Fighting forced marriages and honour based abuse | Jasvinder Sanghera | TEDxGöteborg


Translator: Rosa Baranda
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Thank you. I would like to thank
TED for the platform. I was somebody who was born in England,
and I was taught to be silent. I was taught that to speak outside
your family or outside your community, you dishonoured your family. So it is a privilege to be here,
to break the silence of so many people. So I share this platform with all those victims and survivors
out there across the world. I’d like to start by sharing with you
a little bit about who I am, the human being
that stands before you today. My father came to England in 1952. Like many migrants, he was
invited to England, in search of work, he came from rural Punjab,
he was a Sikh man. My mother joined him later on
in her life, and we were born. I’m one of seven sisters,
and I have one brother. The only home I know is England;
England is my home. It’s the only place I know. We went to British schools in England, and I watched many of my sisters, 35 years ago, being taken out of British schools to marry men they’d only
ever met in photographs. They would disappear one by one, and nobody questioned their absences; nobody asked where they were. And they were flown to India
to marry this man in this photograph. In fact, my sister Raveena
was two years older than me. She returned as somebody’s wife and was put back into my year at school. She had a wedding ring on her finger; her appearance completely changed because she was no longer
allowed to wear Western dress. And yet nobody asked where she had been. I was 14 years old when I came
home from school one day, a normal school kid, in England, and my mother sat me down,
and she presented me with a photograph of the man, I was to learn,
I was promised to from the age of eight. And I was the one who said no. I remember looking at this picture
and thinking as a 14-year-old girl, “He’s shorter than me.” And then thinking about
homework and things. My mother was very matter-of-fact, very jovial, she did this
with all my sisters, and by the way, none of my sisters
protested; not one said no. So here was my mother faced with this child of hers
who was protesting, and she said to me
I was difficult from birth, I was the only one born in a hospital,
the only one born upside-down, and so she was expecting this somehow. (Laughter) So I was allowed to go back to school, but the pressure really mounted
when I was 15 and a half. Because growing up in England did not actually give me
the same life as my peers. We were brought up to believe
that we had the power to honour or dishonour
our families through our behaviour. So there were certain things
that we were not allowed to do as normal adolescents growing up. For example, we were not
allowed to go to the school disco; we were not allowed to cut our hair;
we were not allowed to wear makeup; we were not allowed to even talk to a boy, let alone date a boy; we had to dress very modestly. Because all these things were deemed
right and proper and honourable. So if we breached any of those codes, and I call them codes
because it was conditioning: we were learnt to do this
through our behaviour, and we were ruled by fear. These were the rules of engagement, and if we breached them,
we put ourselves at risk. It could be a trigger
for significant harm, physical abuse, a forced marriage, and we know today, even murder. So we were very careful; hence, you hear a lot of
these girls living two lives, doing things in secret, away from their
family and their community’s eyes. When I was 15 and a half that was when the preparations
were happening for my wedding. And I really protested. So my family took me out of education, and they held me
a prisoner in my own home. And when I mean prisoner,
I mean I’m locked in a room, and the padlock is
on the outside of the door. Somebody’s watching the door. I have to knock to go to the bathroom. Food is brought to the door for me to eat. And I was made to stay there
until I agreed to the marriage. In the end I agreed to the marriage
purely to buy back my freedom. This was a time for me to plan my escape. And I was expected to take part
in the preparation of this marriage. You know, the wedding dress,
people come to see the bride. I can only describe it to you as somebody who had a bird’s eye view
and was looking down, and it happened to be my wedding. I ran away from home
when I was 16 years old. In my final year of school,
the most important year of school, during my exams, I ran away
over 150 miles from where I lived; I thought it would be safe there. My parents reported
me missing to the police, and the police did find me. And here was an officer, 33 years ago, a police officer presented
with this young person, begging him not to send her home. Pleading him. And thankfully, that police officer
gave me the right response. One, he believed me. Two, he did not send me home
to mediate with my family and treat me like this stroppy little
teenager who could actually work this out. Because I can tell you this today
as I stand here before you: had he sent me home,
I would be in that marriage. My parents would have
