. Readers: I had to force down the glass of coke which had been given to me in order to stop a sarcastic comment coming out of my mouth. You will be pleased to know that I was the model of restraint and dignity (oh shut up).  When asked what she did all day, she replied: “Nothing, just watch TV, hang around with my cousins.” I thought, the how could you possible be having such a good time doing nothing?

I later found out that she had been there for 11 months too! 11 months! I had been there for two and a half weeks and was ready to jump off a cliff! The reason why she was practically a prisoner there, along with her sister, was because “she had been messing about” (code for being caught with a guy) . They were both getting married to their first cousins, who live in the same house where they are staying. Disgusting? You bet. I doubt that this was their choice – it was written all over the face of the girl who sat down with us. I wonder if she was being forced, or if she had, like many, accepted her fate.

This will always continue. In the future, such marriages will not be as common but they will still happen. Because of the fact that in some instances entire families from the same village/town will move to the same area in the UK, this attitude of ‘what people will say’ continues and the people will bring their way of thinking with them and refuse to move forward with the time. What is funny is how some of the homes int he village have changed. They are plush, decorated and fitted with all the modern conveniences and en-suites in every bedroom (it was obscene almost). Yet the people have not moved forward with those homes. Bringing spouses from abroad continues this cycle of tradition. It is no wonder that some British Asians can feel confused, torn as to what their identity is.

I came across another British girl who told me that she was enjoying her stay in the village (what is wrong with people?!). Her brother got married to a slightly older woman (cousin of course) here, last year. “He was really  happy, he didn’t want to come back,” she told me. This was not quite like the version that my auntie had recanted to me.  “He couldn’t bloody get out of there fast enough,” she said, and he did not even want to get married. His wife was a teacher – she stopped after she got married (of course). She is now learning English so that she can join her husband in the UK – I bet he can’t wait.

During our conversations, she revealed that the new marriage rule, whereby a British citizen needs to earn £18.5k in order to bring a non-EU spouse from overseas to the UK, is being appealed. Apparently, the Asians in Britain think this rule is ‘too unfair ‘ mostly because most of us don’t earn that much. We both hoped that this law would stay in place. “Thank God they decided to do this,” she said. I concur! This has to be the only decent thing the Coalition has actually done – and I don’t say that often.

I managed to get this confirmed with a solicitor later on- the £18.5k rule is being challenged. But this law is certainly a step in the right direction. I did wonder though, what about the two young girls who were being married off? How on earth would they get their husbands to join them in the UK, considering that they have no qualifications and are not even working? Unless they are going to stay there in the village permanently, though that is very unlikely.

I was happy to be finally going to the airport and saying goodbye to the place. I had had to sit on my suitcase to close it. I was hoping that the staff at the airport would not open my luggage. But they did-sod’s law. Only my suitcase was opened – I’ve never been more embarrassed. My clothes were spilling out, my unmentionables there for the whole world and his two wives to see. What was worse was that after we had had our luggage checked, another airport official stopped us and told us that we needed to have our bags checked. We informed him that we had just had our suitcases checked, but he would not take no for an answer. He was clearly after a bribe and , out of the corner of his mouth, told us to slip his some money discreetly. If it had been up to me, I would have yelled the place down and embarrassed him in front of everyone, but my mum decided to just pay the man. Corruption is rife – many British expatriates have complained that they are routinely hassled and disrespected. In fact, a gentleman who I was sat next to on the plane was telling me that he refused to bribe one official and instead went to ‘complaints’ department.  The official there, after being told how the man had been mistreated, simply said: “It’s nothing to worry about.”

Here, it is still a man’s world, and a rich man’s world at that.

