Steve Boggan
Wednesday 26 May 1999 23:02

This week, two people received life sentences at Nottingham Crown Court for the murder of Rukhsana Naz, who was 19 and pregnant. The killers were her mother and brother. One held her feet while the other strangled her. Why? Because it was the honourable thing to do

After he had strangled his sister, Shazad Naz leant over her body and kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry," he whispered. At the dead girl's feet, her mother, Shakeela, loosened her grip and began to cry. The 19- year-old girl, Rukhsana, had committed adultery and had become pregnant by her lover. In the eyes of her community, she was guilty of an offence that can be summed up in one word: shame.

That night in Derby last March began with threats and ended in death. She was seven months pregnant but her husband, Sajid, was not the father. That evening, she was given an ultimatum: have an abortion and save the family name, or face the wrath of the family. She refused. In the confrontation that followed, she was held down and strangled with a piece of flex. Once she was dead, Shazad put his hand on his dead sister's stomach and said, with sorrow in his voice: "It's not the kid's fault."

After the murder, Rukhsana's body was put inside a trunk and driven 100 miles to Denby Dale in West Yorkshire, where it was dumped in a field. Police later said they would have had no chance of identifying her had it not been for a telephone number scribbled on the back of her hand: her lover's pager. This week, Shakeela and Shazad Naz were given life sentences for the murder.

When she was just 15, Rukhsana was tricked into travelling to Pakistan, and forced to marry. Since then, she went to Pakistan on two more occasions to conceive two children while her husband, Sajid, waited for a visa to come to Britain. But when Rukhsana was not in Pakistan, she sought comfort with Imran. When she was lonely, she would contact him on his pager and they would talk or try to meet. Her husband's arrival in Britain was a prospect she had dreaded, a miserable dilemma that was not simply the result of an arranged marriage, but of one that was forced upon her.

The real father of Rukhsana's baby was Imran Najib, 21, the man she had loved since they became childhood sweethearts at school. But because she had been promised to Sajid, to have married anyone else would have brought disgrace on the family; to have conceived another man's baby was unthinkable.

"When she told me she was pregnant, we knew there would be trouble," said Imran yesterday. "We were afraid she would be beaten and punished and we thought they would try to make her have an abortion. But we never expected them to kill her."

After Rukhsana's forced marriage, Imran had willingly gone through an arranged marriage himself, but the two continued to see each other in secret. "She was such an exciting person," he said. "She would always have something to do and something to talk about. She was a very attractive person. Give her a subject and she would talk and talk and talk.

"We met at school when we were 12. We would talk and hold hands and ring each other on the phone and chat for hours. But her parents found out about us when she was 15 and they took her to Pakistan to go through with an arranged marriage. They told her she was going to see her grandfather, who was supposed to have had an accident. But the other man was waiting for her when she got there.

"She was devastated. So was I. We thought that at some point in the future we might have been free to get together and have children of our own. Even when they were putting pressure on her to have an abortion, I didn't worry too much. I always thought that there would be a future when she could have another child."

Imran has since patched up his marriage. His anger is directed not at Shazad or Shakeela Naz, but at the system of forced marriages. "It breaks up families and results in terrible situations like this one," he said. "Without it, all our lives would have been different and Rukhsana would still be alive today."

According to women's groups and community workers, the ill grandparent story is very common, ranking along "a holiday" as the best way to get young girls to travel abroad. Other methods are less subtle. Last year, the parents of Rehana Bashir, 20, were jailed after drugging her and trying to fly her to an arranged marriage in Pakistan.

Britain's new generation of independent Muslim women are increasingly torn between traditional values and the desire for freedom. Surjeet, 39, a British Sikh living in the north of England, is a helper at a primary school and mother of three sons. "We should not condemn this mother. Can you understand what her extended family and her community would have done to her if this girl had had the child?" she said. "You have no idea how much pressure is on Asian mothers. We have to become monsters to preserve our ways and our culture. Our society can be merciless, but without these ways we are nothing. Our religion, our cultures, our history will die."

The same conflicts are felt by many British Muslims. Ali, 18, a taxi driver, accepts that he will have an arranged marriage. "I have a girlfriend here. She's white and I really like her. But she knows I can't marry her. I have to marry my cousin in Lahore. It was all decided when my father died two years ago. I promised him. How can I break my promise, or my mother's heart? The community would make her life impossible. I cannot bear that.

"Sometimes I wish my father had never come over here. Why bring us into this world, neither here nor there? I really feel sorry for the mothers. I understand why that girl was killed by her brothers and mother. Shame, izzat (respect), they are everything to our people."

Philip Balmforth is a former police inspector who runs a West Yorkshire police programme for Muslim women who run away from home rather than face being forced into a marriage they do not want. He has dealt with more than 1,000 runaways since 1991, including more than 300 last year alone. The problem is so serious that he has created a programme similar to a witness protection scheme, whereby women can be given a new identity and a fresh start to help them avoid being tracked down and forced into an unwanted union.

In an interview with The Independent last year, he said that he was witnessing an increase in the prevalence of "bounty hunters", men who were employed by families to help track down errant daughters. "If a girl refuses to go through with an arranged marriage, she is seen to be bringing dishonour to the family, and in many cases that will not be tolerated," he said. "If she runs away, efforts are made to find her. In some cases, bounty hunters are hired. Some do it for a living. They would ask for about pounds 3,000 up front, plus expenses, to track her down. Once girls are found and returned to their families, they never make a complaint, so we can't act."

Labour MP Ann Cryer is trying to eke out something positive from such tragedies. She met yesterday with Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister, to ask the Government to provide more support and protection for women caught in the forced marriage dilemma. She took along Jack and Zeena Briggs (their assumed names), who have been living on the run for seven years, ever since they married against her family's will.

Shazad, Rukhsana's mother and the younger brother, Iftikhar, 18, were brought to trial at Nottingham Crown Court, charged with murdering her and destroying her unborn child.

The court heard how the fear of family disgrace had created weird and terrifying tensions, and power play. Following the death of Rukhsana's father, Shazad had become the head of the family. Iftikhar, who was cleared of involvement in her death, recalled that he and his mother, 45, put increasing pressure on Rukhsana to avoid bringing shame on them all.

On the night of the murder, Rukhsana was invited to dinner at the family home, but it was a tense occasion. There was no small talk. The subject turned quickly to her pregnancy.

"My mum told her she had a chance to get rid of it, otherwise she would give birth to a bastard," said Iftikhar. "I was shocked and left the room. When I returned, I could see Shazad with Rukhsana on the floor in front of him. He had a black rope or wire tied around his hands. I could see him gritting his teeth and there was no struggle from her. He had tears running down his face and so did my mother. She was holding Rukhsana's legs and crying. I froze by the door. I couldn't even cry, I was so shocked. My mother turned to me and said, `Be strong, son'."

Crucial to the convictions of Shazad and Shakeela Naz was the testimony of Rukhsana's sister, Safina, 19. After giving evidence against her own mother and brother, she said: "It is hard to believe that members of my family, who I have always loved dearly, should have been involved in my sister's death. I am very glad that those responsible for her murder have been brought to justice."

Safina is trying to adopt Rukhsana's two children, but she might have to face down any claims from their natural father first.

"Rukhsana was one in a million," she said. "She was an honest, friendly person who would never have harmed anyone. She was a caring, loving mother, a dutiful daughter and an understanding sister. I was devastated by [her] death. The day on which I identified her body was the most horrific time of my life."

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