It was around 1981. She was 16 years old. She called up her family after a long time, just to know that the family has “disowned” her. Today, in her late forties, she is included in the Guardians’s list of 100 most inspiration women in the world. She is Jasvinder Sanghera.

Surprised, as to why a woman of such caliber was disowned by her “own” family? Lets go back to 1965, when she was Born. In 1965, Jasvinder born in a sikh family settled in UK. She had 6 elder sisters and one younger brother. All her elder sisters were married off to men they’d met only in photographs, that too when they were just teenagers. At 14, Jasvinder was shown the photograph of a man she was promised to, from the age of 8. She protested. She wanted to study. Pressure started mounting when she was 15 and half years old. All that the teenage girl wanted to do was to study and make a life of her own. She continued her protests and ultimately, she found herself as a prisoner in her own house, locked in a room by her own parents. She was 16 now, and one day, ultimately, she fled from her home, partly hoping that maybe after that, her parents would realize their fault and would allow her to study.

But she couldn’t be more wrong. When she called up her mother, the initial reactions that she received were “you have shamed us. You are dead in our eyes.” A girl, who just wanted to pursue her education and wanted to live “her own” life in her own way, was given a choice to either marry the guy she had met in a photograph or face disownment by her family. A 16 year old, school going girl, very bravely choose the latter.

 She had a secret relationship with one of her elder sister Rubina. Rubina was 2 years elder to her and she was aware about the horrific marriage that Rubina was standing by. She knew how Rubina was abused physically on routine basis. On Jasvinder’s insistence, Rubina did share her ordeal with her parents, who in turn mediated and somehow made Rubina go back to her husband. And then, when she could not take the abuse any longer, Rubina ended her life by setting herself on fire in  1987. And her parents were of the opinion that it was better to end her life than bringing shame to the entire family by leaving her husband. Yes, Jasvinder came from the family where the “honour” of the family was of more value than a life itself.

Deeply pained by Rubina’s death, Jasvinder found a charity named “Karama Nirvana” in 1993, to help the victims of forced marriages and honour based violence. In her journey of establishing this charity, she even faced death threats from the Sikh community in UK. But Jasvinder went on with her mission and did make a commendable difference.

In the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron, Sanghera “turned his head on the issues of forced marriages”. Forced marriage becomes a specific criminal offence for the first time in England and Wales in 2013, and Jasvinder played an instrumental role in this change. She was appointed “Commander of the order of the British Empire” (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence.

Some other Achievements of Jasvinder Sanghera Include:

  • The Woman of the Year Award 2007
  • Pride of Britain Award 2009
  • Global Punjabi Society Award 2012
  • Cosmopolitan Wonder Woman Award 2010
  • Inspirational Woman of the Year Award 2008
  • Asian Woman Achievement Award 2007
  • Ambassador for Peace Award 2008

She was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of University of Derby for her contribution to knowledge in the field of forced marriages and honour based violence

Indeed, Jasvinder is an inspiration not just to women in UK but also to women across the globe, who frequently find themselves in situations where they are to choose between their life and their family’s honour.

Her three books-Shame, Daughters of Shame, Shame travels-document in detail the struggle that she faced, cases of victims in Britain and her journey when she came to India to connect with the ancestral roots. 

– Rupali Tyagi.

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