I got married last year to the most wonderful person; we’ve been married for almost a year. With wedding season looming I hope that there isn’t a repeat of protests from last year so I’ve reposted this from Secret Wedding Blog who were kind enough to help me get my story out there. This led to our story being aired on BBC Radio 4, ITV News and published in Grazia Magazine. Thanks again for everyone’s support.

We decided we wanted to have an intimate civil ceremony in Derbyshire as that’s where Sam’s family live and where Sam grew up. We had our ceremony in Ringwood Hall with our immediate families of 17 guests. The religious ceremony was planned to include all our family and friends – a total of about 400 people.
The planning wasn’t too bad really, mostly peaks of stress but overall it was made easier and more enjoyable because we used people we knew – so the cake, the flowers, the photography and menhdi were all done by friends or family of friends. It was really important to keep it close so that we could have creative control, because who’s better to take your photos than someone you know, right? In hindsight I really enjoyed the wedding planning – for both ceremonies.

The civil ceremony was lovely, we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was a real opportunity for our immediate families to get to know one another. For the religious/ cultural wedding it started pretty perfectly. My mendhi looked amazing, thanks to my dear friend and professional mendhi artist. The jago party on the Friday was a lot of fun.
The Anand Karaj (Sikh wedding ceremony) was booked at our family Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Gurdwara, in Smethwick. After the formalities at the jago party, my dad had to leave to go to the Gurdwara to meet the committee and representatives from the Sikh Youth Birmingham. Meanwhile Sam is in Derby with his family and friends having their own pre-wedding celebrations.
Dad was then requested to bring Sam to Birmingham as the Sikh Youth Group wanted to meet him face to face. Sam agreed and was collected, by my dad, at 9pm from Derby.
When Sam arrived, at around 10pm, he was met by about 30 young men representing the Sikh Youth Group. Sam was then taken into a room with three of the Gurdwara committee and two from the Sikh Youth Group. One of the Sikh Youth Group representatives then began asking questions about Sam’s faith, which he felt he answered well and honestly. The questions then became more personal, asking inappropriate questions about our personal relationship.
Sam recalls him then saying ‘it’s people like you that are taking our girls’
From here it was clear that the issue of the marriage wasn’t religion but race by simply making a divide of “us and them”. The representative then went on to say that he couldn’t promise there wouldn’t be protests, if the wedding was to go ahead, or that they wouldn’t turn violent and our guests wouldn’t be hurt.
The committee brought my dad back into the room and explained that they weren’t prepared to go ahead with the wedding due to safety concerns and explained that they weren’t prepared to involve the police. This was explained to my father and husband at 10:30pm the night before our wedding was due to take place. I found out at 11:30pm when they returned home.

The worst part is how Sam was treated and the inappropriate questions he was asked. The fact the committee made up their minds about our wedding the night before is the most heartbreaking part. They treated our wedding as a bad thing.
Sam decided that he wanted to come into Sikhism, he included Singh in his name, started to learn Punjabi and visited the Gurdwara to develop his understanding of the faith. The faith that I have grown up in and the faith I am proud to say has its foundations on the teachings to accept all and treat everyone as equals. A religion that is about defending and not one that threatens violence.
We wanted to have an Anand Karaj with all our family and friends, in my family Gurdwara. We were not doing anything wrong. We are two people that want to spend our lives together, The Sikh Youth Birmingham passed their judgement and were given permission to do so when the committee was unwilling to defend us. They act as a pressure group and use their own personal agenda to stop weddings that they are personally not happy with, which is clearly represented in their hateful online videos. A video that focuses on people of two different skin colours, and interestingly only white men and brown women- not the other way round which reflects on the comment “it’s people like you taking our girls.”
Another thing I don’t understand is that at no point in any of this did the Gurdwara or the Sikh Youth Group ask to speak to me. No one wanted to hear my point of view. How very weak of them to shy away from the other part of the relationship.

Sam felt completely out of control of the situation, he was asked to provide ID of his new name and even wrote a letter to the Gurdwara outlining his faith. He was rejected from our family Gurdwara and threatened by a group that prides itself in defending the religion.

After hours of discussions and emotional turmoil in understanding that the wedding wouldn’t be taking place, we decided we would do the Anand Karaj at home. We were fortunate to bring the Guru Grant Sahib Ji to our home and the ceremony was conducted with pure love. We were married in front of our Guru and a small handful of our family and friends. While it wasn’t what we planned and many of our loved ones weren’t there to witness our marriage, my parents, family and friends couldn’t have done anymore. We all believe it was love that made the wedding happen, that’s pretty special.
Having said all that it is important to outline that our day was taken and we won’t ever get that back, that’s very hard to forget

Sam and I are not an interfaith couples because we wanted a Sikh ceremony, neither of us wanted any other religious ceremony. However we are clearly a mixed race couple and sadly so many people hate that. So many people don’t agree with us sitting together and will do everything they can to ignore and reject us. We wanted our wedding to represent us and so having the civil ceremony and the religious suited us. Our advice would be to do what you think is best for you and stay strong to it. Hate and negativity is something that some people can’t let go of but don’t let that stop you.

