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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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 East Midlands: Monday September 27, 2004


Jasvider Sanghera in India
Jasvinder sees the reality of forced marriages in India and Pakistan

The tradition of forced marriages is becoming a growing threat for many British women of South Asian origin. Inside Out follow a Derby woman who escaped a forced marriage as she travels to India for the first time.

Jasvinder Sanghera arrives to the country she would once have called home had she not escaped a forced marriage.

Her parents left India in the fifties and even though Jasvinder was born in Derby, her parents wanted her, like all their daughters, to marry an Indian man.

Her seven sisters all went through with their arranged marriages, three of them travelled to India at the age of 16 and 17.

When Jasvinder was 15 and in her final year of school, her parents showed her a photo of man, saying that was the man she would marry within two weeks.

Jasvinder refused, but her parents continued to plan the wedding. Her family kept Jasvinder locked in the bedroom, until one day, she ran away.

"I saw a window of opportunity. The door was open and I just ran out the front door."

Disowned by her parents

Following her escape, Jasvinder spent her teens sleeping rough on the streets. She pleaded with her parents to let her return home, but they said that in their eyes "she was dead".

Jasvinder Sanghera in Derby
Jasvinder stands outside the house she escaped from

"In the community's eyes and in my family's eyes, because I had done something dishonourable to them, I am a woman that has no honour. I do. I have self-respect."

Many Indian families living in the UK still live very much by Indian traditions and practices.

The impact on British Asian women is something Jasvinder sees every day in her work with the Karma Nirvana refuge in Derby.

"What happens here (in India) impacts on us in England. We see women fleeing forced marriages.

"We see women feeling suicidal, self-harming because of issues of honour and shame."

Because of these pressures, few women have the strength to stand up against the forced marriages in the way that Jasvinder did.

profile of woman
Following a forced marriage, this young woman has gone into hiding from her family

Yasmin is one of the women who did contact Jasvinder.

Her parents took her to Pakistan for what Yasmin was told to be a family holiday.

Waiting in Pakistan was the man Yasmin's parents had planned for her to marry.

"I was scared, frightened. My parents told me I had no choice. They took my passport off me and said, "you'll stay here forever until you do this". So I went through with the wedding."

This happened four years ago when Yasmin was 17 years old. She is now divorced and living in a refuge where her parents won't be able to find her.

Knowing where to turn to

Who to turn to: contacts

24 hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline (in partnership with Refuge and Women's Aid)
0808 200 0247

Contact your local Police station in an emergency.

In the UK
Community Liaison Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
0207 008 0230
(24 hours:
0207 270 1500)

In India
Consular Section, British High Commission
Tel: 011 2687 2161

Advice only:
Karma Nirvana in Derby
Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.00pm

The majority of forced marriages take place in Pakistan, but it is the British High Commission in India that have seen a doubling of cases in the last five years.

Jasvinder meets up with them to discuss ways how to reach more women.

Susan Wilson is the vice-consul at the British High Commission in India and meets more and more British women forced into marriages abroad.

"So many people have said to us "I didn't know I could come to the British High Commission", which makes me think there must be many more cases we can help.

"If the number of cases increases, we have been given the resources to expand to include a shelter here where the women could go."

Working with crimes against women, the Dehli police force hosts a small team of officers that respond to complaints of sexual abuse, domestic violence and attempted murder.

woman with burns
The Indian police force tend to make excuses for domestic abuse

It's a small operation, one small unit covers the whole of the city.

Jasvinder follows the team as they respond to a call they got two hours earlier.

A burned woman is taken to hospital by her mother-in-law. It's not sure whether it is a domestic abuse case or not.

After having met the woman, Inspector Veera Shama says that the woman's dress caught fire when she was preparing milk.

"Sometimes there's some domestic violence. Some are accidental like this. It was not pre-planned"

"I don't know why she feels the need to defend how strong her marriage is to us - for me that just rings alarm bells."
Jasvinder Sanghera

Jasvinder has her doubts, refusing to believe the authorities are doing their best to protect this woman and with whether this woman really will be able to tell the truth in front of her mother-in-law.

Same kind of refuge - completely different aims

Jasvinder concludes her visit in Indian with a visit to a refuge, which reminds her about the work Karma Nirvana does back home in Derby.

women beading
These Indian women are beading necklaces as part of their stay in the refuge

The women here go through the same experiences as the Asian women back in the UK, they worry about the same issues, have the same fears about domestic abuse and exclusion from the community.

But the advice given to the women here in India is very different from the Derby refuge.

The women in India are taught skills to help them find work and rebuild their lives, although they are also encouraged to reconcile with their families rather than strive for independence.

Jasvinder is surprised to hear the advice given. But she is also aware of the cultural differences between India and the UK.

"India's opened my eyes on another level because the women here are second-class citizens, same as the Asian women I see in England.

"But in England, I would say we are scratching the surface and it's far worse because we don't actually see it. The difference here, I can see it visibly."

See also ...

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