My family beat me and hacked off my hair for kissing a white boyShamima Akhtar was attacked by her siblings for kissing a boy on her 18th birthdayThey assaulted her and now partner Gary and threatened to kill herShamima's sisters and brother were convicted but not jailed for the assault
21:50 GMT, 24 August 2012
21:50 GMT, 24 August 2012
Assaulted: Shamina Akhtar and her partner Gary Pain were both beaten up by Shamina's siblings when she first kissed Gary at her 18th birthday party
Shamima Akhtar has got used to looking over her shoulder. Walking to work or shopping at the supermarket, she is watching closely, hoping ‘they’ aren’t following her.
‘I don’t go out much in daylight,’ she says. ‘And when I do, I go to places they’re unlikely to find me.’
It’s a horrible way to live, one made all the worse by the fact that they ‘they’ are 19-year-old Shamima’s family — who terrify her and from whom she is completely estranged.
Few could blame her, given what she’s been through.
Last year, three of her siblings — sisters Nazira, 29, Nadiya, 25, and brother Mohammed-Abdul, 24 — launched a sickening assault on Shamima, which culminated in her sisters slapping and punching her and hacking off her waist-length hair.
Shamima’s crime Kissing a white boy at her 18th birthday celebrations.
Earlier this year, the trio were found guilty at Winchester Crown Court of actual bodily harm in a case that, the jury was told, centred on ‘honour-based domestic violence’.
While her Muslim family embraced certain aspects of Western life, behind the doors of their detached home in Basingstoke, Hampshire, strict Islamic law ruled.
The price for contravening those laws can be high indeed, as Cheshire schoolgirl Shafilea Ahmed discovered.
She found herself squeezed between two cultures — the Western one, which she wanted to embrace, and the Muslim one her parents wanted to impose upon her.
Last month, her parents were sentenced to life imprisonment for her brutal murder after she failed to toe the religious line.
Shamima’s fate was not so grim, but her fellow teenager’s story has prompted her to give her first interview and reveal how she lives in fear of further reprisals. ‘I’m frightened of my family,’ she says.
‘I don’t feel that what happened is the end, but the beginning. Whatever shame my family believe I brought on them is now a hundred times worse.’
Shamima has severed her links with her old world. Today, she shares a homely two- bedroom flat with Gary Pain, 23, the work colleague whose kiss prompted such outrage.
It was, she reveals sweetly, their first, and marked the start of a blossoming romance, despite its grim backdrop.
‘Gary is the one good thing to come out of this,’ she says. ‘I am happy, but at the same time I’ve lost my entire family and that’s hard. I can never go back.’
Her eyes brim with tears, and little wonder. It is a bewildering state of affairs for a young woman who, by her own admission, had for many years thought hers was a happy family.
Born and raised in London, Shamima was the youngest of six siblings raised by Abdul and Jahamara Kalam.
had come to Britain from his native Bangladesh aged four, while his
wife had arrived here as his bride in an arranged marriage.
Shamima grew up, her father found work running a caf and as a taxi
driver, while Jahamara stayed at home to raise their expanding family —
Rugi, now 32, Ripon, 30, Nazira, Nadiya, Mohammed-Abdul and Shamima.
‘We were all close — we got along well and we enjoyed doing things as a family,’ says Shamima.
That all changed eight years ago,
however, after her sister Nazira, then 21, fled back to the family home
from her arranged marriage in Bangladesh, having been involved in a
vicious row with her new husband on their wedding night.
Fleeing was an act of rebellion that sparked a year of furious family rows.
changed within the family,’ says Shamima. ‘There were constant
arguments and all the love and affection just seemed to vanish
‘I was bewildered. I was only 12 and couldn’t understand why every- thing had changed. In some ways, I still don’t’.
own life, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly miserable. ‘No one
really talked to me within the family, and I was ignored. The only time
my family spoke to me was to tell me what I couldn’t do.
wasn’t allowed to do anything — I couldn’t go on sleepovers, school
trips, even to the park after school. I had school friends, but not
proper friends. My life stopped at the school gates and after that I had
no one to turn to.
‘Even if I did, I wouldn’t say anything. I’d been brought up to say nothing.’
Guilty: Nadiya Akhtar, 25, (right) and Nazira Akhtar, 29, were found guilty of actual bodily harm of their younger sister but to Shamima's disappointment they got away with a conditional discharge and a fine
so, at the age of 15, Shamima saved up her lunch money for months to
enable her to buy a cheap mobile phone, allowing her to text the one or
two girls she had become close to at school.
was one small way of asserting my independence,’ she says. ‘I knew I
didn’t want to live like the rest of the family, I just didn’t know how
to achieve it. It seemed impossible.’
Following her GCSEs, Shamima’s parents wanted her to stay at home and help with the housework.
sister Rugi, though, stepped in and got her sister a job in a local
department store in October 2009, arguing that the salary she would
bring in would help the family.
started on a contract, but within a few months I’d not only been given a
permanent job but promoted to team leader,’ says Shamima.
may sound like nothing, but it made me so proud. This was the first
thing I’d done on my own.’ Outside work, however, Shamima’s life was as
restricted as it had been before.
of the family dropped me off at work and picked me up every day. I
couldn’t go to any staff gatherings, Christmas parties, nothing,’ she
‘My family would even come in at
random to check I was at work, and my salary was paid into my mother’s
bank account. I was given just 10 a week of my own. It was suffocating.