Something has to happen to ensure that our story isn’t repeated. The Sikh leaders and other religious leaders need to understand that these types of marriages are taking place and it’s not going to stop. If we continue to reject people from the religion then we aren’t going to achieve anything.

I want to tell you why I am the person woman I am today and then I would love for you to tell me why you are the person you are today.

I often think about this because often I feel down, and when I feel down I need to take some time to get perspective. When I seek inspiration or positivity or strength I find myself thinking of the women in my life. I have been very lucky to have two truly amazing and hardworking grandmothers, a strong and intelligent mother and inspiring sisters and friends. These women make me the woman I am today. I’ve also had a few men make such contributions but they aren’t as interesting and maybe for another day.

My dad’s mum was a tiny woman, mother of 11, full of life with a great sense of humour. For example, once she dressed my brother as a girl and me as a boy and sent us off to bed. My mum will tell you that was her confused way but I think she was doing it for a laugh! She could speak for the UK and for India, morning, day or night she’d have something to say, with her words always filled with joy. No matter the hardship she faced raising 11 children in a deprived India she still smiled and laughed till the day she left us. When I need to smile, I think of her. Always.

My mum’s mum on the other hand is a workaholic, strict and a tough discipliner. A take no shit, do it my way or get a back hand kind of woman. Everything she’s done has been for us, her children and grandchildren. She came to this country with my granddad, my toddler mother and pregnant with my aunty. Sadly my granddad died suddenly and all of a sudden she was in a foreign country, pregnant and with a small child. Nonetheless she made it through, now she has two children, eleven grandchildren and four great grandchildren with another on the way. This woman has taken the world in her hand and walked miles to get us to where we are today. Even after suffering with a stroke over 10 years ago and countless other health problems she’s still the independent woman tackling the next challenge. When I need strength, I think of her. Always.

Then there’s my mother. She is the kind of woman who immediately makes you question every stereotype you may have ever held. A tradition Sikh/ Indian woman in appearance but speaking the queen’s English and often flirting without a care in the world. It’s difficult to explain her because she is so dynamic, confident and intelligent that it’s difficult to keep up. When people ask what she does for a living I usually say she does a load of different things, from heading a women’s empowerment organisation to supporting Smethwick Gudwara to taking care of my nan and our entire family. When I need confidence, I think of her. Always.

These three women are the main source for who I am but then I also have my sisters/ cousins, my Masi (aunty) and my friends who have all made an impact to the kind of woman I am today and the woman I strive to be in the future.

I’d love to know who makes you you because I believe that the world is full of all the people we love and sharing that brings it all closer to home. When we feel we need support we know where our heart takes us.

I have been thinking a lot about power recently and its impact on our daily lives. I have come to a conclusion that power is the reason behind most, if not all, of the world’s problems. If I doodle a flow chart from poverty I find myself at the implications of power. If I doodle a flow chart of domestic violence I find myself at the impaction of power. Same goes for rape, some cases of murder, molestation, war, all forms of violence and some forms of heartbreak.

I actively became interested in International Development when the Burmese militia refused international aid for its civilian population after the devastating cyclone in 2008. Unaware of Burma’s history I watched, read and pondered in despair how easily the Burmese people were left to die. International efforts were in place but with no organisation from the ruling junta to disperse food, medicine and other vital equipment needed during the natural disaster. All these emotions and thought came back to me after watching “The Lady”, a biography of the superwomen that is Aung San Suu Kyi and her efforts to build a democratic government in Burma.

My previous posts have outlined by thoughts on Democracy building, I do not believe in Western force to build democracy because I can’t see sustainability. I do, however, see internal democracy building as sustainable. What the National League of Democracy are doing is fighting to regain power for the people of Burma. They are fed up of not having their voices heard because having their voices heard could result in not having a voice at all. The National League of Democracy gives Burma a hopeful voice. A voice that brings fear to a regime as they fight against the oppression they suffered. They are against the people, governments and regimes that continually find ways to exercise their power. Power that kill their children, mothers and fathers. Power that kills their spirits. Power that kills them.

If the Taliban didn’t impose their brutal beliefs, if North Korea and the West did not compete with their weapons of mass destruction, if the Syrian government didn’t fight against their people, if Robert Mugabe didn’t feed his greed, if the husband didn’t beat his wife, if the women could drive a car in Saudi Arabia then maybe we could live in a more peaceful world.

