Engaged at 14: "I was worried about science class. And now I'm getting married?"
By Sadia Rafiquddin
Sunday May 14, 2000 was an ordinary day like any other. My mom and I went for a walk to Erin Mills Town Centre, a local mall in Mississauga. On the way home, she asked me a question.
"Your dad and I got a proposal from my sister. Would you agree to marrying her son?"
I was 14 years old.
I said to her, "If you think this is the right decision, then I'm okay with it too."
We arrived home to a bouquet of roses and a phone call to my aunt. My dad confirmed the arrangement. I couldn't breathe. I went to my little sister's room and stared at her bubblegum pink walls, tears flowing down my face.
I always knew that I'd be married through an arrangement. I come from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family that values respecting parents and their wishes. I was raised to believe that parents knew best when it came to decisions about marriage and family.
I revisit the first time I met my fiancé and the moment when he formally proposed in front of our families, getting down on one knee to give me a ring.
I was worried that my mom would be shamed if I didn't go through with it. That people would look at her and think, "She didn't raise a proper Pakistani Muslim daughter."- Sadia Rafiquddin
The little voice inside me started to get louder, questioning if this engagement was the right thing for me. I kept tamping it down. I was stressed and worried that my mom would be shamed if I didn't go through with it. That people would look at her and think, "She didn't raise a proper Pakistani Muslim daughter."
Midway through my last semester of university, I found myself crying on the bathroom floor in the Larkin Building of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. My friend Sarah was with me, and when I asked her to remember that moment, she says, "This is a very intense moment for you. Of just not knowing what to do and feeling like your life was slipping away from you."
I ended the engagement on July 1, 2009. I had been engaged for nine years.
Hi, Acey here.
For the opening of this episode I spoke to ArunaBoodram from the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario. Aruna is a licensed paralegal and the project coordinator for SALCO's "Non-Consensual/Forced Marriage Project."
I called her with the intention of gathering a few short clips to situate this documentary, but our conversation was much longer than that.
It was illuminating.
Aruna started by breaking down the difference between arranged and forced marriages (SALCO has a very clear internal differentiation), but then we got into the socio-economic factors that lead to forced marriages (and keep people in them), plus the prevalence of forced marriages in all kinds of communities:
"[People] assume this is a South Asian issue or this a Muslim Issue, when that is absolutely not the case. And we've done research to show that this is not something that is about one particular community. This is across the board. We have Caucasian people dealing with forced marriage, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, everybody. This is not a cultural issue — this is a systemic and [...] patriarchy-based issue."
Listen to our full conversation below.
— Acey Rowe, Host of The Doc Project
Though it was heartbreaking, this was the most freeing and honest decision of my life.
Since then, I have had no contact with my former fiancé or extended family. He married our other cousin only a few weeks later.
This story is about the most important period of my life. It is about a time when I not only believed that women's rights and choices were real and important for other women, but truly embraced those beliefs for my own life by choosing my own future.