Sabatina James, a Pakistani women’s rights campaigner has revealed how she fears for her life after her strict Muslim parents threatened to kill her when she dared to refuse an arranged marriage.
UK DAILY MAIL Sabatina James said the threat made her flee the family home at 18, change her name, convert to Catholicism and move abroad to set up a foundation for women in similar danger.
Her parents took her to court after she wrote a book about her experiences, in which she claimed to have been beaten as her teenager for kissing a boy and wearing clothes they thought were too revealing. They sued her for defamation – and lost.
Miss James said she believed she would probably be dead now, if her parents had their way. She told the Daily Beast: ‘I rarely go out alone. ‘I often wonder if someone is lurking around the corner. ‘I have always loved my freedom – but I have paid a high price.’
But she added that her mother was even stricter, beating her and watching her every move to the point where she had ‘no anchor’. Miss James, who grew up in a rural village near the Kashmir mountains, said her problems began when she was 15 and the family lived in the Austrian city of Linz.
While she enjoyed the freedoms of Western culture, such as wearing lipstick and eyeliner, her conservative parents, who were brought together in an arranged marriage, disapproved.
Her father even thought acting classes were for prostitutes, she said, while her mother believed using tampons would ‘ruin’ her virginity. It made her parents more determined to marry her off to preserve the family’s ‘honour’, she added.
Miss James said her mother once hit her across the cheek, kicked her legs and called her a whore after reading in her diary that she had kissed a boy.
So began three years of violence between them, Miss James claimed, based on her refusal to be in a forced marriage and the embarrassment it caused the family’s Pakistani peers in Austria. Miss James said her mother smacked her in the face with a shoe, splitting her lip, for having a t-shirt that was deemed to be too skimpy.
More trouble flared during a family to visit to Pakistan when she was 16. After she attracted catcalls from a group of men while wearing an outfit she thought was ‘perfectly modest’, her mother was so ashamed that she beat herself in the chest with a metal rod – a sight that shocked Miss James, even though she was aware there were Pakistanis who flagellated themselves.
Miss James’s parents sent her to an Islamic school, or madrassa, in Lahore, Pakistan, where she shared a room with about 30 other girls. The girls spent all day studying the Koran, praying and listening to lectures about the prophet Muhammad, Miss James said. Any girl who spoke out of turn would be publicly caned in a courtyard, she added. Miss James was expelled after three months.
She ran away from home after her parents learned of her intention to break off the engagement and threatened her. Miss James said their harassment caused her to lose her job, forcing her to run away again, this time to the Austrian capital Vienna with the help of friends. There she began a new life, changing her name and converting to Catholicism.