"I had lost everything that mattered to me and I was being told to get a grip."
When a British Asian couple from the South Asian community divorce, there are two sides to each story – his and hers.
People are quick to judge but no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors; no-one except those that exist behind those very doors.
Nevertheless, whatever the situation, a divorce will have a devastating effect on the whole family.
The wife can openly cry and break her heart. The husband, ‘because real men don’t cry’, will be expected to suppress his emotions as he buries his inner torment.
Why should the expectations for handling divorce, and in some instances a marriage, differ between the sexes? Should a man ‘take it like a man’ and walk away in silence?
Society often sees the woman as the victim and, sometimes, the perpetrator. The media portrays her likewise, as do countless stories told in movies and television serials.
She has the sympathy of the legal system too which will award her full custody of the children. Social values have conditioned us to believe they are better off with their mothers.
British men from South Asian communities who go through separation are often forgotten, almost as if their feelings are insignificant.
We want to hear their stories. Here, five British Asian men who share their pain and tell us how their lives have been turned upside down by divorce and marriage.
Jay is from Bedford and lives with his wife and two sons. This is his new family. He rebuilt his life after a divorce which almost destroyed him.
He begins his story:
“I met my girlfriend when we were both just seventeen. We were too young and all we knew was that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
“We both finished our A Levels and I got a job working in the local chippy. She felt she had to go to university cos that’s what her dad wanted”.
The pain and sadness are apparent as Jay continues to talk about his then-girlfriend. He goes on to say:
“We didn’t have the courage to tell our parents so we waited till she graduated. I had left the chippy job and went on to work in the telecommunications industry.
“Eventually, we told our parents and they agreed to the marriage. Though I don’t think my Dad would have been so accepting if she wasn’t the same caste and culture as us”.
Jay talks about the wedding and for a second his face lights up. It is clear to see how much this girl had meant to him.
They went on to have two children and he explains:
“Life was so good. We were both so happy, at least that’s what I thought. Maybe I should have opened my eyes a bit more.
“It was a Friday evening. The kids were at her mum’s as she had picked them up from school. I got home to find the house empty and a note.
“It simply said, ‘sorry gotta leave. Can’t do this anymore. Please forgive me’.
“I know it sounds cliche but in that one moment my whole world fell apart. I didn’t understand why and still don’t to this day”.
His wife had left him and taken the children. Jay later discovered she had secretly been seeing someone else. It broke him into a million pieces, he says.
“I loved her that much and had no reason to think she felt any different. The funny thing is she hid it so well. She deserves an award for playing the role of the doting and loving wife”.
Jay joked but it’s no laughing matter. She was awarded full custody of the children and his visiting rights are limited to weekends only.
“Our people always feel sorry for the woman or they give her all their attention even if it’s negative. No-one cares or thinks about the man’s feelings and what he’s going through.
“It broke me. I got tired of people saying things like, ‘come on, man up’ or ‘get a grip’.
“I had lost everything that mattered to me and I was being told to get a grip”.
It took Jay a very long time to recover from the trauma of the divorce but, even though his wife was responsible, he still wishes her well.
Vijay is an IT consultant who lives in Solihull. His marriage ended in an annulment after only a couple of months of being wed.
He explains that they had only been married for a matter of weeks when the demands started. They went on their honeymoon and annulled the marriage on their return.
“There were a lot of reasons why I initiated the annulment but the real deal breaker for me was when she asked me to put my parents’ properties in her name.
“She was quite ruthless about the whole thing and said if I didn’t do as she asked she would walk.
“I’m not sure if it was insinuated by her family or not but they must have had some say in it as we heard nothing from them afterwards”.
Vijay explains that his own family was very supportive but they still tried to persuade him to give it another go for the sake of their own reputation.
“Naturally they were really upset by it. No parent wants that for their children. They spent a lot of money on the wedding but it’s not just about that.
“They told me to try and make it work and, for a while, I tried my best to reconcile the situation.
“However, her family created more stress and issues which made me realise that I couldn’t carry on with it”.
“My only regret is that I didn’t see her true colours before the wedding”.
We asked Vijay how he felt throughout the whole process. He reveals that:
“To be honest, I was fine. I can’t deny that it didn’t upset me because it did. You don’t enter into a marriage for it to break down after a couple of months.
“Maybe if her family hadn’t interfered we might have been able to come to some agreement and stayed married. But they weren’t concerned about me or my family.
“Overall, I have come to accept that it wasn’t meant to be. I see it as a blessing in disguise; a bullet well and truly dodged”.
When asked if the divorce had changed him as a person, Vijay told us it had changed the way he saw people.
“I have serious trust issues. I mean I don’t know how I will be able to put my trust in anyone again”.
His wife, who he had trusted, had completely fooled him and this has left him feeling angry and betrayed.
“What hurt the most was that no-one had forced us into getting married. It was entirely our choice. Just sad that she had a completely different agenda to mine but you live and learn”.
Vijay is still single and says he is in no hurry to enter into a relationship. His focus is on building himself up again.
Mukhtar, not his real name, is the victim of an arranged marriage which went horribly wrong. He is 37 years old and was born in India.
India was his home until that fatal day when a British Asian family stood on their doorstep.
“Dad told me they were from England. There were four of them; the mum and dad and a sister and brother.
“Things were different back home. We obeyed our parents and didn’t question them. They knew what was best for us.
“Mum took me to one side and told me I would be getting married to the girl. I was just 20. They introduced me to her. She was very quiet and shy and didn’t say much.”
