Saira Khan on how she gets messages every day asking how she managed to marry outside of her culture and religion without being ostracised – or even killed
I celebrated my 17th wedding anniversary this week and, once again, reflected on how lucky I am to be married to the person I fell in love with.
Lots of us take this basic human right for granted.
But I don’t – because I know that, even today, so many can’t marry the person they love.
They are made to feel guilty for not wanting to comply with man-made social barriers, like class, gender, colour, heritage, wealth, education and status.
Some are forced to marry and some have marriages arranged because it is a custom.
Others are shamed into a marriage because of religion, or sacrifice love just to live up to other people’s expectations.
I get messages every day asking how I managed to marry outside of my culture and religion without being ostracised – or even killed.
People who have not faced that struggle just do not understand how much trauma it causes.
Marrying my husband, Steve, was not easy. I lied, kept secrets and hid our relationship to make sure my family was not shamed.
Because girls like me are not supposed to marry for love. They get married for their families. Choice and love have nothing to do with it.
Reputation and honour is what matters.
Can you imagine sacrificing the biggest decision of your life to please other people?
Can you imagine keeping the person you adore secret?
Can you imagine feeling guilty because of who you love?
I can because I went through it. And it’s agonising. I love my family and never wanted my actions to bring them any pain.
Steve and I kept our relationship secret for four years. I just could not be the first Asian girl in my family to marry a white guy.
That seems ridiculous now. But 17 years ago, it was taboo.
Steve really supported me. He never made me choose between our relationship and my family.
But I used to look with envy at other couples getting engaged and sharing the day with relatives.
When Steve proposed, his family were really happy. But I couldn’t even tell mine.
These days we encourage people to speak out. But for many, it’s still not easy to talk about who they love. The consequences can really be as extreme as death.
But here I am today, happily married, with all of my family involved in my life.
It took time and a lot of nerve to go for it. My brothers, sisters and cousins all helped.
Breaking it to my mum was a family effort.
And I was lucky that, once they met Steve, my family realised he was the only man brave enough to take me on.
It wasn’t easy, but the best things don’t come easily. You have to fight for them.
People will come around. Just don’t give up on your love.
After Steve and I got hitched, lots of my relatives married who they wanted.
And we willl go on to accept whoever our children choose and help and guide them.
Because the greatest gift you can give is love.