Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Bride Stripped Bare

Yesterday, Channel 4 News carried a story by Roz Upton about the growing number of British Muslim men abandoning wives they have brought to Britain in their countries of origin after they have produced children. The number isn’t huge. The Home Office logged 45 cases last year and 36 so far this year from Pakistan, the only country where they have a specialist team looking into the problem.

Charities assisting the women say that it is happening all over South Asia and represents a growing trend. Channel 4 claimed the practice is a cheap and quick divorce substitute. Often the women have been isolated and their husbands have not applied for full citizenship rights on their behalf and find they cannot return to Britain. The saddest thing seems that they are usually duped into travelling with the promise of a chance to see their family back home. Once there, they are stripped of their passports and valuables and dumped without any money.

I’m not going to get caught up in cultural condemnation here but no one else has picked up on the story. In some ways that’s not such a bad thing because it does mean that the media is capable of exercising some restraint when it comes to finding reasons to disapprove of Muslims but on other hand, maybe nobody really cares because it’s only women.

It doesn’t please me in the slightest that the public purse ends up wearing the cost of supporting these women to return to Britain and fight for the rights that should have been dealt with by the Family Court at the expense of the divorcing parties. It thrills me less that a whole specialist team has to be set up to deal with a problem that, in an era when we never cease to be striving towards equality, involves something as basic as a bond of trust between marrying partners. It’s one thing to marry with sincerity and then find you are incompatible but quite another to use a woman as a brood mare and then pop her off to the knackery once she’s foaled.

Activists are calling for the Government to ‘do something’ but there is no way of legislating against men behaving like bastards. Only the sanction of society as a whole can be effective there. Up until fairly recently, there was still a ‘breach of promise’ statute on the legal books which gave women the right to sue a man for a broken matrimonial promise. Although rarely used because of the potential damage to a woman’s reputation public exposure might cause, there was at least a recognition that society considered it wrong for a man to elicit sex from a women under a promise he had no intention of keeping.

It would be easy enough to condemn this as solely a cultural phenomenon. I think there are symptoms here of a wider social malaise. These women are considered instruments, a means to an end for something the man wants. He wants a family, a group of possessions called children. To him a ‘mother’ is not part of the family, she is a vessel. She will outlive her usefulness and then she can be replaced, like discolouring Tupperware. In western culture we have the same tendency to manipulate other humans – it is just more likely to happen across social classes than gender.

‘Sir’ Clive Thomson, chairman of the parent company that owned Farepack, the Christmas savings scheme for people on low incomes, could not even be bothered to mask his contempt for the people whose money his company stole. Not only do the poorest people in this country pay more for absolutely everything from gas and electricity to getting their clothes clean, they don’t even have the right to expect that their savings, on which they get no interest incidentally, are not squandered in cavalier boardroom speculative ventures. Just like the imported bride, the lowly worker is an instrument of soulless acquisition and reprehensibly anti-social greed.

I don’t want to see Government ministers falling over themselves to bring in tougher regulations for spouses from outside the EU. Everyone is entitled to look for a partner wherever they choose. British Asian women also seek spouses from their country of heritage. Although I am not personally keen on the concept of arranged marriages, I don’t regard it as my right to stand in judgement on them either – not even as a feminist. It’s not that long ago in our history that arranged marriages were the norm and a parent’s desire for their child to make a ‘good marriage’ meant aspiring to wealth and status. We are still very much a class-bound society no matter how much we like to pretend we aren’t. Only months ago one of my cousins was advised to ‘dress to your station’ for the forthcoming wedding of one of her work colleagues.

What I would like to see is a stand, by all of us, against the people who allow their own greed and selfishness to dismiss someone else’s right to justice, freedom or happiness in favour of their own desires. I would like to see a challenge to the insidious scheming that prays on our most precious human asset – the ability to trust and believe in each other. Life is pretty shitty without it. We have a tendency in this country to believe that criminality is something that only East End gangsters and disaffected youth are involved in but our revered aristocracy have murdered (Lord Lucan), embezzled (Dame Shirley Porter), done bird for perjury (Lord Archer) and for drug abuse and anti-social behaviour (Marquess of Blandford). One way or another, we have usually managed to excuse bastardry when it's practised by our pillars of society, and by doing so, we not only legitimise it but hold it up as aspirational.

If Government really wants to 'do something', ministers could at least try to look like they've got something else on their minds besides their elevation to the House of Lords. They could try remembering why their party is called Labour - a hint – not because it’s what Rupert Murdoch does with his day. And it could certainly try remembering just because you’re first in the queue for the buffet, it doesn’t mean you should eat all the prawns. If we stop condoning selfishness as a motivator, we might just have a crack at an equitable society where we have a half decent chance of being able to trust one another.

Bride Turning Into A Windmill by Arthur Boyd


Groucho said...

I was married by a judge, I should have asked for a jury

That's so pants said...

As always the soul of discretion Groucho.

Charles N. Steele said...

Do you suppose we could get of these guys to come over here, marry George W., and then dump him off in Pakistan for us? I'd even pitch in on the airfare.

That's so pants said...

Nice thought Charles but not permanent enough. You might do better to consider the sort of 'arrangement' Tony Soprano could organise. I'd even pitch in for the boat hire.