Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Kalbir Bains as part of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Kalbir Bains, born and bred in Birmingham, is the acclaimed author of ‘NOT Our Daughter! The true story of daughter-in-law’. Over the years, she has learned to express her thoughts through writing, poetry, art, and design.
Please tell us more about your book and what led you to write it?
The book shares the story of a daughter-in-law, Harleen, which is based on my true story from having an arranged marriage at 28 years old. By telling Harleen's story and sharing her struggles, I wanted to inspire and encourage women out there to break through the veil of shame, thus disempowering their abusers.
As a volunteer for The Sharan Project, I educate the younger generation on honour-based abuse and encourage them not to suffer in silence. I am also working to change public policy by meeting and talking through my experiences. I am helping to educate vital public sector organisations – the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Metropolitan Police Service, and health workers. By supporting the police and healthcare professionals I am chipping away at the cycles of abuse.
At the age of 22, I had the reading capability of a seven-year-old and was diagnosed with dyslexia. Despite this, I had the courage and commitment to successfully self-publish my book ‘Not our daughter! The true story of a daughter-in-law’. Through writing my book, I overcame many challenges, such as, reading out loud and learning to articulate my points of view in the correct manner. My aspiration is for people to pick up the book and feel like they can relate to the characters. I also wanted to dispel the myth that people who suffer from dyslexia cannot write.
My story demonstrates that a person can go through a great deal of mental and physical hardship and still come out on the positive side of life. Not every bad situation has to have a bad ending. I talk openly about being a child of domestic violence and share my experience and knowledge of domestic abuse, the difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage, gender equality, alcohol abuse, dowry abuse, abortion, and many more real issues that go on behind closed doors.
I believe there is a need for change within the South Asian community. I want women to be able and willing to speak out on sensitive topics and be open regarding situations that we have been traditionally silenced on.
I wanted to transform people's lives through exposing some of the taboo subjects I have written about in my book. I write to empower and inspire others.
Which one person has had the greatest influence in your life, and why?
Growing up as a child, I’d share my bed with my Naniji (maternal grandma) and she would constantly share her stories around the Indian Partition and childhood stories with me and the rest of the family throughout the day as it unfolded.
She was born in 1929 in Faisalabad, formerly known as Lyallpur, and is the third-most populous city in Pakistan, and the second-largest in the eastern province of Punjab. It has been referred to as the “Manchester of Pakistan”. I am the granddaughter of Amarjit Kaur Gosal the educated refugee from the Pakistan border in 1947. She lived at the campsite for three months before safely crossing the border by foot to India with her siblings and mother.
She is always in Chardi Kala (the concept in Sikhism that refers to a mental state of optimism and joy). She has been resilient in the face of many adversities in her life. My Naniji is so full of life, it’s unbelievable how strong-willed this woman is considering the hardship that she has seen with her very own eyes and witnessed in her lifetime. The stories she has about women during the Partition time are unbearable to listen to.
During the Indian-Pakistani Partition, women were raped, groomed, and taken to be converted to other religions. They took the shelter of men for the sake of their ‘honour’. Women were made to sacrifice far more than is presently known in the history of the Partition. She was the one person that encouraged me to write my book and said it’s about time we talk about our difficulties for the next generation to understand the hardship one generation has gone through to give another generation the freedom of choices. I get my resilience, spirit, and Chardi Kala from my Naniji.
What has been your career highlight?
One of my great achievements is the safeguarding of others and contributing to changing public policy by educating the CPS, UK police forces, and health workers.
Police Property Act 1897 – Dowry Abuse:
In 2017, I accomplished my first presentation to the West Midlands Police Conference where I shared my personal experiences of ‘Honour Based Abuse’ and the reason I felt I could not reach out to my local authority was due to the shame associated with calling the police and allowing everybody within my community to find out about the abuse I was going through. If I had shared my story and experience of; dowry abuse, domestic abuse, abortion, and many more real-life situations that I faced, I felt at the time this would have brought shame to my side of the family
My presentation had triggered something within Officer Tony Parker, Detective Sergeant from the Domestic Abuse unit from Wolverhampton. He felt that there was possibly a way to prosecute dowry abuse under the Police Property Act 1897. He went away and pulled the policy apart with the support of Trudy Gitten.
Sgt Parker found a way under this legislation that has enabled the CPS to prosecute dowry abuse under UK law. This was rolled out to the West Midlands Police force and Scotland Yard. I then went on to do a roadshow in conjunction with the UK Home Office. We reached out to a lot of charities and local authorities to educate them about dowry abuse.
Abortion Act 2018 – Taking the second pill at home:
This was a BBC Two Programme ‘Abortion on Trial’ hosted by Anne Robinson, a landmark event to feature a British Asian female myself, openly speaking out on my experience having an abortion. From this documentary, it was made evident that the abortion law in the UK needed to change to be able to safeguard more women. The last time the UK Abortion Law was updated was in 1967, 50 years ago. This affected women that were tragically experiencing delivery on public transport or on their way home from the clinic.
I didn’t just do the documentary; I also went on to lobby Parliament for the change in the Abortion law for (non-surgical procedure) the Abortion pill to be taken at home. Another woman, Alex also shared her experience with me on TV, which had shocked the nation and highlighted the use of the non-surgical process and the impact it had on us individually. We lobbied to allow for the second abortion pill to be taken at home and this was passed through the government for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and Scotland too.
The Abortion Act 2018, was ordered to be brought in by Diana Johnson, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, Stella Creasy, Nicky Morgan, Liz Saville Roberts, Norman Lamb, Jo Stevens, Anna Soubry, Christine Jardine, Crispin Blunt, and Caroline Lucas – by the House of Commons, to be printed, 23 October 2018.
What is the one lesson or words of wisdom that you try to live your life by that you would recommend to the next generation?
My Naniji, the educated pind (village) rebel, and my mother, the silent divorcee, taught me how I did not want to live my life. I decided to break the toxic generational cycle before me and live a better quality of life on my own terms.
I have so much respect and become empowered from their struggles and the hardship both of them have gone through to allow me to raise my voice and support the injustice I believe in. Both of them have sacrificed their education for marriage and what was meant to be a better quality of life.
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" – Nelson Mandela: I live by this quote. I have appreciated everyone who has supported me on my journey through life and told my truth to inspire others to live a better quality of life.
I believe if you strongly believe in yourself, you will be unstoppable at achieving greatness with the love of God. I’m thankful to my loved ones, who have supported and encouraged me, and who keep me humble every day.
Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive “In Conversation” series for ‘iGlobal’, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist will be catching up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons. (The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.)
*Watch Reena Ranger take on the jalebi challenge with the Great Mithai Cook-Off for DiwaliFest2020