I had two new experiences yesterday – I’ll tell you about the job I had that left me unhappy that I couldn’t help more.

We arrived at the same time as the police to find an Indian woman crying on her bed.  We had been sent round to the house because she was supposedly threatening to jump from a window and there were signs of a disturbance all around the bedroom.  The woman herself wasn’t seriously physically harmed although she had a few scratches to one of her wrists, an obvious sign of attempted self harm.

She was laying face down on the bed sobbing uncontrollably, her husband told us that he had ‘done something wrong’ and that she had gotten upset over it.

She was obviously in no fit state to remain at home but it took a long twenty minutes to persuade her to make a move down to the ambulance where we could have a private chat with her.

Her story was simple, yet one I haven’t come across before.

Her marriage had been ‘arranged’, she had met the man who was to be her husband just four months before they married.  The pair of them lived in a house with her husbands mother and sister.  The husband was apparently seeing other women on the side and his mother had told our patient that this was ‘normal’ in England.  Our patient told me, between sobs, that her mother in law and sister in law both bullied her.

Her only family was out in India, and today, when she had told her father about her troubles he had started crying.  This is what had sent her into such a distressed state.  She was distressed because she had made her family unhappy.

My only choice was to offer her a trip to hospital so that they could clean and dress her minor wounds.  The police officer however could offer more, she took my patient’s mobile phone number and promised that she would pass that number on to the groups that deal with situations like this.  All I could do was get her out of the house for a couple of hours so that she could collect herself and start thinking about what she could do next.  As I often feel in such cases I wished that there was more I could do for her.

I would imagine that due to the ethnic make-up of East London there are quite a few arranged marriages, I’m always suspicious about the marriages where a forty year old man is married to a twenty six year old female.  While I’m not completely against the idea of arranged marriages, there does need to be specialist support for those people who are quite obviously powerless in the relationship.

Arranged marriages should not be about power over a woman being given to a man.

I’m hoping that the woman that we left in the A&E department will be able to get the support she needs, and I hope that the short period of time I knew her will be a turning point for her.

12 thoughts on “Arranged”

  1. thanks for the long reply, it's helping to make a sort of sense of the very complex issues that a lot of non-muslims can't begin to comprehend.Isn't there an issue with the husband though? Isn't there any comeback for him, given that he has stood up and married this woman in front of his friends and his family and his community and his God, and now he is treating that marriage with such contempt?

  2. The poor poor woman, I can only imagin how isolated and alone she must feel, or maybe felt. Hopefully that one call for help will be all it takes for some understanding and support to come her way, although I doubt it will solve her problems, we can hope.

  3. Sounds like maybe her father didn't realise quite what situation he was putting his daughter into there, perhaps?Marriages of any kind can only work if both parties respect their marriage vows, which the husband isn't doing. It doesn't matter whether or not his mummy thinks it's “normal in England” to have a bit on the side.

  4. *sigh*Reminds me of a lot of the more complex jobs I do at Melbourne's Most Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy. Much more about the social work, and less about the easy physical care stuff. I have a lot of patients that are similary socially isolated or in comparably tricky situations. As an example, I spent close to 2 hours yesterday trying to work out what I could actually do a for a staff member that has siginificant pain managment issues that are shading into palliative care issues, all while he's still trying to hold down a job and be perceived as just like everyone else. Generally a smart, sensitive and conscientious guy, with a certain amount of understandable apathy and denial mixed in.

    Sounds like a smart move in just getting her out of the place for a while.

    How often do you think about the deliberate limitations we place upon ourselves by choosing specific jobs? To my mind, it's frequently a blessing – knowing where the borders of what I can do, and what someone else needs to be called in for are. Other times, it leaves me feeling completely undertrained and equipped, and it leaves me feeling slightly hollow.

  5. The home office actually has a special division for dealing with forced marriages where a British citizen has been married out of the country (Usualy the women). This can often involve middle of the night rescues, although sometimes the situation can be settled a lot more easily.I don't know what the situation is when the victim remains in the UK though, although it appears that your police officer had some experience. Of course, in many situations the result will be little different from a normal abusive relationship, even if the underlying causes and factors may be different. Of course there is the added diffculty of traditions, and worry of disapointing the parents. (Fortunately in this case it seems as though the womans family will come out on 'her side.')

  6. I agree – my curse is that I'm quite knowledgeable about the various support services….and I know their limitations.

  7. I've been thinking about this since I read the post yesterday, and I've finally nailed down what I think I don't understand: why don't the parents feel they have failed the girl by making a crap match? Why is it that she is felt to have failed the family?Justin.

