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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December 2004, 15:43 GMT
'Shameless and proud of it'
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

Jasvinder Sanghera's family did not speak to her for many years.
As a conference in London examines "honour" crimes, a woman who escaped a forced marriage tells how the experience has shaped her life.

For somebody talking about threats on her life, Jasvinder Sanghera seems remarkably calm.

"I often get threats directly to my life, sometimes to my children's. Sometimes members of my own family threaten me.

"It's their way of intimidating me, of silencing me, but I have no intention of being silenced."

The reason for the threats dates back more than two decades to when Jasvinder was just 15.

Born and brought up in Derby, Jasvinder says she was "just a normal kid in the British education system".

The ultimatum was 'you either marry who we say or you are dead in our eyes'
Jasvinder Sanghera

Her parents had been placing increasing restrictions on her freedom, she recalls.

But she was nevertheless shocked, she says, when one day they produced a photograph and told her, "this is the man you're going to marry".

"I saw my sisters all being taken to India to get married but I didn't actually think it was going to happen to me. And I was clearly not having it," she says.

'Lucky to be alive'

With the help of the man she would later marry, Jasvinder ran away from home.

She believed it would "teach her parents a lesson" and they would eventually let her return and drop the idea of the marriage.

But when she rang her mother the message she got was very different.

"The ultimatum was 'you either marry who we say or you are dead in our eyes' and that was how they treated me," she recalls.

The thing about this crime is that it's silent, it's hidden - our communities deny these issues exist
Jasvinder Sanghera
As a result of her refusal to go along with the marriage, Jasvinder's family would not speak to her for many years.

She was partially reconciled with her mother shortly before her death from cancer but remained estranged from the rest of her family.

Jasvinder now works at the Karma Nirvana refuge for Asian women she helped set up in Derby.

She says a large number of those who use the refuge are escaping "honour" crimes such as forced marriages, virtual imprisonment in their own home or even threats to their lives.

'Woman with no shame'

Her work has made her realise she was fortunate to escape relatively unscathed from her own experience of "honour" crime, she adds.

"I'm lucky to be alive. I managed to leave and rebuild my life with no support from my family at all.

"Some women are not fortunate enough to do that. They have to live anonymous lives and change their identity."

But the price she had to pay was ostracism from her community which still continued, Jasvinder says.

"People in my community call me 'the woman with no shame', but I'm proud to hold that title."

She hopes the increasing amount of help targeted at Asian women - both at local level and by the government - will give them vital information about their situation and encourage them to take action.

"When I was 15 I didn't think for one minute to speak to a teacher, I wouldn't have gone to the police, I didn't even think it was a crime what my parents were doing to me.

"The thing about this crime is that it's silent, it's hidden - our communities deny these issues exist."


SEE ALSO:
Women's refuge wins recognition
27 Jul 04 |  Derbyshire
Betrayed into marriage
31 Mar 04 |  UK


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