“I wish I knew about Sharan when I first left home” were the words of Shaheen, a sixteen year old girl living in the UK who was being beaten, abused and disowned by her family. Shaheen used to live with her three sisters and parents until one day she was accused of speaking with a boy from her college by a male member of her family. Fearing that their family name would be dishonored, her parents stopped her from leaving her house, took away her phone and laptop as well as her self-esteem. Shaheen was often locked in her room and told not to speak with anyone, while her parents planned to force her into an arranged marriage. The one time she spoke out against it she was beaten and had her life threatened by her own family members. Thankfully, she managed to escape. Shaheen was since referred to The Sharan Project by a friend and is now a university student. She has a safe place to live and is more confident knowing that she is not alone.The Sharan Project, a charity that supports South Asian women, has helped hundreds of women in similar situations.
This year the founder of the Sharan Project, Polly Harrar invited Radhanath Swami to be the keynote speaker at their annual fundraiser at the Asia House, London. The event was introduced by Lady Gilda Levy the head of the Women’s Interfaith Committee in the UK.Radhanath Swami’s presentation took the form of an interview conducted by Sunny Grewal from BBC Radio London.
Radhanath Swami spoke of Sindhutai Sakpal, an Indian social activist who has overcome her own extreme hardships to dedicated her life to nurturing thousands of orphans. Preity Mohyal, a HSBC employee, who also volunteers for the Sharan Project appreciated Sindhutai’s story saying, “A woman who was torn to pieces by her own husband and shunned by her community, but still managed to give love and compassion to others is remarkable. She managed to give others a voice, and gave hope that you deserve to have freedom from abuse and a loving life.”
Asked to speak on the mistreatment of young women Radhanath Swami shared, “Tradition is meant to uphold that which is sacred. But unfortunately, when things go corrupt, then tradition is used to preserve that corruption, and this is what we are facing.… The laws of karma are especially relevant to our own family members. In God’s eyes, it’s not that anyone is “my wife” or “my daughter” or “my husband” – these are all God’s children, and we are caretakers. Wherever we have responsibilities for other human beings we are caretakers of God’s beloved children. And God loves all his children. That’s our spirituality, that’s our morality, that’s our ethics, that’s our humanness. Our daughters, our daughters-in-law are God’s beloved children.”
After the talk Polly Harrar exclaimed, “It was inspiring to hear the Swami explore how some of the most marginalized and isolated members of our society need our support and compassion. They need a voice.”
Sunny Grewal said, “It was brilliant, because I didn’t have to do anything. I just had to ask a couple of questions to Swamiji. See, it’s funny because it’s all about finding yourself and looking for the truth within. Swamji is on that journey himself and with a smile on his face, he’s sharing that journey with others”.
Other key guests included Guilda Navidi Walker from the World Wide Fund for Nature and Shefali Solanki from the Asian Media Group who expressed great appreciation for the event.