Leeds woman who fled a forced marriage aged 16 calls for caste-based discrimination to become an offence

  • Duncan Wood speaks to Jasvinder Sanghera

At just eight years old, Jasvinder Sanghera was already promised to an older man who she had never met before.

One day after school aged 14, her mother sat her down at their home and showed her the picture of a man they'd decided she would marry.

Ms Sanghera refused, and fled home at just 16-years-old with a man outside of her caste. Her conservative Sikh family disowned her and she has now been estranged from them for 42 years.

She later went on to raise three children as a single mother and set up Leeds-based charity Karma Nirvana in 1993 to support other victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage.

She says people across the UK are still being matched based on their caste system and it is largely going under the radar.

"I equate this to be no different to 30 years ago where people were not talking about forced marriage. This is a hidden issue affecting British born people.

"If Britain's not going to tolerate discrimination, then we need to think of this as a form of discrimination and think about placing this very firmly within the equalities act."

She echoes growing calls to make caste-based discrimination an offence enshrined in British law - just as it is with race or religious hate crimes.

What is the caste system?

India's caste system is among the world's oldest forms of surviving social classification.

The system which divides people into rigid hierarchical groups based on their jobs and religion.

It is thought to be around 3,000 years old.

The main castes were further divided into about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, each based on their specific occupation.

Outside of this are the Dalits or the untouchables.

The system is often criticised for being unjust and regressive, trapping people into fixed social orders from which it was impossible to escape.

Where to get help and support:

  • Karma Nirvana is a Leeds based charity which supports victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. 

  • The Halo Project is a national project that supports victims of honour-based violence, forced marriages and FGM.