I will use this post to remind my self that it’s ok to be wrong because the power of being right is not what’s most important. I will refuse the power to be right because being wrong shows I have the power to grow. I will refuse the power to want to be ahead because what’s really wrong with where I currently stand? I will use my strength to fight for the not so strong because I am empowered to do so.

A scene in the “The Lady” shows the superwoman that is Aung San Suu Kyi walking past a dozen machine guns pointed at her and her party when setting up a campaign stage, demonstrating that her power will not be crushed. Another scene: not allowing the junta to use her broken heart, for her dying husband, to end her fight to build democracy. Another scene: treating her prison guards as oppressed boys that were asked to be powerful men. Another scene: her strength to strengthen a population to vote and protest for democracy.

I am empowered to not let power succumb me. This TED video further illustrates what I wish I could say, as the beautiful words give light to a world that crumbles at our very footsteps, but a world that we have to live in and so a world we must also fight for.

Putting aside the war in Afghanistan and the thousands of service men and women that have died as a result of more than a decade at war, I would like to talk about, what I believe known true to me, the forgotten war zone.

Afghanistan to me and others I know is nothing more than a desert land that is the stage to the war on terror and the Taliban. I began my journey from the unknown when I read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hossein last year. With every page that turned unfolded another heartbreaking tale of two women living in Kabul city before the Soviet Union and after the Taliban. The story uncovers a world of hidden beauty, friendship and love that presents itself throughout the tale. With every snotty tissue and with every tear drop I couldn’t and can’t stop thinking about the injustice that exists for the people of Afghanistan. Who are the ruled of the country and what must they do to regain their freedom?

As a woman of the west with an eastern upbringing I understand the male/ female roles within the family from an eastern perspective. While I may not agree with it it’s still something I am familiar with, but what I have learnt of the role of the female in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime shocks me to my core.

For those that are unaware, when the Taliban moved into the city of Kabul (once a cosmopolitan city known as the Paris of Central Asia) a number of laws were implemented. Women are prevented from walking alone without the company of a male relative, women must not have education or employment, women must wear the full burqa and women must not deny their husbands sexual gratification at any time, amongst many more. “When the Taliban took over no longer did you see a women’s face in the crowd” (The Bookseller of Kabul). This quote, for me, summarises the extent of women’s suffering in the country that was once famous for its artisan pottery and quilts making.

Alongside this the men in Afghanistan must also abide by the law set by the Taliban. Men must wear Islamic clothing, men must pray five times a day and men must provide for their “womenfolk”. At first glance this may not seem very strict but there is still massive affliction faced by these men. How can a man stand by while a widow is beaten by the religious police in the street for going shopping to provide for her maleless family? How can a man stand by while his family wither with starvation and disease as the only breadwinner? In my eyes I only see the kind hearted man that must flight with his emotion and his forced responsibility because without him what happens to his wife, his child, his mother, his father and even his sister? I believe the role of a man in this society is to obey, be blind and forget.

A country tormented by a power thirsty regime is one that will struggle to regain its independence. When conversations persist about the war in Afghanistan I can no longer simply look at the war alone. It is the people that we need to support, the children that are living without childhoods and girls without education, and the elderly that see its once beautiful country simply in their depleting memories. My heart is tormented with the thought of these people and my tissues are still snotty and my western mind frame is still to see a brighter future, because without that what more is there?

I have written this post to remind myself that when there is war there is more than the service men and women, there is more than the gunfire, there is more than the peace keeping speeches. I thank our country for lending a hand and I hope that good has come of it because we cannot and should not believe all that is in the news. My thoughts are with all those who have lost lives due to the barbaric oppression enforced by the Taliban and I pray for a Thousand Splendid Suns for the people of Afghanistan.

Recently I worked with two others to organise an event for International Women’s Day. I felt it was very important for something to be done in Birmingham to shout about that fact that women were being celebrated around the world. We picked up our metaphorical pen and paper and emailed each other ideas which were later narrowed down to a list of great female comedians and a wonderful venue.

I feel that this is an important day, not because I want to burn my bra or to show off to the male species that women are so great, because to me this isn’t something we need to shout about anymore. Well, at least not here within our wonderful little island. I feel it is important due to the unfortunate reality that this is not the case in other parts of the world. I have to say I hate all the chat about the oppressed women in other countries, I wish ‘they’ would just give it a rest. BUT how can anyone give it a rest when it IS a daily problem. We know that women are strong and women are more than capable of farming for an entire village, if we don’t know this then we should be paying more attention to the women around us.

Although we know the power of the women, we also know the weakness of a woman. Sadly women have been, and continue to be, oppressed and suppressed because of their vulnerabilities.

If a woman is not educated then she does not know she has the ability to read and write. If a woman is not educated then she does not know that she can teach her children.

If a woman is not educated then she does not know how to prevent her children from disease.

