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Q&A with Jasvinder Sanghera, Survivor of Forced Marriage
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Hi there, I'm excited to do a Q&A with the Parlio community. As a survivor of a forced marriage, I founded the leading award-winning national charity that provides the only UK national dedicated helpline supporting all victims and professionals seeking support in cases of forced marriages and honour abuse. Since the inception of the helpline (2008) we have received over 50,000 UK calls but this is still recognised as under-reported. This continues to be a problem across the world and there is a great need to continue raising awareness if we are collectively to tackle it.

This is the first time I will be open to answering any questions relating to our campaign and my personal experiences of being a British born subject and promised into a marriage at the age of 8, my story remains one of many and I wish to share it for you reach the many who are suffering in silence.

Please feel free to watch my TedX talk - "Fighting Forced Marriages and Honour Based Violence."
This Q&A took place between 2/17/16 and 2/24/16. Unanswered questions have been hidden
12 questions
Researcher @ Harvard | Parlio community manager
Hi Jasvinder, thank you so much for agreeing to do this QA with the Parlio community on such an urgent, hidden, yet widespread issue.

It's easy to understand how forced marriages and honor-based violence is abhorrent and must be outlawed. When I try to understand how people around the world are able to justify these practices, it's hard for me to believe that these practices take place in families and communities with high education levels, but it seems like it does. How are educated families living in urban cities who are aware the opposing views able to justify these practices?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Jieun - I feel it to be extremely important to recognise that educated families also commit crimes rooted in notions of honour. I depict this in my book 'Daughters of Shame' whereby a senior doctor in England abused his educated daughter. I feel it is every-ones responsibility to come out and speak out against these abuses, especially those who have supportive families and the right to choose who they wish to marry.

I know you will agree that no one can justify these practices and if they do we have to consistently be the counter message. As with domestic abuse these crimes cut across class, education and cultures.
Within communities that practice forced marriage, do you feel like most women have accepted the practice or are against it? In other words, is this something that most people accept as part of their culture, or do they dislike it but feel forced to accept it because they don't have means to get out of it?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Hannah - I have met many women whose courage never ceases to amaze me and that can mean those who leave or make a choice to stay, allow me to explain.

I will speak from personal experience and also having supported thousands of women over the years.

I was born in Britain and yet when I went home from school it was as if I were living in rural India. As we grew up we were conditioned to understand how women were second class citizens compared to men. More importantly we understood the concept Shame and honur which was invested in us as women. This often meant all our movements were restricted, we could not be normal teenagers. not have white friends, be independent, have aspirations, a boyfriend etc....

All these behaviours were deemed dishonourable and we understood that you could be punished if you did them. We were also made to believe that this was cultural even part of our religion which it clearly is not!

Over the years this becomes part of your norms and therefore part of beliefs and values systems and if you speak out against it then you are seen as the outsider. Over the years you are worn down and if you do not hear a counter message then you give into them. I don't think it is a question of women accepting it but some not knowing about help and some fear the repurcussions such as being disowned, threats to life, being emotionally blackmailed all of which can make you feel pressured to stay in abusive situations.

So you see either way if you decide to leave or stay I understand it requires courage. Our job at KN is to give women options and get options to them so that they know there is another way. After years of being told lies we hope our truths will help them make and informed decision and reinforce the message that no one has the right to abuse you, especially your family who really should love you the most.
JD/MPA Candidate at Columbia Law and Harvard Kennedy School
Thanks, Jasvinder, for taking our questions and shining light on this very underreported crime.

I assume that a sizable proportion of victims of forced marriages come from male-dominated societies and cultures. If that's true, how can men and boys in these societies develop positive attitudes towards women so they understand the ways they contribute to gender inequality? Although not a panacea, I think that would go a long way in addressing this problem.

Thanks for any insights.
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Isaac Lara - I totally agree but we also need to accept that women are also perpretrators and often uphold honour systems by enforcing them through parenting. We also support men and currently 18% of our cases are male related and higher for The Forced Marriage Unit.

