‘I was to forget my childish fantasies of becoming an actress, as in my parents’ eyes, it was on a par with prostitution.’ The text message sent to me from my younger sister was concise and chilling: ‘Mum’s sent a hit man to kill you,’ it read. ‘Be careful.’
As I read those words, my first instinct wasn’t fear or even shock, but simply survival. I’d become accustomed to behaviour like this from both my parents – behaviour that anyone else would find abhorrent – and I was emotionally numb to their threats.
But I also knew that my sister’s warning was deadly serious and my life was in real danger. I’d been in hiding for several weeks when I received the text.
I was born in Gravesend in Kent in 1974 and brought up there in a devout Muslim family with three sisters and two brothers.
My father Zammurrad, a factory worker, was a deeply religious man but violent towards my mother Surriya and my sisters Zarqa, now 38, Saira, 33, and Tahira, 32. I tried to be an obedient daughter, praying up to five times a day, but I never felt loved by my parents – or that I really belonged. In turn, my parents viewed me as something of an oddity. Perhaps it was because I loved performing.
From as young as five, acting and singing was in my blood and at school I won so many competitions for writing songs that if the teachers wanted a song for an assembly they’d ask me to write one and I’d get up on stage and sing it. My love of singing and dancing wasn’t exactly encouraged at home, but it wasn’t a big problem when I was young. But as I hit my teens, my parents told me I could no longer continue.
On one family outing to Margate when I was about nine, I was ten minutes late back to our meeting point, as I’d stayed to watch a Punch and Judy show. My father broke a branch from a tree, stripped off all the leaves and started whipping me with it in broad daylight.
Incredibly, the rest of my family stood there and did nothing. As an adult I can see how wrong this was, but at the time I just accepted it. We all did. I had grown up under Dad’s tyrannical rule and I knew no different. Even when I’d been sexually abused by a male relative as a young teenager, instead of supporting me my parents blamed me for accepting presents from him and accused me of lying.
Throughout my childhood, my father grew more aggressive towards my mother and sisters, regularly throwing plates and knives at us in anger. As I grew older, my father started placing increasingly severe restrictions on my life. I was forbidden from making friends with other children and lived a very lonely existence.
My brothers Majid, now 31, and Wajid, 29, were allowed to do as they pleased, but my sisters and I were told that Muslim girls were like a white sheet; once stained, forever ruined.
If ever I returned home late from the park or school, my father would hit me with his belt, often until I bled. It got so bad that my sisters and I used to wear five layers of clothing to protect ourselves.
Despite the control they had over me, my mother and father thought that a degree in science, medicine or law was the perfect goal for one of their unmarried daughters and so, at the age of 18, I started a Biology and Management degree at Sussex University and moved into student accommodation in a square near the old pier in Brighton. I hated the course and secretly switched to a performing arts and music degree at Brighton University, which I loved.
But as my parents were unable to finance me, I supported myself with three different jobs – including three nights a week earning £50 a night as a dancer in a nightclub. One night as I returned to my flat at about 3am someone pulled the door open as I shut it.’You’re coming home with me now. I’m taking you away from this lifestyle,’ said a voice.
It was my mother. I told her I wasn’t going anywhere and she started screaming at me. That’s when my 15-year-old brother Majid, who’d illegally driven my mother all the way from Kent, appeared from behind her brandishing a kitchen knife.
I got into the car and we arrived back in Kent in the early hours of the morning. I was marched into the cellar, which had been turned into a makeshift bedroom, and my brother stood in the doorway holding the knife. My mother calmly said: ‘From now on, we’re going to look after you and you’re going to do what we say.’ There was nothing I could do. I sat there in silence, thinking my new life was now over.
To my relief, my father was abroad at the time. I’m still not sure how instrumental he was in my abduction, but if he had been there in person I’m sure things would have turned even nastier.
My mother had once said ‘If anyone dishonours this family, first I will kill them and then kill myself’
For several weeks I lived in that cellar. My meals were brought to me and I was accompanied to the toilet. READ MORE: UK DAILY MAIL