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In my culture there is a lot of pressure on girls my age to be mindful of the family honour. In my family that also means girls like me can’t choose to marry who they want. They have to marry someone from the same culture and caste. From a young age I recall my parents talking about people living in the same street and talking about the caste they belonged to; they always seemed to dislike anyone from a different caste to them. Sometimes me and my sister would play outside and we were told to stay away from certain children because they belonged to a different caste to us. Back then I didn’t know what this really meant.

At 18 I now know what it means. My problems started when my sister got married. She wasn’t really ready for marriage, but agreed to it to keep my parents happy – she’s always done what they say. I was the one they called a ‘rebel’. But I wasn’t a rebel, I just asked questions my parents didn’t like to answer. After I turned 18, relatives from my dad’s side came to our house to ask my parents for my hand in marriage. My mum told me that it’s best I just agree, as she didn’t think many proposals would come. I laughed when my mum said this, but she was serious. I didn’t even care about getting married – I was planning to go to university. I have always been a very headstrong person and sometimes this would get me into trouble – I was seen as the loud-mouthed one.

Every day my parents would talk about marriage. It became unbearable. I couldn’t stay quiet anymore so I told them “I won’t marry anyone and no-one can force me”. My dad arranged a family meeting and called my uncles.

In the meeting I was asked why I refused to get married. My uncle asked if I had a boyfriend. When I told him I didn’t, he asked if I was gay because there was no other reason I’d not want to get married. My father was enraged and said he would “rather kill me than have a gay child”. I wasn’t even able to answer his question. I could see there was no point in trying to reason with them. They told me I couldn’t go to university if I didn’t agree to marry my uncle’s son.

I felt under pressure to just agree. I guess deep down I knew this was their way of forcing me to conform. My mother was angry with me. She said she felt ashamed that the men of the house had to deal with me and it was as though I was an ‘uncultured girl’.

My parents gave me an ultimatum: no marriage, no university. The weeks that followed were the hardest. I felt isolated and alone, everyone stopped talking to me. I was going against my parents’ wishes and our cultural practises.

I called my sister and told her that I didn’t want to leave home, but I had no choice. She tried to talk me out of leaving. She said the whole community would talk badly about our family. Our uncles would be angry and I would make a mockery of my parents. All I could say is that I couldn’t sacrifice my life and happiness the way she did. I didn’t want to upset my parents but at the same time I knew they would find a way of forcing me to do what they wanted in order to keep our family honour. I then rang my friend and told her I needed to speak with the police, but I didn’t want them to come to my house. She said she would meet me near the police station.

I went to the police station and told the officers my situation. I knew there was no going back. My dad and uncles would definitely kill me because I had dishonoured them.

When I arrived at Anah Project I was numb and doubting my decision. It wasn’t easy for me. I was not eating very well and at night I would stay awake thinking about my mum and sister. I didn’t contact my sister – I know my parents would have told her not to contact me.

My key worker was really supportive. She understood the cultural issues I was facing and the fear that my family would try to find me. Her knowledge and experience made me feel safe. I was accompanied to appointments and shown around the local area. This helped me to become more confident and stay safe.

My wish came true – I started university. At the refuge I made new friends who treated me like family. With help from Anah I accessed counselling and learnt skills to be able to live independently.

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