Creating a fairer Britain
Sukhvinder Kaur is a self-possessed 33-year-old. Only her smile, which is cautious and disappears quickly, hints at the fact that she has endured 14 years of brutal domestic violence, which has traumatised her and her three children. She says:
Sukhvinder came to England when she got married, aged 17, to a 21-year-old British-born man. As a teenager she had been keen to come to Britain and had pushed ahead with the marriage despite the fact that her family had reservations. "He started beating me two days after we married," she says. "The first time it happened was in the airport on our way to England." The abuse escalated into beatings with belts and coat hangers, and it continued, she says, every other day until she finally managed to leave her husband for good in 2007.
It seems difficult to imagine how she could have stayed in such an abusive situation for so long, but Sukhvinder explains that she was completely isolated so far from her friends and family and with only limited English. Her husband was well-connected in the local Asian community and, although she said many people were aware of what was happening, she didn’t trust anyone enough to ask them to intervene.
Her confidence got so low that she simply didn’t believe she could manage to start a new life on her own. ‘I did leave several times, and called police and social services over and over again. I always ended up going back, though. Then one day he threw a knife at me and my children could see what was going on. That was when I said to myself, I can’t stay any more.’
Fortunately Sukhvinder came into contact with the Haven, a charity for women suffering from abuse in her home town of Wolverhampton, where she met Ravi Kaur, an advice worker specialising in services for south Asian women. "When I met Ravi I felt I could finally open up about what had been happening" says Sukhvinder.
For Sukhvinder, the nightmare of sharing a home with her abuser is over – she has her own flat and has even enrolled on a GCSE course. It will take her a bit longer, however, to go through the process of putting her life back together and creating a more stable home for her children. "I want to be the mum I need to be for my kids. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that their mother is weak," she says. "I want my daughters to get a good education so they don’t go through what I have been through. If anyone ever threatens them I will be there standing right in front of them making sure they are safe."
She also has something to prove to herself. "I want to write my life story and show that I am an intelligent, independent woman. I want to tell people: this is what an Indian woman is really like."