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VARIOUS TEXTS: AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE - A personal account

Introduction: The following is an excerpt from Jasvinder Sanghera's autobiographical novel 'Shame'.
The first-person narrator here is Yasmin. She has 6 more sisters and about 14 years of age when her mother discloses what she has planned for her.

Text:
A few months after Mum brought me home from Prakash's house the subject of my marriage came up. I was in the livingroom doing my homework when she showed me a picture, ever so casually. 'What do you think of him?' she said. 'Do you think he's nice? He's the man you're going to marry.' I must have known this moment would come but I still felt as if I had been slapped. I didn't want to look at the picture, in my head I didn't want to go there, but I couldn't stop myself taking a quick glance. She was pointing out a man standing in a group and my first thought was, no way am I marrying him, he's shorter than me. I just looked at Mum. Then she started laughing and put the picture away so I thought perhaps she was joking and I needn't take it seriously.

I tried to put it to the back of my mind and get on with my life, but every so often Mum would mention it. At first she was always light-hearted and jokey, but over the weeks she became more insistent. She kept saying I should be happy that she had found me such a good husband and that it was my duty to marry him. As the weeks went by I got more and more frightened. I kept thinking of my sisters and the bruises I'd seen on them; I remembered them sobbing as they told my parents how their husbands abused them; I remembered Mum saying, 'This is how men are, it is your duty to look after him.' I used to lie awake and dread the thought of my husband beating me, and Mum and Dad refusing to help. I felt as if my life were sliding out of my control. When I said, 'Mum, I want to finish school and go to university,' she just laughed.

At break times at school I'd watch the white girls. It was a style thing then for them to hitch their uniforms up so they were really short. I used to watch them, standing in groups with the boys, chatting and laughing, sometimes mock wrestling; occasionally a cheeky couple would even kiss. For them it was totally normal, but my mum would have killed me if she saw me doing that.

My white friends had started talking about going to college or university. When they said, 'Is it true you have to get married when you're really young?' I'd just say no. I used to wonder if other Asian girls in my class were going through the same thing as me, but I never dared ask them because I'd been so indoctrinated not to talk outside the family. Sometimes I used to fantasize about telling a teacher and asking them to help, but it would have flown in the face of everything Mum ever taught me. My fear of being judged was quite deeply ingrained by then.

Even if I had been brave enough to tell a teacher, I didn't think they'd understand. Robina stayed in India six months when she went to have her marriage and when she came back the teachers never even asked her where she'd been or why, they just put her down a year because she'd missed so much school work. Anyway I was ashamed to tell anyone that my mum was arranging my marriage while I was still at school. And I was afraid of what my family would do to me, and what the rest of the community would say about them if I did.
603 words
Source: Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera, Hodder&Stoughton, London 2007, pp.41-43


Annotations:
Prakash - one of Yasmin's sisters living in London. She has also been married to a Shik who had been chosen by the mother.
bruises - Blutergüsse
Robina - another of Yasmin's sisters who had also had an arranged marriage


Assignments:
1. What is Yasmin's reaction when her mother showed her a picture of her prospective husband?
2. Describe Yasmin's mother's perception of how a good wife has to behave once she is married.
3. Why is Yasmin so reluctant as to confide in a teacher that she would refuse an arranged marriage?
4. What would the consequences be if Yasmin actually rejected the proposed marriage?
5. Do you think that Britain should tolerate arranged or forced marriages in respect of the British law?



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Jasvinder Sanghera
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