September 18 2011
Stories: Marry—or Else
When Jasvinder Sanghera turned 14, she knew her time had come. As the sixth of seven daughters in a conservative Sikh family, growing up in the English industrial city of Derby, Sanghera had watched her parents pull her older sisters out of school, one by one, and send them to India to marry complete strangers—often men who abused them. The British educational system never questioned the girls’ long absences and ultimate disappearances. Then, one day, when Sanghera came home from school, her mother presented her with a photograph of a man. Sanghera was told that she’d been promised to him when she was just 8 years old. “I was the one who said, ‘No, I want to finish school, Mum. I just want to get an education,’” Sanghera said recently.
Her parents yanked her out of class, she said, and padlocked her in her room for weeks until she promised to submit to the marriage. “In the end, I agreed purely to buy back my freedom,” Sanghera said. When her parents relented and allowed her to visit a friend’s home, she ran away with the friend’s older brother—at first sleeping in his car, and then in a cheap boardinghouse. When she called her family, she says, they told her, “You are dead in our eyes from this day forward. You can come home and marry who we say; otherwise, you are dead.” When Sanghera refused, her family disowned her. “Even today, if I see my sisters, my family, they will cross the road and refuse to acknowledge me,” she said. “All of a sudden, I had become the perpetrator. I was the one who had dishonored and betrayed them, and I had no family.” She has lived as a pariah for the past 29 years.
Despite her ostracism, Sanghera eventually managed to finish her education and build a life for herself. More