MAKERS UK Cause Spotlight: Jasvinder Sanghera

As a female in the UK growing up within a particular sector of the British-Sikh community, “We were more or less told to be seen but not heard,” Sanghera, founder of the charity Karma Nirvana, told MAKERS UK. At the age of 14, Jasvinder Sanghera’s mother sat her down and gave her news that would change the course of her life. “She presented me with a photograph of a man I was to learn I was promised to from the age of 8 — and I was the one who said ‘no, I don’t want to marry a stranger,’” Sanghera said. “My mother was very clear that saying no was not an option.”

The teen, later taken out of school in order to prepare for her forced marriage, ultimately ran away, and as a result was ostracized from her family. Yet she still felt pangs of guilt for letting them down and causing shame. That feeling changed in 1993, when Sanghera’s sister, a victim of repeated psychological and physical abuse within a forced marriage, committed suicide in her early 20s. “Her death, for me, was a turning point,” Sanghera said.

That year, Sanghera came out of hiding and established Karma Nirvana, which is now a national award-winning charity that supports both men and women affected by honour-based abuse and forced marriages. Through the organisation, mainly funding by donations, Sanghera set up the UK’s first telephone helpline dedicated to supporting victims of forced marriages—now a national service, it has taken more than 50,000 calls since 2008. The helpline continues to receive over 600 UK calls a month. Starting August 1 they will be extending the helpline service to evenings and weekends (Monday to Friday – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday –10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The Honour Network Helpline can be reached at 0800 5999 247.

Karma Nirvana not only offers advice and support to victims often afraid of bringing shame onto their family and therefore reluctant to seek support, but also helps to advise police, teachers and social workers on the intricacies of such sensitive matters. Education and training around forced marriage and honour-based abuse, including seminars, conferences and workshops, helps to raise awareness, increase knowledge of the issue and break the silence. In the spirit of commitment and partnership both locally and nationally, the organisation’s annual Day of Memory social campaign furthers awareness and honours the memories of those whose lives were taken in abuses related to honour and forced marriages — in 2015, the day brought more than 22 million impressions on Twitter.

In 2013, Sanghera was made a Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her work for the victims of forced marriage and honour-based abuse. She continues to work as an acclaimed international speaker, author and expert advisor — the Guardian named her among the top 100 Most Inspirational Women in the World in 2011.

Through her work, Sanghera has influenced government policy at the highest level, including lobbying for criminal law to deal with the issue of forced marriage. In 2014, a new British law was passed, making forced marriage a criminal offence.

“People finally define this as being against the law, and not part of one’s culture or tradition," Sanghera said. 

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Photo Credit: Karma Nirvana