Woman forced to marry cousin before sister murdered by dad in honour killing
A woman who moved to London as a teenager has told of how she was forced to marry her cousin and suffered honour based violence at the hands of her parents.
Bekhal Mahmod, who lived in South London, left her family and the Kurdish community when she was just 15-years-old, just a year after she arrived in the country.
During that year, Bekhal faced traumatic violence at home and was treated differently to her six siblings as she was outspoken.
Speaking to MyLondon , she opened up about her ordeal, explaining that the Kurdish community was “very tight knit”.
“There can’t be secrets, they telephone each other if they see girls or members of the family stepping out of line, wearing something against beliefs, they’re quite chatty and gossipy,” she said.
“My childhood was very touch and go, it changed from day to day and depended on what you were doing, if you were being a good girl then it was calm and normal if you stepped out of line you got a lot of beatings or were spat at and sworn at.”
Bekhal, who was born and brought up in Iraq Kurdistan, says it was scary coming to London as it was the unknown. For her, it was an eye opener to see different lifestyles and upbringings.
“It was all trial and error when I got here, me wanting to practise western life and not getting told verbally but physically that that’s not allowed, I can’t wear nail varnish, tight clothes, show any hair, talk to males, back home you learn with all your family but here it was more of a challenge.
“Back home we were sent to a girls school and allowed to have female friends and not male friends – but here I wasn’t allowed to have any friends from different cultures,” she said.
A turning point was a few months after the family settled in London, Bekhal’s aunty called the house phone and she had picked up. She said to Bekhal ‘my beautiful daughter in law’ which took Bekhal by surprise.
“I said no I’m not and she was laughing saying where’s your mum, and they spoke on phone and my mum was like of course she is going to be your daughter in law,” she said. “I was ordered to go to my dad’s room and he basically said what’s this nonsense about ‘you’re not her daughter in law’, and he was like who will you marry then? I said someone I love – he spat and hit me and said that’s not allowed and that’s how I found out I was marrying my older cousin.”
Things became increasingly difficult as Bekhal was locked in her room for answering back, saying no to an arranged marriage, not waiting at the school gate for her dad to pick her up, making friends from other cultures and being caught smoking.
She made two attempts to escape and on the second attempt, did not come back home.
“I unlocked the door and called the police, my parents tried to stop me from leaving but this time I left with the police. But me leaving probably made things worse for my sister. Banaz , my younger sister, was forced to be married off to a cousin.
“Me leaving bought shame on the family, so for them to repair that situation and restore honour they said lets get the daughters married. The husband she got married too was horrible to her, she had enough of the way he treated her, he was practically raping her and did whatever he wanted when he wanted, she kept telling my parents and they said go back home and try harder.”
Eventually, Banaz fell in love with a man and wanted to remarry – but her family did not accept this decision to the extent and she eventually became the victim of an honour killing, Bekhal said.
Banaz had sought help from the police five times before her death, and even named the suspects who later went on to kill her, says Bekhal. 20-year-old Banaz was strangled to death and buried in a suitcase in a family led “honour” killing in 2006.
Bekhal said: “I was in South East London at the time this was all happening and the police knocked on my door one day and started searching my flat and they said we are here to see if Banaz is here. I said I don’t see my family. I haven’t seen them for how long, and they said well she’s gone missing, her boyfriend reported her missing.
“I had no idea how bad things were, not to this extent. The level of violence I had from my dad it didn’t take long to find out what he did.
“One day I got a phone call from the police saying they will visit me and I need a friend with me. I had a gut feeling something had happened to her, they came to my house and showed pictures of how they found her, that was April 28, 2006, she had gone missing on January 24.”
Since then, Bekhal became the first daughter in history to give prosecution evidence against her own father.
Mahmod Mahmod was found guilty by an Old Bailey juryin 2007 of murdering his Banaz in a so-called “honour” killing.
Bekhal is now on a witness protection scheme, and will never be safe from her family and community, she says. She is also campaigning with Dr Hananna Siddiqui and SBS to introduce a ‘Banaz’s Law’ to prevent the use of cultural defences such as ‘honour’ to justify violence against women and girls.
All of Bekhal’s family are still in London but she has no contact with them as she is on the witness protection programme. This month she released an autobiography ‘No Safe Place – Murdered By Our Father,’ detailing her childhood and experiences at home, dealing with honour violence.
She said: “It was nice talking about Banaz and keeping her name alive and if it helps anyone in the same situation and circumstances then it’s for the good. It was therapeutic because while I was involved in the case I had said what happened to me, it wasn’t everything from being little to the first memory and daily life, my life with friends, I had not said it all.
“My experiences will never leave me, I can’t be open with people, I can’t be honest even in general conversations like where are you from, where your parents, how many siblings do you have, it’s difficult.”