Jasvinder Sanghera ran away from the prospect of a forced marriage and set up Karma Nirvana to support women - and then men, too - in similar circumstances. This book tells the stories of several women and one man and their struggle to survive ostracism and estrangement from their families and communities, often the violent abuse they suffered, and in some cases, murder.
I thought I knew a little about the subject, just from newspapers and some stuff I have come across over the years through various jobs. But after reading this book I realise how naive and innocent I was (and still am), a situation which many police and social workers also find themselves in.
It's an extraordinarily well written and well-edited book. No superfluous prose, and its fluidity makes it impossible to put down. I read it in about three hours on Wednesday.
As a British Asian woman Jasvinder is in a position to criticise community cultural values from personal experience. Time and again she finds herself having to battle persuade the white and seemingly liberal public sector professionals she encounters to take this matter seriously.
Teachers, police, social services are - not surprisingly - wary of cultural sensitivities. Reading this, and in knowing the enormous progress that has happened in this area in just a few short years, I am tempted to be optimistic and celebrate that progress. But one police officer believes the problem will never go away; an academic likens this area to how child abuse was in the 1970s.
She describes women - and girls - held prisoner in their homes, or kidnapped and taken to Pakistan etc to be forcibly married. Running through is a tacit acknowledgement of the many more women who acquiesced in an 'arranged' marriage against their will. I suppose my major criticism is that after reading this, one is tempted to believe this behaviour is absolutely endemic throughout British Asian society, and, of course, it is not.
It troubles me that the families and communities that Jasvinder writes about are so hostile to white people in Britain. I accept that many may have migrated here as a result of the history of colonialism and repression, and that many have faced racism and hate crimes from white British people. I also think it's understandable to want to retain culture and community values, but only up to a point.some of the reported statements are racist, or would be considered so if expressed by white people about Asians; however, with this brand of racism, it is again the Asians who are the victims.
Asian schoolgirls attending overwhelmingly white schools are instructed not to talk to white girls, even at school - I dread to think what is happening to the girls at Islamic separatist schools. I just don't think it's realistic for a child to be born in a place and grow up there and not absorb some aspects of the local culture and ways of behaving. Indeed, just about every British Asian person I know considers themself both British and Asian, wanting and being the best of both.
It's not very far along the line to ask - why, if you abhor the British way of life so much do you nevertheless stay living here? Can you not see that so many aspects that make Britain an attractive place to migrate to are the aspects you detest the most - a liberal and open society where, at least in theory, women are free to do what they want with their lives? The prosperity would not be there without the liberalism, and nor would the safety net. If your daughter has the much-prized British Citizenship, she also has all the rights that go with that - or indeed, the rights that are afforded to all residents of Britain irrespective of status. It isn't a menu where you choose just the options that appeal to you and reject the rest.
I have never subscribed to the view that one should avoid offending cultural sensitivities. I am a feminist and a socialist, and as such, I also lend my support to other liberation struggles (as they were once called...). But I cannot compromise my belief in women's equality and freedom just so as not to appear racist. I simply don't see that rape, child marriage and imprisonment are race issues.In any case, similar oppression was typical of white European Christian society until fairly recently.
I am humbled reading about women like Jasvinder. It would have been so much easier for her to heave a sigh a relief and live a 'normal' life in private. Instead, she tours the country speaking at conferences and seminars, and appearing in the media, working tirelessly to persuade law-makers and the professionals that administer the law to understand what is happening, not to ignore the hidden abuse of thousands of women and children (and men, too, for that matter), as well as supporting the individuals who approach her organisation for help.
It's a very powerful book, made more so by its readability, where the personalities become real not just some 'case study'. I would highly recommend it; but beware that it contains some painful truths that won't simply go away when you put the book down.