Sometimes people ask me why more Muslim women don’t speak out against the unspeakable situation for women in Islamic cultures and subcultures. “The taxi driver who doubled as a bounty hunter: For Â£5,000 he tracked down young women fleeing a forced marriage and brought them back to their families,” by Nadeem Badshah for the Guardian, August 29:
On the face of it, Zakir was simply a veteran taxi driver and a popular member of the community in Bradford. Few customers would have realised that behind his bubbly exterior he provided another, much more sinister service. For around Â£5,000, Zakir would track down women and girls who had run away from home to escape a forced marriage. A bounty hunter, Zakir’s mission was to bring them back to their families.
While most locals in the tightly knit south Asian community thought Zakir was merely picking up and dropping off passengers each day, his work provided perfect cover to exploit his contacts with fellow drivers and shopkeepers to hunt down runaway teenagers. According to Zakir, some bounty hunters would also befriend officials in housing departments and in the Department for Work and Pensions to get National Insurance numbers – a strategy confirmed by campaigners against forced marriages.
Zakir’s job was never to harm his targets, but to return them home to face their “destiny” of being made to marry someone their parents had chosen. Despite the fact that runaways can be beaten for having escaped, he sides with the families on the issue. The softly spoken driver, speaking to G2 on the condition his real name was not used, insisted: “I did it as a favour to the families, as I knew most of them. It wasn’t about the money. It was about izzat [honour]. I saw the effect it had on them when their daughter ran away. The worry and the shame from the community talking about them. I was part of the ‘taxi driver network’, so we shared information about who we picked up and where they got dropped off. […]
Some families are so fearful of this kind of gossip they agree a verbal contract with a bounty hunter where the reward can be as much as Â£10,000. Others even hire female bounty hunters to pose as domestic violence victims to enter refuges and find their target.
One woman who knows what it feels like to be hunted down is Jaspreet. She ran away from her home in Sheffield after discovering that her father was arranging her marriage. The 21-year-old said: “I overheard my dad talking to his brother in Pakistan about getting me married to my cousin over there. He’d never discussed marriage with me.
“I didn’t want to get married yet. I wanted to finish my law degree. I would have been happy to have an arranged marriage in my mid-20s. But when I protested, my dad threatened me physically and said I would be letting the family down if I refused. I couldn’t take any more of the rows, so I ran away.”
Days later, Jaspreet found out that her father had asked a family friend to track her down. “It didn’t surprise me; towards the end, my dad pretty much disowned me. The hardest thing was leaving my mum and sister – they weren’t fussed if I got married to my cousin, but were powerless to stop my dad. I was told [the family friend] was passing my photo around and contacting my friends. So I moved down to London to stay with a friend and changed my appearance.
“It was horrible waking up and having that fear that someone is looking for you, and could hurt you. I used to always think ‘when will this end?’ I had counselling for my anxiety and panic attacks. My dad would have probably beaten me if I returned home; he had no love for me any more. That’s why I moved to London.”
Another alarming case was Zena Briggs, who was forced to live on a witness protection scheme after fleeing an arranged marriage in 1993. When she ran away with her white partner Jack Briggs, her Pakistani family in Yorkshire hired a bounty hunter to try and kill them both. She has since divorced and set up a charity called the Zena Foundation to help victims of honour violence. […]
As for the former bounty hunter Zakir, he is clear about what will stop the problem. “Nothing. Families will do anything in the name of honour.”