“Please write my story. You have no idea how many women have similar experiences!”
The story of broken dreams
Let us assume her name as Farah. Farah was a bubbly, beautiful young woman who aspired to become a teacher. She was excellent academically and her family was proud of her. Like any typical Bangladeshi family, they dreamed to get Farah married to a well-established man. One fine day, her family got a proposal from Sharif’s family. Sharif was working as an engineer in the UK and had a British passport. Farah’s family was thrilled! This was a dream come true moment. Farah’s mother could not hold back her tears when the marriage date was fixed. She devoted the next three months of her life preparing for the wedding. She convinced Farah’s father to let her go to Kolkata, India to look for a beautiful wedding dress for their beloved daughter. She spent hours trying to decide the menu for the different programs. She was perhaps more thrilled than Farah. But Farah was no less! She was happy and excited about her new life as Sharif told her that after their marriage, she will move to the UK to live with him. It triggered mixed emotions in Farah’s heart. From childhood, she was close to her parents and being the eldest daughter, she took on a lot of household responsibilities. Her move to the UK would create a vacuum in the household and the idea of being so far from her family made her sad. But the excitement of living in a foreign country, and being married to a successful, intelligent and handsome man like Sharif also was appealing to her. She spent hours dreaming about her life in the UK.
And finally, the wedding day arrived. Farah was sent to the best beauty parlor in Dhaka where they got her dressed up. She looked breathtakingly beautiful. When she met Sharif, she blushed when she noticed the twinkle in his eyes. This was one of the happiest days of her life. Soon after the wedding, Sharif left for the UK. It took a couple of years before Farah completed her graduation and got the visa to go and live with Sharif. She was restless and impatient. She had fallen in love with her husband deeply.
But finally, when she arrived in the UK to live with Sharif, her world turned upside down. The first shock for her was his lack of enthusiasm when he received her at the airport. She for a while assumed that maybe Sharif is troubled at his workplace which he is unable to share with her. But then, his cold behavior continued and soon enough, Farah discovered the reason. Sharif was having an affair with a woman of Bangladeshi origin was also settled in the UK! Sharif’s mother disapproved of the match and had fixed his marriage to Farah with a hope to get her son distracted from Dipa, his cousin’s daughter. But all the efforts went in vain. Farah tried her best to make the marriage work, but Sharif refused to end his relationship with Dipa. When Farah argued with Sharif, he beat her up mercilessly and in front of her eyes, he would invite Dipa to his apartment and take her to his bedroom, and shut the door on Farah’s face. This situation prevailed for a couple of years. And finally one day Farah had enough and she packed her bag and left.
When she returned, her struggles took a different turn. She was exhausted and traumatized by her experiences, and the stigma of being ‘divorced’ aggravated her trauma and led her to be harassed within and outside her home. She struggled to rebuild her life. Her mental health situation distracted her to the extent that she failed to pursue her career goals. She can no longer trust people, and she does not know if she can ever love someone again and remarry. On the other hand, Sharif eventually married Dipa. Farah told me that there are days when she feels like ending her life.
Does the story sound familiar to you? If it does, I am not surprised at all!
There are many women whose families get them married to men settled abroad, hoping for a good life for their daughters. But often, the families are unaware of the truths the groom’s families are hiding from them. As migrant wives, women like Farah are vulnerable and often don’t know if they can seek help in the foreign land where most often they don’t have any access to the relevant network and are dependent on their husbands. Their survival and right to stay in a foreign country depends on the mercy of their husbands, and their visa is often tied to their husbands so it makes it difficult for them to seek justice in a land where they know no one but only their husband-the person whose hands they held once and arrived in a strange land with their hearts full of dreams. In no time, some, unfortunately, find their dreams crushed into a thousand pieces- never to be repaired.
What can we do for women like Farah? We need to have more diaspora led NGOs which can effectively address these challenges. Farah is educated, but some women go abroad without knowing a word of English or the language spoken in the country where they are going. Linguistic barriers is another challenge because of which I feel the need for diaspora led NGOs to support migrant women. It is also high time that Bangladeshi society stops harassing people, especially women for being divorced.
Lastly, I hope that families become more conscious and do not arrange a marriage without having enough information about the groom just because he is financially well off and settled in a foreign country. I sincerely hope someday Farah can move on and be happy, and no other Farah has to return home empty-handed, only to hear taunts and live a miserable life.
The writer is working as editor of Women Chapter’s English site, and Policy Director at Safety First for Girls Outreach Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Zambia. Her passion includes inter-faith peacebuilding, refugee rights, women empowerment etc. She is one of the young leaders of Women Deliver Young Deliver 2018 Program.