Hackney detective wins award for work combatting forced marriage and hate crime
PUBLISHED: 18:48 01 December 2012 | UPDATED: 12:30 02 December 2012
Most women would have given up on their dream of becoming a police officer if faced with a disapproving family who wanted to marry them off at the age of 18.
However, Det Chief Insp Shabnam Chaudhri was determined that nothing would get in the way of her ambition.
Now, 23 years later, her work around forced marriages, hate crime and improving diversity within the Metropolitan Police has earned her a national accolade.
She beat more than 100 nominations to reach the final five Met employees to win a British Association for Women in Policing (BAWP) award.
Shab, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but grew up in East London, applied to join the force aged 21 but was told she was too young.
She applied a further three times and even became a special constable such was her determination.
“I just wanted to serve the public. In my application form I remember writing ‘I want to make a difference’,” she said.
When told she was too skinny, she began body building and put on a stone in weight.
However, she faced yet another hurdle.
“My parents wanted to marry me off and kept sending suitors round to the house.
“Families wanted to get their daughters married off as quickly as possible because they didn’t want any shame in terms of their daughters going to work or having a boyfriend.
“But I wasn’t having any of it. I didn’t want to be in a marriage at the age of 18,” she said.
“I threatened my mum and said I would embarrass the family if they kept bringing men around and eventually they gave up.”
She finally joined the Met aged 25 and was based in Tower Hamlets.
“Asian women couldn’t wear trousers then either, so I had to tell my parents I was going to wear trousers to work. It was all very challenging,” she added.
During her two decades at the Met, Shab’s background has given her an insight to not only influence the way forced marriage and hate and race crimes are dealt with by the police, but to change the national forced marriage policy.
One of her many successes was locating a kidnap victim who had been taken to India for a forced marriage under false pretences, believing her grandmother was sick.
Locked in a room, she contacted a friend by mobile phone who alerted the police and the Home Office.
The father eventually confessed to Shab that his daughter had been taken against her will and arranged for her to be taken to an embassy and brought home.
“She said she had been beaten and her marriage was imminent,” said Shab, who has witnessed the terrible long-term impact of forced marriage, fairly common in Newham, where she was previously based.
“A woman from this country may be forced into a marriage with someone from another country and the cultural differences are so wide.
“If a woman is fairly Westernised and is forced to marry someone from Pakistan – where the culture and value of a woman is far less than it is here – the fact she might want to work or wear Western clothing can result in domestic violence.
“Being forced into a marriage, suddenly you find there are also allegations of rape being made.”
Shab wants victims to know the police can help in situations like this, often by introducing women to agencies to support relocation if necessary.
When she joined the Met it was unusual to see police officers who weren’t white.
“Nowadays people think more minority people should join but 23 years ago there was no trust or confidence. The police were racist,” she said.
“I didn’t find it was when I first joined, I was focused on being a beat officer. As years went by I had some real challenges, some amazing times and some low times for me.
“In any organisation that is predominantly male, it’s very difficult as a woman, let alone as an Asian woman.”
Shab, who has improved diversity by encouraging the recruitment and progression of officers from minorities, is delighted with her award.
“I am a role model and I want to inspire other women from black and minority backgrounds, not necessarily to join the police force but to aim for the goals they want to achieve.”