Title: The Jasvinder Sanghera Collection: Shame; Daughters of Shame; Shame Travels
Author: Jasvinder Sanghera
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, 2013
Reviewer: C. Hine
Shame and honour are being discussed with increased frequency in mission circles, in recognition that shame and honour both shape the way many in our world must negotiate life and are inherently a part of the Biblical narrative. They are not only a lens to read the Bible through, but the stories of the Bible tell stories of shame and honour. What is missing so often in these discussions is an understanding of how women experience shame, how shame and honour are embedded in women’s bodies. (for other discussion in the When Women Speak… network on shame and honour read the blogs https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/womens-shame-1/, https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/womens-shame-2/, and https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/womens-shame-3/)
The Jasvinder Sanghera Collection brings together her own unfolding story of living with shame as she made choices that her family opposed, and the impact of this on her life. At the age of 16 Sanghera ran away from home so that she would not be forced into a marriage that she did not want. The consequences of this choice were devastating, and were brought home to her on the first call she made to her mother who said ‘you are dead to us’ unless she returned home and submitted to the family’s wishes.
Reading these three parts of Sanghera’s story opens up a number of important and challenging aspects of shame. Of primary importance are questions of identity and belonging. Who was Jasvinder Sanghera without the relational network of family, without a place of belonging? As you follow her story it is only at the end that you sense she has found a way of managing the inherent tension regarding identity brought about by shame experienced within a collectivist social structuring. Being drawn emotionally into the story, and it is hard not to be, provides a deeper sense of the deep challenges for any woman who suffers shame, something we must understand as we introduce women to Jesus. Changing ones primary allegiance and rejecting old allegiances has a deep impact on such fundamental issues as identity and belonging.
For Sanghera, the loss of support networks, the isolation and her own lack of preparedness for the disruption brought about by shame brought deep personal crisis on multiple occasions. Shame is not something that was dealt with when she got through the first crisis. It crushed again and again with each rejection, each missed family celebration, each accusation about the destruction she had brought on her family because of the shame she had brought upon them. Recognising this aspect of shame reminds us of the commitment required to journey with people who are said to have shamed family and community. Sanghera acknowledges those who over the years came to share her tears, support her, and walk with her. The final part of her story, Shame Travels, highlights the hope and life that support brings. Through the NGO that Jasvinder Sanghera has set up, Karma Nirvana, we are also given glimpses into the nature, cost, and necessity of support for young women dealing with forms of shame.
Shame is powerful. It has a power that has tentacles that extend in multiple ways. It is powerful in the devastation it can wreak in the life of a girl or woman accused of bringing shame onto her family and community. It destroys relationships; creates isolation; destroys identity; leads to physical problems including depression and ill health; submerges individuals, families and communities under a burden of conflict and suffering; it becomes a form of social control that women are burdened to bear; and it is inextricably related to sexual control and purity, according to Sanghera.
One of the challenges presented in this book is that of political correctness. Sanghera makes abundantly clear that shame is not a cultural construct that is harmless. She shows repeatedly that shame is a destructive cultural expression of power and control that should not, indeed cannot, be ignored. Sanghera was brought up in a Sikh family in Britain. She is scathing in her indictment of the country’s institutions that ignore the burden carried by young women controlled by shame and honour norms. Many young girls disappear from schools, for example, and no one takes any notice. It is put down to culture. Young girls go for help to the authorities and are ignored because it is brushed aside as cultural. This story begs the question, how should cultural issues be dealt when they have an negative impact on marginalised groups within a community. Perhaps what gives Jasvinder Sanghera the right to speak with clarity and authority is that she is an insider. But then what gives her voice the right to be heard above others? Her story gives voices to many of the challenges of our global, intra-cultural world.
Jasvinder Sanghera’s collection is an essential read for those who work in cultures where the predominant paradigm of social organisation is shame and honour. For those who work with women who live with the burden of carrying shame in their bodies, the Shame collection will provoke questions that have few easy answers but must be wrestled with if we are to journey with and support women. You will benefit from allowing yourself to live the story with Sanghera. You will grow by taking the challenges of this construct of social organisation and seeking to understand how God deals with shame.
You learn at the end of the collection that Sanghera has become a follower of Jesus. You also learn that the journey to wholeness from the abuse of shame is a long one. She simply shares her own story and this part of life transformation is embraced within that story.
We owe gratitude to Jasvinder Sanghera for the honesty of her story and the window into shame that she has opened for those who would see.