***

When I visited Pakistan and Kashmir in 2009  I loved it – the mountain scenery used to take my breath away, but now – nothing. I felt absolutely nothing. This is probably why I cannot see myself marrying anyone from Pakistan or from my grandparents’ village, because if I do, I will have to go back there regularly, and that is something that I really do not want to do.  I must sound so heartless and as though I’m turning my back on my culture and people, and I know for a fact that many Pakistanis reading this will not like what I have written. Their experiences will be different to mine, they will enjoy what time they spend in that part of the world, but for me it’s completely different. My connection to this place died when my grandparents passed away. Now, I am sad to say, I just feel that there is nothing to bring me back here again.

Stalkers Stalked: New Law Is Just The Start

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 02/12/2012

 

ALICE (not her real name) was stalked for five years. Her stalker sent her husband poison pen letters, type- written in order to conceal their identity.  Everything was noticed and mentioned in detail: the car she drove, her clothes, the friends she had, the parties she attended, where she went, who she saw. Everything.

The letters proceeded with alarming regularity, often two in one month. Someone was out there, watching. The language was crude, offensive, personal and hateful.  It affected Alice greatly.  She’d walk through the town centre wondering, “Is it you…is it you? Are you doing this?”

Eventually, three years ago, she called the police, who she says were sympathetic. Although they made the right noises, the investigation was closed as they couldn’t find the culprit. Fingerprints were evident, but as the person wasn’t on their database the case was closed.  Although the five-year ordeal stopped, Alice never found out the identity of her stalker. The most incredulous thing, however, is that until this week, what happened to Alice would not have been described as stalking in the context of the criminal justice system.

Previous laws on harassment and stalking were “not fit for purpose”

On Monday, two specific criminal offences of stalking (stalking and stalking involving a fear of violence) came into force in England and Wales for the first time. The new offences sit alongside ones of harassment in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.   The Home Office minister Jeremy Brown said the new offences are designed to provide extra protection for victims, highlight the serious impact stalking can have on them and help bring more perpetrators to justice. This comes after an independent parliamentary inquiry, which found the previous laws on harassment and stalking were “not fit for purpose”.

They also found that 120,000 victims, mostly women, were stalked every year, but only half lead to a reported crime and only one in 50 incidents leads to a conviction. Mr Brown said there is some evidence that making stalking a specific offence helps convict more people, after Scotland brought in similar laws two years ago.

He went on to say: “Stalking is an appalling crime that destroys lives. The impact on victims can be devastating and we are doing all we can to make sure they have the protection they need and do not have to live in fear.

“These new offences send a clear message to offenders that stalking is a serious crime and they will be brought to justice for making others’ lives a misery.”

Certainly this legislation will be welcome from organisations such as Protection Against Stalking and the Network for Surviving Stalking who have been aiming for precisely this. These new laws are long overdue. Stalkers wreck decent peoples lives. But this legislation must not be the be all and end all – legislation can only do so much. The system needs to try to stop the cases from escalating. Abusers were often charged with the less serious offence of harassment. This resulted in more lenient sentences of 12 months or less in prison, and many being granted community orders.

Stalkers will repeat-offend until they are treated

This is just the beginning of a wide range of measures that should be implemented to tackle this crime seriously. Alexis Bowater, chiefexecutive of the NSS, said that stalkers will repeat-offend until they are treated, so there needs to be mandatory treatment, and there needs to be better support for victims. Police have, at times, been accused of not providing adequate protection and support for victims of stalking as they do for the rich and celebrities.

Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, who was an adviser to the parliamentary inquiry, said: “What you have is the ‘fixated threat assessment centre’ set up by the Met in 2006 to protect the rich and famous but the thousands of ordinary people do not get anything.”

This must be addressed. Many years ago domestic violence was dealt with in the same way as stalking is now. Hopefully, with better training and guidance from charities and organisations that deal with stalking, police can stop stalkers and victims can feel more confident in the system, knowing that the authorities understand their ordeal, which can then lead to more prosecutions of perpetrators.

There is still a lot that needs to be done. Let us hope that this legislation is one step in the right direction.

Written by Iram Ramzan

December 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm

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As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Six Pillars

North Africa, South and West Asia (Middle East) Arts Platforms

the fatal feminist

Lethal poison for the System.