Rising from the ashes

I woke up feeling really irritated yesterday because I was harshly woken up twice during the night by a panicked "SHIT!" that had escaped my beloved husband. Once at 4:27 a.m and then again at 7:42 a.m. Now that I look at it, I think this might be weird in a numerological sense.

The reason for his first panic was the realisation that his phone had died in the middle of the night, which automatically meant that he was late for work. Never mind the fact that it was pitch black outside because if his phone had died, surely it meant that he had to wake me up and ask for the time?

The second "SHIT!" came with the realisation that he had forgotten to plug his phone in the first time around and considering how it was light outside this time, he was most definitely late for work. I remember saying that I can probably try falling asleep for the next twenty minutes till my alarm went off. Oh, that's the other thing. I set alarms too so there's no way he'd be late for work unless my phone also died at the same time. But do you want to know who doesn't give a shit about that? Shane.

And all this happened after a rather exciting night, one that I promise to write about very soon.

I had to interview a guest in the morning, a very crucial interview at that because she's an extremely busy person and we'd rescheduled a couple of times already. When I called Meenal at 10 a.m, I looked like a zombie and she very kindly pointed that out too. And then, our guest joined the call and told us that she was in Scotland just the previous day.

"Yeah, I was at the railway station at 11 p.m to return home and got back at 5 a.m this morning", she said. And with that one sentence, I felt like a diva for all my fuss from earlier that day.

She followed that up with how she didn't mind losing all that sleep, finding herself on railway platforms at odd times of the day, and sometimes not even getting a salary for her efforts due to a lack of funding, as the work she did was as meaningful to her today as it was in 1993 when she first started her charity.

Sat before me (virtually) was Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of Karma Nirvana, a charity that helps men and women in the UK escape from honour based abuse from their families. She herself was a victim of immense emotional abuse from the time she was a child of fourteen years because it's at that age that she refused a marriage proposal her family had brought to her. This was someone she had been promised to at the age of eight, someone she had only just then seen a photograph of, someone almost a decade older than her. Her immediate reaction as a fourteen-year-old child was that this man was shorter than her. As her mum continued to explain to her that her only choice in life was to stop her education right then and marry this man, Jasvinder kept thinking about her homework for that day.

The following year, Jasvinder's conviction grew stronger and so did the abuse she had to face. She was pulled out of school and was literally kept under house arrest. I say literally because there was a padlock on her door and food was brought to her at regular intervals. Someone was always watching that door and she had to knock repeatedly to be allowed to use the bathroom. So to buy back her freedom, she said that she agreed to the proposal.

She was one of seven children, six girls and one boy, and had just one younger sister. Every year while growing up, Jas witnessed her elder sisters getting married off one by one at ages as young as fourteen and fifteen. They'd then be sent off to India because did I mention that they were all British citizens born and raised in the UK? They were all pretty much raped initially by their husbands because there was also the pressure to have children soon after marriage. Then, all her sisters would return to share their stories of woe surrounding both emotional and physical abuse. Jasvinder did not know a single happily married woman in her family.

Agreeing to marry this man was her way of buying back her freedom to talk to other people and even leave her room from time to time. One of her best friends at the time who was also Asian (for they were not allowed to make friends with "non-desi" people) had a brother who knew what was happening to her. He was seven years her senior and wanted to help her. He became her secret boyfriend and waited outside her window as she lowered suitcases filled with her possessions with the aid of bed sheets tied together. Then one morning, when she saw that her front door was open, she made a run for it. She ran out of home, found her boyfriend, and drove away from Derby where she was raised.

What we discussed on the podcast was her story after she'd run away. Today, the world knows Jasvinder as the woman who ran away from home at the age of sixteen and started a charity from her kitchen table. They know a woman who wrote bestselling books about forced marriage and honour based abuse. They know a woman who was awarded Commander of the British Empire in 2013.

But not many people talk about that sixteen-year-old who slept in a car and on park benches initially, started working immediately after that, and raised three children despite having suffered two divorces. Jasvinder read her first book at the age of twenty-seven and then put herself through college while working odd jobs.

However, this is not just her story of survival. She also shares the stories of others like her, both from her own family and outside, who weren't as lucky as her. Who hadn't survived the abuse.

And speaking of survival, it's not often that you get to talk to someone who found a bomb attached to her car because people hated the work she did to help others like herself.

All the statistics Jasvinder shares on our show, including the revelation that Karma Nirvana's helpline receives about 850 calls a month, and that 22% of those calls are from men who suffer abuse, are statistics solely from the UK. She wants people to know that just because someone in your circles lives in a first world country doesn't mean that community-based extremism does not take place. Even murders take place for family honour here. In fact, when I asked her when was the last time she heard of an honour killing in the UK, she said, "Umm..just yesterday".

Have a listen!

Karma Nirvana will turn twenty-five this year and I'd have to write a whole other blog post detailing everything they have achieved in all this time. But I'd rather you found out for yourself by signing up for their free newsletter. In doing so, you'd be helping them out immensely because they need support and signatures to achieve some of their goals in UK legislation and policies.

If you're a victim or a friend of a victim, call their UK Helpline: 0800 5999 247