presented a different face. Once the door closed,
it would have been a very different world. But the officer did tell me to ring home
to tell my parents I was safe and well, which is exactly what I did. I’d like to share with you
my family’s response. I’d also like to tell you it was my mother
and the females in my family who were the key perpetrators, not the men. I’m ashamed to say that women
do uphold these honour systems and are the gatekeepers to this abuse. My mother was very clear. She said, “You either come home
and marry who we say, or from this day forward
you are dead in our eyes,” that I had shamed them,
I had dishonoured them, I had done this to them. So here I was at a crossroads in my life. And I had a choice to make,
and it was a choice. I could have gone back home,
to everything I’d had ever known, or be on the outside,
as somebody who was now disowned. I chose the latter. And there are many victims out there
who have to make that choice. But what I didn’t expect was disownment. It’s like me asking you to imagine
waking up tomorrow morning and never seeing a member
of your family ever again or never seeing your familiar
surroundings and everything you love and being made to feel it was your fault. Because that’s how they made me feel. I internalized that as guilt
and as shame. I attempted to take my life twice,
in my teenage years. I felt horrible because,
Had I loved my parents less? Had I done this to them? And I started to live my life,
albeit without my family. I had a secret relationship
with my sister Raveena. We would talk in secret,
sometimes disowned human beings have secret relationships
with their siblings. And my sister Raveena
suffered a horrific marriage. She would tell me how she was being psychologically
and physically abused on a regular basis, and I would say to her: “Leave your
husband, and come and live with me. I will protect you and look after you.” And she would say,
“That’s easy for you to say, because you don’t have to think
about what people think; you don’t have to think about honour,”
which translates as, “Is it?” Because she was right, I was disowned. So I begged her to speak
to my parents, and she did. She spoke to them and our community
leaders, and they all did the same thing: they all mediated and talked her
into going back to the perpetrator. My sister was 24 years old when she set herself on fire,
and she committed suicide. For whose honour? And my family’s response was this: It was better for her to take her life
and not dishonour the family than for her to leave her husband. As a result of her death,
I came out of hiding, and I established a charity
called Karma Nirvana. That was established
in my front room, 20 years ago. And that charity is now
a national charity, and it goes on to support
victims like Shafilea Ahmed. This young girl was born in Britain. This young girl’s crime in life
was to have ambition. Her ambition was to be a lawyer. She wants to be a normal adolescent, all those things you take
for granted every single day are the kinds of things
we can be significantly harmed for. This young girl ran away
from home many times. She went to five organizations – police, health, teachers,
you name it, they were there – and she was telling them,
“This is happening to me. My family are abusing me
because they think I’m too ‘Westernised’. And if you don’t protect me, they will take me abroad,
and they will force me into a marriage.” Shafilea was very clear; she ran away from home several times, and she was constantly talked
into going back home. Because it’s cultural, isn’t it? It’s what we do. You know, it’s part of my culture. I can tell you this: cultural acceptance
does not mean accepting the unacceptable. It is not part of my tradition, culture,
or religion to abuse anybody. And professionals need
to wake up and own that as a fact. I know there are many professionals
out there, as I go on my travels, who try to rationalize this,
but what they did in her case – not in my case thankfully,
and I’m here to tell the tale – is that they try to sit down
and mediate with perpetrators. Because the sad thing is,
the people doing this to you are the people who are meant
to love you the most. Your parents, and your siblings, your wider community. So in the end Shafilea went back home, after many times of running
away and telling people, and she’s now in a plane to Pakistan. Her parents drugged her
and put her in a plane to Pakistan. She’s 16 and a half. And she’s on that plane,
she goes to Pakistan, and she’s presented
with a marriage proposal because they wanted to deal
with her being too Westernised through a forced marriage. And she swallowed
half a bottle of bleach in protest. She came back to Britain, she was
in one of our hospitals in the UK, on a ward for eight weeks,
where nobody visited her. Where did they return her,
the protective agencies? Back to her family. Within a few weeks, I can tell you,
her mother and father murdered her. She was 17 years old. They held her down, and they put a carrier bag
down her throat until it disappeared, suffocated her, and her siblings
were told to watch. They were convicted last year of 25 years.
