Growing up in a Sikh family in the UK with parents from India was not easy.
Constantly being told I was not allowed to go out with friends, or wear western clothes, cut my hair, stay out late, talk to boys, or dream of having a career.
My parents’ ultimate goal in life for me was to get
through secondary school education and get married by 18 to prevent “god forbid” ruining the family name by getting pregnant or running away with a boy they didn’t select for me.
I, on the other hand, had other ideas. I dreamt of being a career woman, going to work, power dressing, coming home to a husband and kids, and baking cakes on the weekend as my children played in the back yard.
Primary school, up until the age of 11, were the best years of my life. I was part of the school netball team and this was the only time I c
ould get away with wearing a skirt. I was also part of the Bhangra dance team. I had performed dances for kids TV, I played the piano, and harmonium and sang in the school choir. School life was blissful. Now when I look back, I can see that I have always been creative, but I never had any support to nurture my creativity into a career.
As soon as I got to Secondary school 11 years+ all that stopped. Being a girl, I had to cover up – no skirts, no shorts, no sleeveless or low cut tops.
‘Girls from our community do not sing and dance that is associated with women of explicit business and not in keeping with the family.’ – My mothers’ words.
My Dad’s side of the family is renowned in the village, they’re like the royal family, well respected, involved in politics, and wealthy. So, the pressure of being the first grandchild and choosing to be creative didn’t make sense to them.
My Dad would sometimes giv
e me pep talks like- ‘Become a banker or an accountant. An office job.’ ‘Learn to cook, clean and iron ‘cos that’s what in-laws value. You need to be a good wife and daughter-in-law. That is how your value and respect are determined.’
I was being trained to become a slave to someone else’s family with no identity of my own.
When I challenged back, I constantly got told that it’s because I am a Sikh. Yet I observed many other Sikh girls around me flaunting these ‘rules’. Were they not Sikh? One was always out with her friends going to parties, another went to U
ni away from home, another cut her hair into pixie cut… It just didn’t make sense to me. Why was I being made to be left out of a normal British Indian upbringing?
As it happens, I dwelled deeper into Sikhism and found it to be the most forward-thinking religion which empowered women and gave them equality. But my parents seem to successfully use it to justify my sheltered upbringing.
At 16, I did well in my exams and went onto college, but with no preparation. I was always told I would be married at 18 so I didn’t plan what subjects to study, I just copied my friends and selected 3 random A-Levels to study.
I totally messed up at my A-
Level exams, and was in a ball of tears and felt totally lost and a huge failure. I had no credentials, no parental support emotionally or financially. I had a boyfriend at the time, and he was very supportive and got me to go through clearing and met with a department head. They looked at the full picture of my previous exams and course work results and he took a chance on me. I was offered a one year course, If I passed I could progress to years 2 and 3 and even 4 to complete a degree in business and law.
I worked all weekend and took out student loans whilst living at home and pu
t myself through Uni. I moved out at 20, worked for a year, and went back to finish uni. I graduated with a BA honors.
Neither of my parents was at my graduation. I was a disappointment to them because I chose to prioritize education and the husband of my choice.
I started working and fell into marketing and have been within the field for 10 years now. I have continued to train to keep my marketing knowledge current and relevant. My dad has now passed away and left me nothing in his will. I wasn’t surprised. Wealth was only passed onto sons and that wasn’t me. But even so, hearing the words in the will and reading it black and white was almost evidence of what I had fe
lt over the years.
My mum to this day talks about how so and so’s daughter is a lawyer or a film director and it gets to the tip of my tongue to say well if I had supportive parents that could have been me. You could be parading me to your friends instead of having to listen to what other kids have achieved in life.
I am so proud of what I have achieved without the bank of mum and dad to support me and that makes my journey unique.
We’re all on our journey. And it’s ok if people don’t understand that.
I have a full-time career now, a husband, two boys, I freelance for a digital marketing agency on the side and give time back to the local community by running their social media platforms and community events. I even run my own business in the past. But the way I got here wasn’t planned. There was no road map to follow, and each decision brought a huge learning curve and mistakes with it. All I knew is that the life of being an Indian housewife or a full-time mum wasn’t for me.
My mum and in-laws still struggle to wrap their minds around the fact that my husband can wash the dishes, pick up the kids, and have dinner on the table for when I get home. This is not the way they did it and expects even in 2020.
I wanted to be a role model for my kids that women are more than housewives. Having to learn that not everyone will understand your sentiments and support you and learning to accept that, that it’s ok. I do not need anyone’s acceptance.
Just be you, do your thing.