//Uganda : Indian women in forced marriage case

Uganda : Indian women in forced marriage case

Ms Navpreet Kaur, the young Indian woman at the centre of a family row over forced marriage, is now in the custody of the Uganda Asian Women Association after spending days in hiding.

Navpreet, who was living with a Good Samaritan and had vowed to commit suicide than go back to her family, was handed over to the association at a meeting on Friday night.

The association bosses committed themselves to resolving the problem, with close monitoring by Fida, the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, and the police. Fida is working on the case.

Ms Jane Musoke, the executive director of Fida, declined to comment as did Mr George Kanonko, the regional CID officer.

Earlier on Friday, three officials of the association held talks with Fida officials at the organisation’s offices in Kamwokya. The women declined to say what they had discussed.

"We don’t know anything yet. Make sure our name does not come into this, we will sue you guys," said one of the women before driving off.

Fida officials too were tight-lipped, with one official only saying that her organisation was considering and amicable settlement.

Twenty-two-year-old Navpreet went to Fida two weeks ago with the assistance of a long-time confidant, Alice Kiwanuka, and reported that she was being abused by her parents and siblings.

Ms Kiwanuka has a clinic near Navpreet’s home on Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road in Old Kampala. Navpreet’s father Gurbax Singh is the owner of GB Construction Limited.

Navpreet claims that she has suffered frequent beatings since childhood and was forced to drop out of school. She also alleges that her parents want to take her to India and marry her off. In protest she went public about her plight and reported the matter to Fida and the police on January 4.

Navpreet is terrified of her parents. As she talks, she closes her eyes momentarily, as if in prayer. Her voice quivers.

"I don’t think I can reconcile with them. I cannot go back home. I would rather kill myself."

On leaving her home with only three sets of clothing, Navpreet briefly stayed with a friend at the Bugolobi Flats in Kampala. Her father called this friend demanding to know his daughter’s whereabouts.

Mr Singh even went to the flats, but didn’t know the exact flat. Navpreet had to move to another place.

"My father says I was born immature so I started school late, and my younger brother started school before me. Since then, when they sent my brother to school before me, I realised I wasn’t like the rest."

Navpreet has two siblings.

She was born in India, and says she could have been five years when she came to Uganda. She went to Old Kampala, Buganda Road and Nakivubo Blue primary schools.

The constant change of schools followed her to secondary; attending Mengo SS and then Kampala Citizen SS. Navpreet said she was weak academically because she "didn’t have an encouraging environment".

Singh, however, denies that he was abusing Navpreet. He told Fida that he would take her back to school. But the young woman says it is all a ploy. "He will afterwards say that we go back to India and he will marry me off."

She wants to study, at least for now.

"I don’t have a qualification," she said. "I have seen that life is not easy. I have seen so many marriages failing."

Navpreet would like to study law "because of injustice" in society. In November 2004, she was forced to drop out of school in S5 following suspicion that she was having an affair. She stayed home doing house chores. In November 2005, through Kiwanuka’s daughter, she got a receptionist’s job at Yuasa Investments. Her parents objected. And she blew up. She went public with the encouragement of Kiwanuka, who reported the matter to Fida.

Ironically, on Thursday evening, Kiwanuka was held at Old Kampala Police Station for alleged kidnap.

An official at Fida, who preferred anonymity, said the arrest was brief. "She was released after Fida challenged the arrest because the girl left her father’s home willingly, and is above 18."

Kiwanuka, whom we could not reach by press time, was released on Friday afternoon.

Navpreet said that it was time women in her community stood up for their rights. "Many women are in their houses being mistreated," she said. "They don’t know where to go. One woman died of burns on New Year’s and she was buried. They keep quiet but you don’t know what they are going through."

But Ms Deepa Verma Jivram, an advocate with Verma Jivram and Associates, said Asian women are no longer oppressed.

"But that does not mean that we stop respecting parents," she said. She added that parents who choose partners for their daughters mean well, and usually pick a man basing on his family history.

She said Navpreet is "too young to take decisions on her own". 

The Monitor (Kampala),NEWS, January 22, 2006, By Agnes Asiimwe,Kampala