This is what we call honour killings. We know there is no honour
in an honour killing; however, the motivation
for the crime is honour-related. These are the kind of girls that ring
our helpline every single day. I established the only
network helpline in 2008, to date that helpline
has received over 30.000 calls just in the UK alone. This is happening
to people born in Britain. Please don’t think
that because I was born in the UK I have the privilege
of independence, of a free mind. That could have been me. And nobody could have told me this at 16. I have three beautiful children. It’s the first time I share
their picture here with you all. And nobody could have told me
at 16 years old I was making that decision for the future. At 16 years old, what do you know? Really? You know, I just didn’t want
to marry a stranger. But the legacy is important,
and we need the victims to own, and I’m testimony to that,
as are many thousands. You can live your life, albeit disowned. We know, and I miss
my family terribly, I do. You know, I was the only
one that graduated at university. I hadn’t read a book
until I was 27 years old. It was the first time
I ever read a book in my life. And I achieved my degree,
and I got a first, by the way, and I remember wanting
my father to be in the audience. But my father wasn’t there. He refused to come. When he died, he left me
an executor of his will. So he spoke a thousand words in his death. I remember for the first time going
to my house where I was brought up, opening the door, going to his bedroom, and in the corner of his wall
was my graduation picture on the wall. But he couldn’t say that
when he was alive. And I know that deep within him,
he knew what was right, but the power of
an honour system is so great that it only exists
because people allow it to, not just within our families,
but within our communities. When girls like Shafilea are murdered, I don’t hear our communities
crying out and saying this is wrong. I don’t. I put myself at risk, yes,
but I fundamentally believe there are thousands out there
just like me, like Shafilea, and we need to break that silence. Because nobody should have
to go through with a forced marriage. And we do it, and we do it for the future. My daughter, Natasha, on the far right, when she was growing up,
I used to say to her, “Tasha, whatever you do,
do not marry an Asian boy.” And she would say, “Mum,
you can’t say that, that’s racist.” And I used to say, “Natasha, no, you don’t
marry a boy, you marry a family.” The reason I say this to you
is because I was her mother; I’d run away from home,
I’m twice divorced, I married out of cast, I’m a campaigner. What family is going to accept that? They might take it out on my daughter,
and that was my biggest fear. Because one of the things I had to do
when I left home and they disowned me, I had to divorce myself from all
the wonderful things about my tradition because of the pain. And I miss that. Diwali was this week,
it’s a Sikh significant festival. I know Sikhism and Islam does not support
forced marriage or honour killings. In fact it supports me. But we miss that culture
and that tradition. But I had to do that because of the pain. You can only embrace that
if you have people to embrace it with. They are your family. So my daughter goes off to university,
and she meets an Indian boy. (Laughter) As they do. Your children will do the opposite
of what you ask them to. And for the first time in my life, here I met a family
that did the right thing. That were born in Britain,
raised their children here and taught them to be
free and independent. I did say to the mother, though, “You need to read my book
before I meet you,” because she needed
to understand my experience. And last year – thank you, next slide – my daughter was married! She had the big fat Indian wedding, okay? (Laughter) And not one of my family were there. But you know what? She had that day because of the decision
her mother made when she was 16 years old. She had the right to choose
who she wanted to marry. It also challenged me because I can finally
put to rest the past. The only time my life was on hold was when I beat myself up every single day
for what my family had done to me. When Raveena died, I turned it around, and I earned the fact I was not
the bad guy, I was not the perpetrator, they had done this to me. My honour was their shame,
so I let them go, I forgave them, and I started to live my life
instead of putting it on hold. And my campaign is for you
to go out there today and break our silences, please, because we exist, and we are wanting to believe
that even without our families there is a world out there for us, and you out there
believe that this is happening, and it’s happening to people
who live in a democracy. They do not have the right
to an education and independence. The privilege doesn’t come
being in Britain; those privileges were not my rights, my rights were taken away from me. Because I had a family
who believed their rights trumped the rights
of the country being Britain. Thank you very much for listening to me. (Applause)

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