NOBODY can accuse Naz Shah of being part of the Westminster elite who’s out of touch with the struggles of the common man.
The Bradford West Labour candidate recently revealed the harrowing story of her childhood that went viral.
Now she is focusing on winning the seat from George Galloway for whom she voted in 2012. The 41-year-old mother of three is the daughter of a woman who suffered years of sexual and domestic abuse and eventually killed her attacker.
“My experiences have made me a resilient person and a person who’s passionate about inequalities and social injustice – they have shaped my politics,” she told Eastern Eye.
“It’s been difficult and there were three other victims involved (Shah’s siblings). It was a difficult decision to put it out, but I had to because I knew if I didn’t, somebody else would have done.”
Shah, who has worked in senior positions within the NHS and now chairs a mental-health charity, spent over a decade campaigning with Southall Black Sisters for her mother Zoora Shah, who was jailed in 1993, to be released.
But that’s only half the story, she was packed off to Pakistan at the age of 12 because her mother believed she was at risk of abuse, and forced into marriage through “emotional blackmail” three years later.
Shah, who was born and bred in Bradford, is standing against Respect Party’s Galloway because she believes she can raise attainment in schools and create job opportunities for locals.
She was just six when her father walked out on her mother who was pregnant at the time with two young kids in tow. He eloped with the neighbour’s 16-year-old daughter, and after moving “14 times in two years.” the family finally had a home in Bradford.
It was bought through the sale of her mother’s wedding jewellery in the name of Mohammad Azam who had befriended the family.
“My mother’s attempt to provide her children with the security of a home came at the expense of being abused by Azam over years. A man she thought would save her children from an uncertain and insecure future, little did she know he would be the exact opposite,” she said.
Shah’s mother was forced to have sex with Azam, who was a married man and, she later discovered, a drug dealer and gangster.
As her mother feared 12-yearold Shah would be abused by Azam, she was sent to live with her grandparents in Pakistan.
Zoora, who is originally from Mirpur in Pakistan, hit breaking point after years of failed suicide attempts and killed Azam by poisoning his food.
After years of campaigning, Zoora eventually had her sentence cut from 20 to 12 years. Shah who has a 10- year-old daughter, and two sons aged seven and three, left school at 12, and walked out on her husband, who “used his fists to communicate”.
She has championed women’s rights and got national recognition for her work on preventing forced marriage. With the horrific child grooming scandals that have hit the headlines in recent months, the Labour candidate is wary of racialising the issue.
“The model of abuse is a model, it’s one model. Let’s not racialise this issue. This issue ultimately boils down to violence against women and society’s understanding of women and their role in society and the value placed on people. If you look at the advice that was given to the Home Affairs select committee, they were very clear we have a model of grooming which is more applicable to Pakistani men. But by and large, [sex] abuse that happens and paedophilia which exists is by white males in the wider community.
“People need to be open in their conversations, they are acknowledging we have work to do, there was a failure at many different levels. What we must be clear about is what we do with that and the lessons we learn from that. It’s gut wrenching what happened, but let’s also be clear we can’t racialise the issue,” she told EE.
Shah is the chair of mental health charity Sharing Voices Bradford, which was the first to provide Islamic faith-based counselling.
In the face of adversity, Shah who returned to the UK at the age of 15 and was not allowed to return to school, got a job at an industrial dry cleaners and then found work packing crisps at Seabrooks factory.
She later returned to college, became a carer for children and adults with disabilities and worked her way up to become a NHS commissioner.
This led to her becoming the director of a leadership programme for Yorkshire and Humber. Other roles include working as a
Samaritan for a number of years and sitting on the board of charities and campaign groups.
“The fact I am where I am illustrates how, against the odds, we can create a better future for the next generation,” she said.
Since she went public with her extraordinary life story, fake twitter accounts have been set up in her name, and the police are investigating reports of intimidation against Shah and one of her supporters. A dead crow was left on the doorstep of her family home.
“The smear campaign has been some of the most vicious and disgusting I have seen. But it does not scare me and it will not change me. In fact, it fuels my passion for change even more.”