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Shame By Jasvinder Sanghera, book reviewJasvinder Sanghera grew up in a traditional Sikh household in Derby, the daughter of immigrant parents from the Punjab who doted on her brother and treated her and her sisters as secondary. Growing up in England and picking up ideas and habits from the kids at school, she was not one to conform with her parents ideas of a good daughter. She challenged and pushed the boundaries of what they considered acceptable, got locked in her room for misdemeanours and was banished to live with sister and her drunken husband for the ‘crime’ of getting her hair cut and permed and bringing ‘dishonour’ to the family.

One by one she watched her sisters married off to men they neither chose nor wanted until her turn came. Faced with the prospect of marriage to a stranger that her parents had chosen, her refusal got her grounded and locked in her room until she was able to escape and run away with her boyfriend Jassey, the brother of her best friend and a man that her parents could never have accepted. With nowhere to go, nowhere to stay and very little money in their pockets, Jasvinder and Jassey had to live off their wits, carving out a place on the street markets of Bradford and building up a small business together.

Despite her parents’ rejection, Jas always wanted to go home to her family even though her mother had refused to take her back and declared that “In our eyes you are dead”. Shame is the story of causing shame, living with shame, the refusal of others to recognise their own shame and the constant fight for the love that her parents had so totally withdrawn.

Jasvinder’s relationships with men don’t go well – she’d probably be the first to admit that whilst she rejected her parents’ choice, she wasn’t doing well at choosing her own men. Aside from the lovely Jassey who really does seem to have been one of the only decent male influences in her life, she picks the wrong men – ones who try to control her or become violent. Her life is a series of tough challenges, disappointments, bad choices and trusting the wrong people. The turning point in her life was the suicide of her sister Robina who couldn’t leave her husband because of the shame it would cause the family and so took her life as the only way to escape the torment of her marriage.

“I’ve read a lot of books on similar subjects but this one is by far the most lifting and inspiring.”

This could so easily be a ‘poor me’ or ‘my crap life’ autobiography but it’s not. It’s much more a tale of survival, hope and determination to make a difference. It’s not about looking for sympathy or punishing those who’ve done her wrong – instead it’s much more about showing that there’s still a lot of honour crime going on in the UK and that just because we’re surrounded with positive images of British Asian life, it doesn’t mean that all of the horrors of the old ways have gone away. It’s also a way for Sanghera to publicise the charity she set up to deal with these crimes. In 21st century Britain there are still things being done to women that seem positively medieval. It’s also a tale of how no matter what your parents do to push you away, they’re still your mum and dad and that’s such a fundamental connection that you can’t just leave it behind you.

Jasvinder recognised that there were many other women trapped like her sister and many like herself rebelling against family pressure. But also she realised that women of her mother’s age who were trapped in the silence of not speaking English and not being able to deal with the world around them. She made it her mission to make a difference to British Asian women, to challenge the practice of forced marriage, to provide sanctuary to women in danger and to help with counselling and therapy through her charity, Karma Nirvana.

I’m not a fan of the ‘Poor me’ autobiography genre. Mostly I find such books dull, embarrassing and often a bit manipulative. Some of them I just don’t believe and suspect are padded for sympathy. I’m not therefore the sort of person who reads this sort of book. What I find particularly interesting is trying to understand what it’s like to be caught between two cultures – the culture of your parents and the countries they’ve left behind and the culture of your birth country where they’ve settled. Perhaps it’s about a sense of belonging and fitting in that most people crave regardless of where they’ve come from.

The other thing that lets a lot of autobiographies down is bad writing and thankfully we realise very early on that Jasvinder can write, and much later the reason why her writing is so good. To anyone who’s missed out on higher education and wanted to go back later and catch up on what they missed, she should be an inspiration.

I’ve read a lot of books on similar subjects but this one is by far the most lifting and inspiring. When I finished reading I wanted to know more about her and more about her charity and the work she does despite the threats that it brings upon her and her colleagues. Jasvinder Sanghera is a remarkable woman with a compelling story to tell. If you can spare a few bob, please give generously to her charity Karma Nirvana – you can find a link for donations on their website at

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by Jasvinder Sanghera

2 Comments on "Shame"

  1. Carol Wong
    14/10/2010 at 23:49 Permalink

    I live in the U.S., can I still enter. This book is the only one that I have seen
    on this subject.


  2. Vladimir
    15/10/2010 at 08:20 Permalink

    Hi Carol,
    if you are thinking about book giveaway you would need to enter it on our Forum. Unfortunatelly the competition is only open for UK visitors of the site.

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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