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'Growing up, I thought domestic abuse was part of our culture and normal'



When I was thrust into the media spotlight after being on The Apprentice in 2005, I vowed to use my platform to talk about life growing up in Britain.

From a young age I felt that while I was British – born and educated here – I was not represented.

At times, it felt like Asian matters were dealt with by unelected community leaders, while the rest of the population was accounted for by laws and MPs.

Many women like me, who try to straddle two distinct cultures, see and experience things that others never do – arranged marriages, forced marriages, child brides, cultural control.

Many come here from places like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, with no knowledge of the language, and are forced to be dutiful maids at the mercy of the families they have been married into.

This is a generalisation but, from what I saw growing up, it was a regular norm. That is my truth.

Some people accuse me of only highlighting negative stories from the South Asian culture.

The trolls come out in force, some issuing death threats, in the hope I will just shut up.

But I have always made a stand for the women in my community because so many can’t speak up.

They don’t know who to talk to without feeling judged. And they could be ­ostracised – or killed – for dishonouring their families.

The guilt bestowed upon Asian women from birth is indescribable. You learn to live with it but that guilt shapes every aspect of your life.

And it keeps the misogyny alive.

MPs don’t want to discuss the abuse in case they’re accused of being racist. But silence results in innocent women being abused, violated and murdered.

Shanatona, a domestic abuse charity that supports vulnerable women from South Asian backgrounds has helped more than 1,000 women and girls in the past year who did not go to the police.

But some brave women are speaking up. Women like Riya, whose mother, Abida Karim, 39, was killed during lockdown after 21 years of domestic abuse.

Abida’s husband Sajid Pervez pleaded guilty to murder and was jailed for 22 years in February.

Riya, 21, says her parents’ arranged marriage was “toxic” and her mum was regularly punched and always had black eyes.

It is unacceptable a woman with obvious signs of abuse was not helped by her own community.

But victims cannot even be sure of help from public services. Riya reported the abuse of her mum to police several times but says she was told: “Every husband and wife goes through this.”

It is imperative Asian women speak up, so more people can be made aware.

I grew up thinking it was acceptable for men to shout at women and that hitting is part of our culture and normal.

It isn’t. It’s domestic abuse and there are laws in this country to protect us from it.

We need this message to infiltrate all communities in Britain.





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