I was just a young girl trying to make her way in the world and I felt
As her confidence grew, however, Shamima started to become more daring.
confided in my manager, who said he would cover for me. My family
didn’t know my exact hours, so I would tell them I was going to work,
then when I got there I would take off my uniform shirt, put on a top
and just have a few hours doing what a normal teenage girl would do —
going to the shops or to the cinema.
Her rock: Shamina says she is 'lucky' to have Gary to turn to unlike many girls in her situation who have no one
‘If my family popped in, my manager would tell them I was in the stockroom and couldn’t be disturbed. It was so liberating.’
Within a few months, Shamima had formed a close bond with a male colleague — presumably precisely what her parents most feared.
His name was Gary Pain, and from their first conversation there was a spark.
‘I was Gary’s manager at first, and I liked him instantly,’ she says. ‘He was the first man to express a real interest in my life, and to listen to what I said. He treated me with respect.’
At the time, however, romance couldn’t have been further from Shamima’s mind.
And her family had already made it clear that she would be expected to have an arranged marriage.
‘I just tried to push it to the back of my mind. I still had two older sisters and thought they’d have to get married first, so I had time on my side,’ she says.
Then, in March last year, Shamima turned 18.
‘My parents had gone to Bangladesh, but before they left I asked if I could go for a meal to mark my birthday. My father agreed, but said that in their absence my sisters would act as my guardians and they would decide the time I had to return.’
After intense negotiation, it was agreed that Shamima could go for dinner with colleagues on April 1, between 8.30pm and 10.30pm, providing only women were present.
‘They thought they were being generous, but even then, they plagued me,’ says Shamima.
‘I had 22 missed calls and endless texts on a phone they’d bought me so they could check up on me.
‘It got so bad that in the end, one of my colleagues grabbed the phone, turned it off and said: “This is your night.” I was scared, but at the same time I felt thrilled, too. This was the most rebellious I had ever been.
‘We left the restaurant and went on to a bar, so my family didn’t know where I was.’
By midnight, when she begged for her phone back and turned it on, she had countless more missed calls.
‘I answered one call and it was Nazira, screaming down the phone.’
Shamima says that despite her own arranged marriage ending so badly, her elder sister had never shown any sympathy or understanding towards her youngest sibling.
‘They said they were coming for me now. I told them where I was.’ Gary, who had been present, walked her downstairs to the car park and it was there, she says, that they kissed for the first time.
‘He said “I’ve been waiting to do this all night” and he took my face in his hands. It was the most amazing feeling ever. Here was someone who just accepted me for who I was.’
She had little time to enjoy this feeling: within moments bright headlights swept into the car park and her siblings came rushing towards her.
‘It all happened so quickly,’ she says. ‘My brother grabbed Gary by the throat and my sisters dragged me into the car.
‘Nazira punched me in the head as soon as I got in — it was so painful. They put the childlock on so I couldn’t escape and I heard my brother say: “We’re doing it tonight. Get the boys. Get the gun.” I was petrified.’
Back in the car park, Gary had been left, helpless, unable to do anything to intervene.
Back home, Shamima was dragged into the house by her hair and thrown to the floor, where her siblings started to kick her. ‘They were calling me a slag and a prostitute,’ she says, her eyes flooding with tears. ‘I was so scared I actually wet myself. I thought I was going to die.’
As she would later testify in court, she had good reason to: her brother came into the room with two knives and a hammer, telling his sister to choose one to use on her and one on ‘lover-boy’.
‘My only thought was that at least they didn’t know where Gary lived,’ she says. ‘My brother then said I had to be punished and that my hair must be cut.
‘It was my pride and joy and I begged them not to, but they bunched it up into a pony tail and hacked it to neck level,’ she recalls. Bleeding and bruised, Shamima was then forced to sleep on the floor.
Unbeknown to her siblings, however, she did have a secret weapon, in the form of her mobile phone she had invested in two years before. Surreptitiously, she texted Gary and asked him to call the police.
‘I locked myself in a bedroom by pushing a chest of drawers against a door,’ she says. ‘When the police came, I was so relieved I cried.’
Her siblings were arrested, while Shamima was taken to the police station to give a statement. She has never been home, or spoken to any member of her family since, though her parents have texted her asking her to return.
‘How could I after everything’ she says. ‘I don’t want to see any of them ever again.
‘When I left the house that day, I didn’t look back. The police managed to get some of my belongings, and I went to stay at a friend’s house.’
She later went to live with Gary and his mother before the couple finally got a place of their own earlier this year.
In the meantime, she has had to endure the difficulty of a trial. She gave evidence from behind a partition, but still struggled with the process of testifying against her family.
‘I felt very alone, even with Gary looking after me,’ she says. ‘Each of my siblings had their own barrister, so I was questioned over and over again for six days. I just wanted it to be over.’
Finally, after three weeks, the jury returned its verdict, rejecting the charges of false imprisonment, but finding the two sisters guilty of actual bodily harm and her brother guilty of assaulting Mr Pain.
Today, Shamima admits she had hoped her siblings would go to prison. Instead, when sentencing them, Judge Guy Boney told them he would treat them leniently, giving them each a conditional discharge and a fine.
‘It felt like the equivalent of a slap on the wrist,’ says Shamima. ‘I couldn’t have asked for more from the police, but part of me felt like a fool. I wanted the judge to send a message to families like mine.’
Instead, by agreeing to speak out she is doing that herself. Her hope, she says, is that people can understand the difficulties of young women like her, caught between two worlds.
‘I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I just want people to know this is going on behind closed doors,’ she says.
‘In some ways I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got Gary. But there are hundreds of girls like me out there who have no one to turn to.’