We sincerely need more men to join our campaign and take a stand with us. That can mean speaking at events, writing a blog, identifying male role models to speak out and that includes those in positions of power. I feel men and women must stand united on this issue and if you have any ideas we would welcome them. We also employ men at Karma Nirvana but have very few apply for jobs and volunteering opportunities and no men (albeit invited) on our Survivor Ambassador Panel.
First of all, I'm very grateful with all of your confrontation in your life which results freedom of choice to your daughter and many during your campaign.

I think that the issue of these sick traditions will disappear from eastern people who born in western world by time factor and power of culture through generations,the permanent problem who still live in India,Pakistan.How could we interfere and contribute in development man and woman in these societies and reform the meaning of honour ? In other words,Could we spread awareness and destroy these false tradition in their home origin ?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Ahmed - There is an absolute need to spread awareness across the world as this is a global problem and I hope we contribute to this awareness. However we also must accept that this is a real issue in western worlds such as Britain. We at KN deal with over 750 calls for help a month on our helpline and the majority are British born subjects. All our campaigns highlight how cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable and we are very clear to frame these abuses as child and public protection.

In terms of reframing the meaning of honour? I feel we that we have to recognise it to be at the heart of a victims experiences as many of the abuses are motivated by this concept. Our helpline is called The Honour Network Helpline as we are reclaiming the word honour and using it positively. Many accuse us of dishonouring our families and this is our way of stating 'our honour is your shame and we are the most honourable of beings.'
Activist Educationalist Daoist Martial Artist
Are you familiar with developments in China during the early 20th Century years? One of the most powerful influences against forced marriages was the semi-autobiographical novel by Ba Jin, Family. (There is a movie w/subtitles.) People read this book, identified with the characters, and thereby became more enlightened.

One co-factor is what happens to the young males who cannot be with the young women they have fallen in love with.
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Aaron - Thank you for this and I was not aware but will make a point of reading this novel.

There are many young men and women who are pressured to leave relationships of choice which is heart-breaking and we deal with many couples who call the helpline. The good thing today is that we can support them as couple as there is emergency accommodation now for men and couples.
Financial Consultant/ Investment Advisory Representative
What role can social pressure and shame play in reducing, and eventually eliminating, the number of forced marriages from taking place?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Joon - I feel social pressure is an extremely important vehicle for change. We have achieved much by gaining public support be it a petition or letters to MP's etc this helps us gather in strength and contributed to how we successfully won the battle that created a criminal offence of forced marriage.

Shame? Not completely sure what you mean but I will endeavour to consider this and hope the following answers your question. I feel those in positions of power should be held to account if they know they can make a difference and chose not too. They should be highlighted for not doing the right thing when doing it means saving lives and this includes politicans and senior leaders, not to do so is morally wrong as is turning a blind eye for fear of offending communities. But does this mean shaming them into acting? If it means doing the right thing and saving one from a forced marriage? My integrity say's yes and ultimately so does my conscience that we all have to live with.
I always enjoy hearing both sides of an argument and am wondering if there are any statistical comparisons within forced marriages in relation to how many turn out to be successful for both the wife and husband. As for the abuse my belief is that it has nothing to do with honour and everything to do with power over women.
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Hank Nuis - We do not dispute that which is tradition and clearly where both people are consenting this being an arranged marriage. I am not sure why we would concern ourselves with what works well, would we say that about other marriages? I do wish those who are able to marry out of choice would also come and take a stand with us in speaking out against forced marriages.

With regards to how many forced marriages work, I think we have to look at the starting point being NO consent and how many are then forced to make the marriage work.
Hi Jasvinder,

Thank you for sharing your story here, and for opening yourself up to questions on this extremely interesting topic.