  8. Sigh… An all too common scenario in East London, as it's not 'most' marriages, it's the majority of marriages, especially amongst Muslims (though not exclusively), that are arranged… I say that as a member of this particular community and as someone who assumes that she will be getting married this way. And it's a given sadly, that some of these will be forced. Feel I have to highlight this distinction again – one of the comments above has perhaps confused the two with its reference to the Forced Marriages Unit (though admittedly that is easily done)? This sounds like an unhappy arranged marriage, which doesn't require 'legal' intervention, although the girl obviously needs outside support.As to the whys and wherefores voiced above, I couldn't read them and not comment. So here goes… I guess the easiest (and shortest, though I have a feeling the use of that word will be relative!) answer to give is that, to quote Tom above, whilst arranged marriages should not be about power over a woman being given to a man, in patriarchal societies that is exactly what they are about.

    The daughter represents the father's (and by extension, the family's and the community's) honour (izzat is the Hindi/Urdu/Bengali word for this concept) which is transferred to the husband and his family/community. The act of marriage means that once the girl leaves the familial home she is no longer part of that family but now a member and responsibility of the husband's family. The unspoken rules of behaviour in our society mean that the daughter can never really express unhappiness with her father's decision/choice – she must suffer in silence and bear as best she can under the circumstances – and to admit her unhappiness to her family means that she has failed in playing this all too common role. That part of this sorry affair is purely down to tradition/cultural behaviours and really infuriates me – not least as it's not unrelated to the fact that women of south Asian origin have some of the highest rates of mental illness in the UK.

    Anyway, that's my interpretation of why the poor girl was so distressed – her family's distress would also have arisen from the fact they felt betrayed by the husband's behaviour – they entrusted him with their honour/daughter (the two really are interchangeable in this society) and he is abusing it through his current behaviour. And, (based on my own parents' experiences), the girl would have been coaxed into marrying someone from abroad with images of the UK as the promised land where she would be treated like royalty. Necessary in a way, since as you can imagine, to go with a complete stranger to live in a foreign land and end up cut off from all kinds of support/support networks is a hell of a step to take, especially when the girl knows that she will be the dependent one in the relationship as a result… So, when she eventually expressed her unhappiness to her parents, she was effectively revealing their complicity in this illusion.

    That's a really basic explanation of some of the societal/cultural factors at play here and I admit it is subjective because these are the factors I am familiar with as a result of growing up with my cultural heritage (South Asian/Muslim). More than happy to be corrected/challenged/questioned on any of this stuff.

    “Culture …. a horrid situation, but we look at it from our viewpoint”. Hmmm… I'm presuming the mention of culture here refers to the practice of arranged marriages… to actually defend the practice for a moment, all my school friends have had arranged marriages, the majority to partners they had not met beforehand and almost all are (to my knowledge) happy, busy working and raising families. There have been a handful of divorces amongst my peers but I imagine the proportion is still low compared to what it is for the UK population as a whole.

    And a last point, it's not such an alien concept to western society – this could easily be a scenario from middle or upper-class/aristocratic Europe in not so distant times where a girl would agree to marry an unsuitable but highly eligible partner and then suffer in silence for the sake of maintaining her [surrogate] family's reputation… Diana and Charles keep springing to mind for some reason… Oops I think I have just undermined my own argument there!

    Apologies for the overly long comment btw – but admittedly the topic is a complex one, one that even a lifetime of familiarity can't simplify…

  9. Sorry, I am aware of the distinction between forced and arranged marriage, and had tried to represent this in my comment, albeit a bit unclearly. The 'legal' issues in the situation described here are those associated with normal abusive marriages, but the advice given and the support needed are likely to be subtly different.I think part of the problem is that the distinction isn't perhaps black and white, and while a marriage may not be forced per-se, it doesn't mean that there is a lack of pressure. Certainly I know one of my male Muslim friends took a while to get up the courage to tell his parents that he didn't want an arranged marriage. While they accepted his wishes, a person with either less courage, stronger ties to 'traditions', or more 'pushy' parents may find themselves in a situation in which they don't actually wish to be. If this marriage turns abusive then they may equally find themselves trapped.

    Hopefully that was a bit clearer. I have a feeling I've just re-capitulated what you've said/seen, but I was just trying to tie this to my earlier comment. (Obviously I don't mean to be trying to argue a point of which you've had greater experience.)

  10. Batsgirl, I did wonder about the husband too. I put it down to the possibility that maybe he was a reluctant party in the marriage. And he did admit that he had done something wrong, so he has a conscience (or sorts) and so perhaps there is hope…James G, not at all, I thought that's what you were trying to get at but it might not have been clear to others less familar with this kind of scenario. And yes, as you say, men are just as prone to being forced to agree to marriages – typically it's the appeal to religion/duty/honour that's used to get the man's compliance.

    But I'm hopeful – the trend nowadays is increasingly for arranged marriages between people who have met outside the formal introduction process – which seems like a good compromise between tradition/religion and the society we live in.

    Just wish there was a way to find out what eventually happens in this particular case…

  11. Maybe they did and that's why the father cried. Maybe she felt she failed her parents simply because her problem made her father cry. If you've never known your father to cry, I imagine you'd feel horrible when it happened, especially if it happened because of something you told him.

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