Dilemma of living in an alien culture

Book: Daughters Of Shame
Author: Jasvinder Sanghera
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, London
Year: 2009
Price: Rs 295
Pages: 304  

What makes people distinct as well as distinguishable? Race? Country? Ethnicity? Religion? Economy? Political System? Culture? We can go on counting and the number of features which divide people can go on accumulating. A number of treatises have been written on these features, but the least attention is received by the cultural sphere and that too on maladjustment of cultural norms in an alien culture which results in cultural identity crisis.Though Mohsin Hamid's attempt to highlight this issue through The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a laudable fictional act, but it is Jasvinder Sanghera who deserves a faithful appreciation and encouragement for her address to this grave concern magnanimously.

Jasvinder hit the media with her crusading autobiography Shame.The present book is a continution to the previous one, though it deals with stories of other women and men who went through the same social hearth as she did. The underlying subject of the book is the cultural conflict between Eastern and Western values. When an Asian family moves to the West, they try to keep their values and norms intact, try to minimize the Western influence upon them, but in an open society, closed systems can't be reinforced fullsome on the next generation, so winds of alien influence creep in which are challenged and must be defeated. In this battle of values women are the victims in most cases.

The age-old custom of women and honour being synonmous is a norm among Asian families and to uphold that honour is the duty of faithful daughters, sisters and wives. Any non-conformity to these norms relates to honour-based violence which results for the women going through  Hell. The most surprising aspect of this phenomenon is that in all cases, the honour-based crimes are committed by the kith and kin of the victim.This book details a number of cases of such victims.

Other aspect of the book dealts with the forced marriages of which both men and women are victims. According to a survey, 15% of men are victims of this evil.To rescue these victims from forced marriages, Jasvinder runs Karma Nirvana which rescues and rehabilitates these victims.This book is a depiction of her struggle to rehabilitate these victims and being a source of inspiration for them to start a new hopeful life.The rehabilitation work is not an easy one as Jasvinder frequently receives threats that she has defamed her family, religion and society and thus she doesn't deserve any right to live. Despite being cowed down at times by these threats she still manages to stand against this injustice.

Many a times these victims wish to go back to their families, inspite of the fact that their loved one’s had turned into tormentors, torturers and even murderers.This speaks a lot about the longing for family among Asian ethnicities who without a family feel void and vaccuum in their life, though Jasvinder tries her best to fill that void. The underlying inspiration of the book is the crusading spirit of a victim who stood up and spoke for the rights and dignity of other victims also.The apathy of the issue is that it is prevalent among Asian families residing in UK.

Despite bestowing upon ourselves terms like progressive, liberal, scientific and civilised, these types of medival problems which crop up in our societies should make us ponder whether anything has changed truly? Read this book if you really wish to understand what Thomas Hobbes calls as "brutish" nature of man.

Mushtaq ul Haq Ahmad Sikander