Zee, Survivor of Forced Marriage reflects on Karma Nirvana’s Day of Memory Conference.

Waking up to the third annual Day of Memory, I was very excited that this year it was being held in West Yorkshire – my home county. Feeling very proud that the authorities I grew up with who didn’t know about forced marriage and honour based abuse, were now united with Karma Nirvana in a mission to end it.

I am a survivor of forced marriage and fled Yorkshire as a teenager running away to London. As a result of my actions, I ended up in the British care system. The day I left home I knew I would never see my family again. Their honour meant more to them than their own daughter. But that’s OK, I did not want to be part of a family that cared more about these things than their own flesh and blood.

The Day of Memory is important to me as we remember those who are sadly not with us. This is a symbolic occasion and every year I leave feeling so blessed that I am alive. Had I not done what I did so many years ago, I too would not be here today. Before entering the room, I reflect on my life and what could have been, mixed emotions running through my head, feeling very grateful to be alive and living independently free from harm’s way. However, at the same time remembering those that were not lucky enough to get out, whom we have sadly lost, due to their parent’s actions.

The day was opened and hosted by BBC Asian Network presenter Bobby Friction who is a Patron of Karma Nirvana. This was followed by a few words from Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, the founder and CEO of Karma Nirvana. In her opening statement, the audience were reminded why we were here and that forced marriage and honour based abuse is a ‘child and public protection issue’ and how those we remember today were murdered by the family who were meant to love them the most. These murders were motivated by the fact that their lives were deemed dishonourable as they wished to embrace Britain’s democracy, rights and the rule of law.

We also heard from Education, Health and Local Authority representatives pledging to stand united in tackling these issues in their local area. This was music to my ears, decades ago these issues were not on the map and here we are today at an annual Remembrance Day, celebrating achievements of survivors and keeping the memory alive of those we have sadly lost.

This year we heard from several male survivors and relatives of victims, learning that honour abuse affects men too. Very moving testimonies from male survivors – Matt and Lucky brought tears to my eyes. Both of these survivors courageously spoke about their experiences giving us a profound insight into their lives.

As a society, we need to recognise that this is abuse and we need to stand together to tackle this issue. We mustn’t shy away and accept that it is a cultural issue as Jasvinder Sanghera says, “Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable.”

We ended the day cutting a cake on what would have been Shafilea Ahmed’s 31st birthday, her legacy and that of others lost lives on through Karma Nirvana’s work. As a survivor, I continue to thrive embracing Britain which is not a threat but an opportunity to embrace with honour.

I live my life freely and continue to be proud of what I have achieved. Most importantly of all, I continue to spread the word that forced marriage and honour based abuse is abuse FULL STOP. This remains a day to come together raising national awareness. Six UK Police forces and other partner agencies held their own events, as we work in partnership in the fight against forced marriage and honour-based abuse.

Zee