Mukhtar explains that he didn’t have any expectations of love and romance. He knew his parents would find him a suitable wife.
“I knew it would happen one day but just didn’t imagine I would have to leave my home for a strange country thousands of miles away.
“I remember thinking, there’s plenty of girls here – why England? Anyway, to cut a long story short, our families performed a short engagement ceremony and I was committed.”
They were married in India within a fortnight and the girl and her family returned to England.
“Then one day, out of the blue, dad spoke to me.”
“Son, it is time,” Mukhtar remembers those words as clearly as if they were spoken today.
“Feelings of dread and apprehension took over my body. My own family was throwing me to the lions. I travelled alone to England.”
What follows is a heartbreaking account of Mukhtar’s life as a married man. He tells us in his own words:
“I knew no-one in England except my in-laws. The girl turned out to be not so quiet after all and I was shocked to see her drinking and smoking.
“She had no respect for me and we had nothing in common. Her parents turned a blind eye to what was going on.
“I tried to speak to her several times. I even accepted her unconventional habits but what I couldn’t accept was the way she treated me.
“Utter contempt and disregard. She had married me to keep her parents off her back. She had her own life and was going to live it.
“My parents kept telling me to keep trying. It would get better they said. It wouldn’t, and I became severely depressed.”
Mukhtar sank deeper into depression and despair until one day he tried to take his own life.
“I had absolutely no-one to turn to. No-one listened. No-one cared. The only way out was death.”
This story is not an uncommon one. Many British Asian families still arrange their children’s weddings with someone from back home. There are many that are really successful but some end in tragedy.
Thankfully, Mukhtar is alive and well and he finally found the courage to leave his wife:
“She didn’t complain too much.
“I’ve had to survive on my own but it was better than being treated like dirt each day.
“I am happy to say I met someone I fell in love with and she is now my wife and soulmate.”
Malik Hussain is a successful businessman who lives in London. His marriage was arranged with a girl from Pakistan and the first time he met her was when they were married.
He tells us that he agreed to the union because his mum made him believe it was for the best. She told him that:
“They are very respected in Pakistan and the girl is educated. She will not have any trouble fitting in with us.”
Malik was shown a photograph and liked what he saw. He explains:
“She looked great in the picture. I guess I was taken in by her looks.”
So it was settled and the wedding took place. Malik was 25 and she was 23. The first few months passed like a dream.
“We hit it off and her English was good. She did fit in as mum had predicted and even went to college and did a course in childcare.
“The local school employed her as a teaching assistant and everyone was really happy with her. She worked full time but kept asking me for money. I questioned her and she got defensive saying that I didn’t trust her.”
Malik then discovered that large amounts of cash had been withdrawn from her credit card but no payments were being made.
“She was withdrawing money from the credit card but she had no need to. The payments were missed each month too. I gave her everything and she had no need to do this.”
He recalls with sadness how he had to go to Pakistan when his dad passed away:
“I went with my mum to sort out the family land and property. We were away for two weeks in total.
“When I got back and opened the front door the house was freezing. I already knew what to expect.
“She had taken everything. Completely wiped me out. She even took my clothes and I had to sleep on the bed in my coat.”
However, it was the loss of his son that really broke Malik. She had taken their little boy with no explanation as to where or why.
“I made enquiries and found out where she had gone. I don’t want her back but I am taking her to court for this and I will get my son back.”
Malik finds it hard to describe his emotions but he does tell us that his wife made him out to be the bad guy.
“People treated me as if I had driven her away. They blamed me for her leaving and called me all sorts of names. I was devastated.
“Yeah sure, leave me if you want but don’t drag my name through the mud.”
For Malik, staying single is the only option right now. He is concentrating on fighting for his son.
Aman is twenty-eight years old and works as a bus driver in the West Midlands. He met and married his girlfriend when he was twenty-five.
His wife, being three years younger than him, was studying to becoming an optician at the time. She worked full time whilst doing her training.
As a bus driver, Aman found himself having to work long hours and shifts which didn’t agree with family life. As a result, his wife found herself spending time on her own.
Gradually, their relationship began to decline as he would come home late and she would already be asleep. He had to fend for himself in terms of feeding himself as she lost all interest in cooking for him.
Aman tells us:
“It’s not as if I didn’t help out at home. I believe in equality and tried to do as much as I could even though I was always tired from work.
“She was home by five every day and still didn’t make any dinner. I got fed up, to be honest. She used to argue about me hardly being around and then finally just left one day”.
Aman hadn’t wanted the marriage to end and begged her to try again. His family said he should have done more to keep her happy and blamed him for the split.
He feels that:
“My family should have stood by me. I couldn’t have done any more. I was working hard to keep a roof over our heads and all she did was complain.
“Even then, I didn’t want to end things. she never give us a chance to work it out”.
Aman is now twenty-eight and has given up his job as a bus driver. He went to college and completed an electronics course and is now working as an electrician.
These five stories typically highlight that men born in Britain from South Asian communities can also be the victims of divorce and separation.
On the other hand, Asian women are often seen as the victims but it is equally true that they are also viewed as the perpetrators.
Women, generally, tend to attract more attention and the men are left to fend for themselves.
The overall assumption and viewpoint that ‘they’ll get over it’ and find someone else seems to dictate their recovery. It’s like they shouldn’t really have a broken heart.
However, what we mustn’t forget is that ‘it takes two to tango’ and that men are also perfectly entitled to express their feelings and hurt.
As a British Asian society, we need to give our men from South Asian communities the opportunity and voice to grieve and have their say.