If a woman is not educated then she does not know how to prevent her children from dying.

Sadly, sometimes a woman’s body is treated as a source of pleasure and a route to exercise power. I refer to rape, I refer to physical strength and I refer to control.

An uneducated tongue is a quiet tongue. But do not confuse my use of the word quiet to mean weak because that would be taking all the control away from the control she maintained.

To live a life of oppression must require a level of self control and strength because how else could anyone face such a life? The strength of the women that farms for a village should be seen in the same way as the woman that has her body used as property.  The body is her oven for her child’s growth, her milk for her child’s food and her arms for her child’s comfort.

When you see a women that is uneducated and beaten do not see her as weak but as a source of strength.

This is the reason I wanted to celebrate women, because the woman is everything and we could not be here without her.

I was asked to write about “why I like Birmingham” for TedxBrum… and seeming as though I haven’t written anything since my dissertation I thought I would, and so I did and I have to say it was pretty easy too!

Why do I like Birmingham? Well I have to confess that when I moved here almost 6 years ago I felt nothing but dislike for the city in which I had decided to move to. I am technically a small town girl, born and brought up in a relatively white middle class area of Northampton. I was used to green spaces, polite people and being able to pay for my bus ticket with a £20 note! But over the years I have come to love the city. Birminghamfor me is definitely a resident city, so you need to live here in order to appreciate and understand its charms.

Birmingham is not good at shouting about what is happening so if you want to know where the best places are to eat, drink and sleep then you pretty much need to know the ‘right’ people, aka Brummies. I was lucky enough to meet a great bunch when I became the OxjamBrum Fundraiser in 2009 (note: I moved here on a part time basis the summer of 2006 and full time 2008) so I finally began to understand what Birmingham had to offer.

The live music scene is the main reason I am so fond of the city, there are plenty of bands/artists to keep you entertained almost any day of the week. Some of my favorites having to be Young Runaways, Tantrums (no longer together) and Vijay Kishore. Alongside the music scene there are the great independent venues to cater to everyone’s needs. The Victoria will supply with what ever your heart desires, whether a cocktail, pint, coffee or/and even pie and mash! Urban Coffee Company brings you great tasting coffee, cakes and space for all sorts of weird and wonderful events. The Hare and Hounds has some of the best local and up and coming artists in a part of Birmingham which hosts some great independent cafes and restaurants. These are just a few of the places I like to spend my time.

In additional to all of this I can say thatBirmingham allows everyone to express themselves and find a place in the city. Whatever you enjoy doing there is a place for you; you can be whoever you want to be because of the sheer variety within the city. It’ a cultural hub expressing itself in a unique way that only Brummies can really appreciate. I love to people watch especially inBirmingham because it hosts all walks of life be it age, class, religion, male, female and everything in between. I walk down the street and see all these people that represent life at its best, complex and diverse. Life is not black and it is not white.

I used to want to hear Birmingham shouting about how great it is “look at me UK I AM THE SECOND CITY because I rock”, but now I realize that Birmingham is it’s own best kept secret.

3rd June 1984 the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to enforce “Operation Blue Star” on the Sikhs holiest Gurdwara (temple) Harmandir Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple).  Harmandir Sahib  is comparable in significance to Mecca and the Vatican City.

I have provided links for those of you that want to read more about what happened that day and the months to follow. In summary it was a crime against humanity by what is claimed to be the world’s biggest democracy. The Indian government ordered the operation in an attempt to capture Saint Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was believed to be a threat to the government. Saint Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was found murdered within the Akal Takht Sahib, this is not, in my opinion, a very good method of capture. Along with him thousands more Sikhs were also found dead, men, women and children, as Operation Blue Star coincided with the anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev Ji martyrdom.

After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, by her two Sikh body guards, the Indian police were granted permission to kill as many Sikhs for a three day duration. For three days women were gang raped and men burnt alive. The overall death toll is not confirmed but it is believed to be well over 10,000.  

Sikhs all around the world have been waiting for 27 years for justice, yet the government continues to sweep it under the carpet and to treat Sikhs in India as second class citizens. Punjab is the main home land for many Sikhs, yet they refuse to allow us to have our separate State. A State that we deserve not only to identify as our own but to allow our faith to be practice without fear of yet another attack.

The government of India needs to recognise the brutality of its former government and needs to trial those who organised and carried out the attacks. It also needs to recognise discrimination that still exists today. We are in a time where war crimes and crimes against humanity are becoming the focus point of the International Community. This is a new world, no longer can governments, head of states and heads of the military get away with mass murders just because they are in a position of power. The Arab Spring, the trial of Ratko Mladic, the convictions in Rwanda are all examples of how 2011 is the start of a world where this position of power is shifted, no longer will the “baddies” win. Enough is enough.

Never forget 1984.