Skip to content

Jasvinder Sanghera: She Refused a Forced Marriage and Fights for Other Women too!

September 6, 2010

I learnt that mine wasn’t the only Asian family held together by a suffocating web of secrets…[And so] I have also tried to batter down the wall of secrecy. I realized that by staying silent, women like me were making it impossible for anyone to help and I wanted to change that.

Jasvinder Sanghera, who is of Indian parentage, was born and raised in Britain.  As a young girl, she witnessed her sister being forced into a marriage, and then having to endure abuse and violence from her husband.  Tormented and trapped, and finding no sympathy from her own parents, her sister committed suicide, dousing herself with gasoline and setting herself on fire while her husband stood nearby and watched.  Determined to escape a similar fate, Jasvinder ran away from home when her family wanted to force her as well  into a marriage that was not of her choosing.  Her book Shame is an account of her experiences. Later Jasvinder set up an NGO — Karma Nirvana, that helps Indian and other Asian women escape similar situations, find support and/or protection from their families (particularly in situations where the women’s lives are in danger – the so called “honor” killings), and get a new start in life. The following  is an excerpt from her book Daughters of Shame, in which she shares the stories of the women she has encountered through Karma-Nirvana.   In the excerpt below she talks about what prompted her to write her books.

I was brought up to keep secrets, ugly secrets about bullying, coercion and fear which were all part of everyday life in our family.  I believed it was shameful to discuss things with outsiders and if I did I would compromise our honour—izzat—the most important thing in my mum’s life. That’s why I didn’t tell anybody when she showed me a photograph of the man she said I had to marry.  I knew it wasn’t right; I knew I was too young to leave school or get married, and it felt all wrong being forced to marry a man I didn’t know, but I didn’t tell. I kept the secret and it festered inside me, feeding on my feelings of shame, resentment, fear and guilt.

I ran away rather than go through with that marriage and my family disowned me: ‘You have shamed us. You are dead in our eyes’, my mum said. I kept that secret too.  As I struggled to make my way in life I kept my head down and my eyes averted: I didn’t want people knowing how worthless I was…[Later I] learnt that mine wasn’t the only Asian family held together by a suffocating web of secrets…[And so] I have also tried to batter down the wall of secrecy.  I realized that by staying silent, women like me were making it impossible for anyone to help and I wanted to change that.

I started journeying across the country telling my story, and that of other women like me, time and again. It wasn’t always easy. With your head above the parapet, you feel very alone. I often felt exposed and scared…

My decision to write Shame, to lift the veil of secrecy that cloaked my family was not taken lightly—I knew it would extinguish all hope of reconciliation between [me and my family]—but it has been vindicated by all the people who have said to me: ‘I read your story and it gave me permission to tell mine.’


Their Honour Network Helpline which provides  support for Asian women in Britain trying to escape forced marriages and/or honor killings is 800 5999 247

From 2008-2010 Karma Nirvana has received over 9000 calls for help and support.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. sameera permalink
    September 29, 2010 5:20 pm

    Hi read your preview sound very familiar in culture..
    ..thanks for writing this precious note..need more people like you for awareness of girls right..
    Will surely get it in my next list of book

  2. Abi Carey permalink
    March 31, 2012 9:19 pm

    She’s an amazing woman. I’m a medical student & I had a special student unit focusing on domestic abuse. Due to my interest in & love of India, & because I want to learn more about things that affect Indian women, I wrote a paper about honour abuse & violence. I talked about how people can recognise ‘ help abuse victims, with risk assessment guidelines too. Karma Nirvana is a great charity & has a good section on how to talk to people in these situations. Abi x

  3. emery permalink
    April 23, 2012 9:59 pm

    we need the same thing in the USA right now! since 1989 there have been 5 known honor killings in the US. i”m shore that’s just the beginning there have probably been hundreds that went unreported. the most infamous example was the case of the said sisters in Texas in 2008. for more information see

  4. B Singh permalink
    March 31, 2013 11:11 pm

    Hi, I am from India and I am also in same situation. Can you please help me out as I am being forced to marry as per my parents wish. But I am not agree for this.I am a girl and they put me in housearrest kind of situation. I am 26 year old and independent still they are forcing me for marriage against my will. Please provide me some contact in India for Delhi/NCR who can help me out , any NGO or helpline no. to be contacted. Or please provide me your valuable suggestion for my situation and how can i escape from all this.
    Please help me out.

    • April 2, 2013 7:09 pm

      Dear B. Singh, We’d suggest you immediately write a letter to the National Commission for Women via email For their contact address click here. When you send the email please include our campaign in there in a cc: Our email is Also include as cc: The All India Democratic Women’s Association (; Also cc: The Network of women in Media in India ( Send this out as soon as possible!

  5. Jodi-Ann Richards permalink
    August 18, 2013 11:34 am

    I’m sure your sister is proud of you for getting your freedom and living life on your own terms. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. March 2, 2017 3:59 pm

    Very touching story


  1. A Need to Heal the Secret Betrayal between Mothers and Daughters | -

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: