My escape from a family that was choking me: A stifling home and failure of an arranged marriage forced Tony Delear to make a painful break

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Indy Lifestyle Online
FOR 21 years of my life, I lived with my Punjabi-speaking parents. The centre of our existence was the community structure and the temple. From the age of 16, however, I experienced a growing tension as I became more and more aware of the differences between my life and those of my friends. For example, my parents would force me to give them my earnings. I would receive only a fraction of them, so I lost motivation and worked in the most menial of jobs. I had few possessions, such as clothing, CDs or tapes and other everyday items. And later on, I had few friends. Because I had little money, I didn't want to go out.

When I raised objections, the result was physical intimidation from my father. I therefore stopped arguing. My independence was limited and I was expected to be home every evening by 9pm, which ruled out much social contact.

I was not allowed to read at home for fear of damaging my eyesight, so I read in the toilet. I was not prepared to give up my desire to be knowledgeable. Reading was my one solace.

In the summer of 1988, aged 18, I was married. It was all arranged by my parents and prospective in-laws; I knew nothing about my wife. Although I had been conditioned to accept the idea, I was uneasy, and the first few weeks of married life proved what a mistake it was. In fact, it soon became a nightmare.

My wife came from a liberal-thinking family and objected vigorously to the constraints placed on her by my family. She was not even allowed to leave the house without my mother, and vigorously voiced her objections to being told how to live her life. I greatly admired her courage, and when my parents realised they had failed to persuade me to make her accept their way of thinking, they became openly aggressive towards her.

I looked on despairingly, afraid to help. I felt like a horrified spectator at a fox hunt. In private my wife begged me for help, but I had no answer. I felt deeply ashamed and guilty. After a few months, my wife returned to her parents, and divorce proceedings began in the spring. This angered me more than anything else.

I could not forgive my parents for the ignorant and terrible way they had behaved. It was at this point that I realised I would have to leave home.

Painstakingly I began to save money, but it was not until the beginning of this year that I felt I had enough to move. To make my relocation as inexpensive as possible, I chose a city not too far from my home; I also wanted to go to a place that I knew something about. A friend gave me a lot of help and together we found a flat-share agency. Luckily I was accepted by the first of its clients I met.

For the first few months I felt like a refugee, confused, afraid and lonely. I had left my old job and yet knew nothing about the social security system. Many of the everyday liberties people take for granted were difficult for me to understand. But I revelled in the personal space, free time and above all freedom of speech I had secured.

Then, five months after my move, I received an unexpected call from a policeman who described himself as a community affairs officer and said he could be of assistance to me. I agreed to meet him, and he told me of the pressure that my parents were putting on his counterpart in my home town. He pointed out that I could be placed in a 'safe town', gave me his phone number and told me to call if I needed help.

A week later my worst fears came true. When I looked out of the window, to my horror on the opposite side of the road stood my parents and other relatives. They were staring at my flat and obviously knew I lived there. I panicked and tried to hide in the attic, but I couldn't climb the ladder.

For an hour I watched and waited, trying to keep out of sight. I did not think of asking anyone for help. Then, when they began to walk up the road, I made my escape. I took one last look and ran.

Luckily, when I stopped I found the community officer's number in my pocket and rang him. It was a relief to hear his voice. He suggested that I stay at his home until the situation had cooled down.

This man's home was an eye-opener for me. There seemed to be so much freedom of expression and speech compared with the atmosphere in my family's house.

When I phoned my flatmate, he said my parents were attempting to enter the building, but he told me not to worry. After I had calmed down, the community officer advised me about my options: I could return to my parents; or change my identity and be placed miles away; or confront my parents on neutral ground.

At first the most attractive idea seemed to be to move to another town. I had accepted that I should not return to my family; there was very little to return to. But if I moved to another town there would still be that nagging fear of discovery.

I decided to confront my parents. The community officer suggested that I meet them in an interview room at the central police station in my home town. To ensure that I would not have to face a mob of relatives, only my parents would be allowed to see me, and they would not be told of my whereabouts until the designated time.

I felt strangely unafraid. The encouragement and concern being shown, especially by my friends, made me feel stronger than at any stage in my life.

I sat in the interview room and waited. My parents arrived. It was just me and them. The atmosphere was full of tension. Immediately she saw me, my mother began crying. I told them to sit down.

As I had expected, they emphasised how humiliated they felt and pleaded with me to return. They told me that my sister 'desperately' wanted me back and that my grandmother had come from India to see me.

They gave me photographs of my sister's wedding, a special event I had missed because of my move. I took the pictures to the canteen and could not help crying as I looked at them.

The pressure to see my sister was immense, but this was no time to crack. I returned to the interview room and told my parents that I would not be forced to meet my sister. I told them of my desire to live independently.

Though they could not accept this, they understood that any interference with these wishes would be against the law. I told them that I would contact them periodically. I felt angry, and also sad that it had all come to this, that it was over.

Occasionally I telephone my parents and sisters to say that I'm all right. But I haven't seen any of them for a year now. But not all contact has been severed, so perhaps in the future the situation will improve.

My only fear is that unless the Asian community can adapt to allow its children to grow up and enjoy their independence and their own sense of identity, many more families will suffer the same terrible strains that mine has.

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