I'm curious about how Karma Nirvana relates itself to other kinds of marital abuse issues. Does it do any work on the so-called "mail-order bride" industry or domestic violence in the UK, or is the focus strictly on honor abuse?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Maxwell Fox We support any one who experiences honour based abuse which can manifest itself in various forms such as trafficking, slavery and recently we have been dealing with revenge porn. An example being where a victim is being blackmailed by some one who threatens to tell the family about an relationship outside of marriage. The victim understands this will be received as shameful and therefore put her and the family reputation at risk.

We also have begun to identify an increase in child marraiges and forced marriages as a motivation to become a British subject. In these cases money can be offered for a daughter which in my opinion is not dissimilar to other forms of abuse such as trafficking.
Freelance Journalist (Entrepreneurship & Startups)
Hi Jasvinder, thank you for taking the time to address our questions! I work with a Swiss NGO that helps empower women in India and Nepal through four key pillars: Community Infrastructure, Health, Income Generation and Education. Do you think that by empowering women and teaching them their rights, we will be able to help them break free of forced mariages?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Bérénice Magistretti Yes I do agree with you. It is the isolation of victims that enables others to have greater power of over them. A victim over the years is often worn down to such a degree that they can believe the lies they have been told, as I was to name but a few....

You will amount to nothing
No one will believe you
You cannot live without us
How will you live? you will end up on the streets

Your work is the most important counter message and often the first time they may start to believe in something different, hope and I salute you.
Jasvinder, hi. Thank you for being here. To label being abused, or killed by one's family honor related acts is, in my view, an incredibly subtle but very real encouragement to continue this horrific practice. Abuse or killing is not honorable in any way but the word 'honor' is empowering to the point where the head of the household can legitimately find support among other male and also female family members. Do you think changing the term 'honor' to a more accurate and descriptive term would have any effect?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Nanna Wulff Mercer I must reiterate how this concept honour was at the heart of my experience and those we support. We know there is no honour in any abuse and when we use the term 'honour killing' what we recognise is that this has been a motivation for the abuse. I do feel that this needs to be acknowledge and we may need to consider how 'honour' is an aggravating factor and give consideration to this when sentencing?

Honour is a very personal concept, I have honour but my family do not believe I do or am deserving of such a word. This is irrelevant now to me as I now own the word and believe my honour to be thier shame.

You may find our research with Professor Paul Gilbert helpful, it is on our website as it relates to how 3 generations of UK South Asian women experience the concept honour.
Your work in the UK sounds incredible. Do you have any insight about the degree to which progress has been made in India, and what methods have been used to change people's minds in the most conservative communities? And do you have a sense if any of these lessons can be imported to the diaspora?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Paras Bhayani Unfortunately I do not have a sense of the progress made in India. However on my last trip which was to explore my third book Shame Travels, I attempted to understand how these practices are imported to the UK. My father was from rural Punjab.

During my trip I met many women who faced greater challenges as there was little government support, back logs in court proceedings. women did not have rights with land and some were sold into marriages. I also experienced the power of community elders being overtly expressed and these individuals often acted as community police.

I feel India has a long way to go still and it requires government intervention and real police leadership whereby victims are believed and supported to leave and be safe.
Marketing Manager, at the Cato Institute
Jasvinder – First, thank you for standing up for yourself and subsequently standing up for your future generations. Second, growing up, I've noticed some families who live in western countries but are originally from oppressive societies are more likely to hold onto oppressive traditions when they aren't as economically stable. Do you think the more financially independent these families are in the western countries, the less often they hold onto their original oppressive traditions?
Chief Executive, Best-selling Author Karma Nirvana
Crystal Zhao I have to disagree as these abuses cut across all communities including educated families, those with greater wealth often have greater challenges as marriages can take place to keep wealth in families. This can become a motivation for a forced marriage especially if the son or daughter wishes to marry say out of caste, wealth and/or different religion etc......

Some of these oppressive practices are linked to the reputation of the family and it matters not how little or much you own as reputation can counter everything.