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Shame travels by Jasvinder Sanghera
On Amazon for £6.29 or £2.40 plus P&P used
Kindle edition £4.99
This is now the third of Jasvinder's books I have read and I am in awe of her bravery and tenacity. I actually heard of this amazing lady before reading her books as she is the founder of the charity that helps those being forced into an arranged marriage or who are trapped in that situation called Karma Nirvana. Jasvinder was born and brought up in Derby in the Normanton/Pear tree Rd area and went to a Primary school I have visited on many occasions.
Jasvinder was born into an average Sikh family who originally came from the Punjab in India. Dad came first then sent for Mum, the daughter of his first wife who died was left in India. Jasvinder and her sisters were treated as slightly less important than her brother. Jas seemed to have a pretty nice relationship with her father and would go with him to the allotment each week and sit and listen to his stories of his village in the Punjab. Her mother certainly didn't seem to be a fun loving family centred lady. She was more concerned with her religion, her interpretation of it and what the community in the Derby area and also it appears back in the Punjab would think of any indiscretion committed by the family.
Jas watched as her sister were married off to various unloving and sometimes actually physically abusive men and when it came to her time she refused to go through with the arrangement. She felt so strongly that she actually ran off with a boyfriend of the time. The relationship didn't last but at least that was her choice and he was supportive of her and certainly was not violent or unpleasant either.
This action caused a major furore and as a result Jas was disowned by the entire family. A couple of her sisters did contact her when they needed her support and she ended up taking a large share in the upbringing of one sister's son after she committed suicide.
This refusal to talk to Jas continued for years and the sisters playing this horrible 'I need you please help me' game one minute only to reject Jas a few months later. Having gone through this for years she decided she had had enough and cut herself off from them completely. I found it really odd that her sisters behaved in this way but it may be something to do with the control over them by their husbands.
Jas did finally make a bit of reconciliation with her parents when her mother was ill. She did a lot for her but at the funeral the siblings shunned her. Her father did have regular contact after this time until he died however when he returned to India Jas asked if she could go with him and he answer was "Shame travels" meaning that her running away had travelled to India and if she went then he would be shamed.
Jas knew she had a half sister in India and was desperate to make contact so that she at least had some family and connection with her parent's roots for herself and her own children. This book is about that journey but it does also give you background information on Jas's life and how she came to found Karma Nirvana.
From the Amazon description: "With her own daughter about to marry, Jasvinder decides to challenge thirty years of rejection by going to India herself. She wants to explore her roots and to see for herself the place her parents called home until the day they died.
What Jasvinder finds in India and what she learns changes the way she sees the world, and has important lessons for all of us. SHAME TRAVELS is not only a gripping and revealing quest, but also an inspirational journey of the heart."
When she goes to India she takes a good friend with her, a policeman who she has worked closely with over the years through the work she has done with forced marriages. He is a big bloke and she feels he would protect her if necessary as she doesn't know how her family are going to react to her arrival.
Before even going to the village of her family they meet various people who are working in India to help those being forced to marry against their will or who are trapped in a violent marriage. They go to a refuge and meet those in charge as well as some of the young girls in the refuge at the time. It is a very moving account of how Jas feels when talking to these girls who look like rabbits caught in the headlights.
I was particularly interested in one of the Indian men's comments. He was saying that those who left India years ago to live in the UK clung to their religion and culture so desperately that they are actually stuck in a time warp and a more backward that those who stayed in India and changed with society's changes there.
Jas was quite surprised at how many of the men reacted positively to her own story. She felt that she might have been shunned or thrown out of the meeting once she told her story but it was far from the case. She felt a lot of support and admiration for her work.
Before going to meet her relatives she was joined by her future son in law (also English of Punjabi parents) . The future son in law and her policeman friend went with Jas to make contact in the village. This is not a novel but I won't say what happens as it is a fascinating story.
Besides trying to make contact with lost family Jas was keen to just see the village and where her father used to work on the family farm. She also made connections with people working to help those being made to go though forced marriages.
The final part of this journey takes them to Amritsar where Jas finally gets to visit the Golden Temple, the holiest place for the Sikh people. Jas is no longer a Sikh but has become a Christian however she had many questions she needed to ask the religious leaders there.
She desperately wanted to know if she really had been as sinful and disrespectful according to the Sikh religion when she refused to marry the person her parents chose and also by running away from the situation. Were they right to react in that way and disown her? Was she really such an awful person?
She had a long quiet talk with a lovely gentle Sikh leader and he assured her that Sikh religion was against arranged and particularly forced marriages so she did nothing wrong and in fact it was her parents who were in the wrong.
She asked about marrying a person of a different caste and again was told that the caste system is officially outlawed in India but some places do still take notice of a person's caste when marrying but it is certainly not against the religion to marry into a different caste.
This journey was a huge undertaking for Jas as she found out so much about her family and her religion and the customs and how they had moved on with the times in India; in many cases more so than families who immigrated to the UK.
This is fascinating story. At no time do you ever get the 'poor me' attitude from Jas. She explains her situation. She tells her story and also is very honest about how she felt at the time and how she has dealt with her life, family and the charity. She is open and honest and writes in a straightforward and engaging manner. I always find I can't put her books down as I get totally hooked into the story. I found 'Shame' which was about her life as a child and then refusing to marry, running away etc very moving. I found 'daughters of shame 'a bit less enthralling as she tells the stories of different people who have been helped by Karma Nirvana. The problem I found was that, a bit like with a short story, i didn't really get to 'know' the different people and so felt less involved in their stories although there were some pretty horrific stories so it was quite shocking at times.
I think of all the three books I enjoyed this one most as it gave Jas some closure of aspects of her life which had haunted her. Outwardly with all her work and her lovely children and nice house and so on things seemed as though she had moved on but the rejection by her family still hurt and she felt guilty, lonely and cut off. This journey helped sort some of those thoughts for her and hopefully laid to rest a few of her guilty feelings.
Jasvinder Sanghera is a very brave and admirable woman who has many times put her own life at risk in order to help others. It is such a shame that her family were not big enough to realise what a fabulous person she is and what wonderful work she is doing for so many young people both male and female who are being forced to marry against their will.
Karma Nirvan states :
"At Karma Nirvana, we have one clear aim: to stop the scandal of forced marriage and honour-based violence. No apologies. No excuses. No backing down."
If you are interested in finding out more I urge you to read these books and have a look at the website to see the work that they do. The books are easy to read but tell a powerful story.
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