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New book captures experiences of Punjabi women to highlight history

Author Anita Goyal believes readers will be able to relate to at least one narrative in Voices from Punjab
Author Anita Goyal believes readers will be able to relate to at least one narrative in Voices from Punjab


A NEW book which highlights the contribution of 15 Punjabi women in the UK will have universal resonance, the author has claimed.

Voices from Punjab is a collection of stories from a variety of prominent women, including Conservative peer Baroness Sandip Verma, Labour MP Seema Malhotra, writer and columnist Lady Kishwar Desai and broadcaster Sarita Sabharwal. The book captures voices of women born between the 1920s and 1980s – and author Anita Goyal believes readers will be able to relate to at least one narrative in the compilation.

“When you read the stories, along the way, you’ll always find yourself in (these narratives),” the philanthropist told Eastern Eye. “I think they are relevant to all women – not just Punjabi women – and I believe the key messages that the ladies have shared are universal.”

“These 15 women inspired me in so many ways, and I can’t wait to bring this book into the lives of others so it can do the same for them.”

Contributors to the book include: (Back row from left) Seema Malhotra MP, Aastha Singhania, Dr Kamel Hothi OBE, Rita Chowdhry, Baroness Sandip Verma, Kalbir Bains, Lady Mohini Kent Noon, Parmjit Rai, (front row from left) Anita Goyal, Kuljit Kaur Sharma and Dr Mandeep Rai

The history of India is touched upon in the book and some stories focus on individuals who
experienced the aftermath of India’s partition and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It was “profound to explore the events” through the eyes of different women who experienced them in different ways, Goyal said. She feels especially proud that the book harnesses the power of storytelling to highlight historical episodes and help educate the next generation.

Goyal also spoke of her hope that Voices from Punjab will expose the younger generation to inspirational Punjabi women who have succeeded against the odds. “I think young people need to see that there are some really great Punjabi women, and I wish I’d had some of these role models in my life growing up,” she said. “I saw many housewives who sat at
home, frustrated, and sacrificing their dreams to raise their families. I always felt sad about that – why did our women have to suffer and struggle so much?”

The focus on women was important to Goyal. The author said royalties from the sales of
the book will go to the Hemraj Goyal Foundation – where Goyal is the CEO – and will support a livelihood and education project for vulnerable women in Punjab, India. “Our charity’s focus is helping disadvantaged women from areas where opportunities have been difficult,” she said. “I chose to (write the book) in line with what our charity objective was.”

She added: “The power of this book is that it gives me a chance to not only celebrate the different women and their life, but also to raise money for a project in quite a unique way.”

Author royalties from Voices from Punjab will go to the Hemraj Goyal Foundation to support a livelihood for vulnerable women in India

Voices from Punjab was years in the making – Goyal’s mother had suggested she write a book over a decade ago after consulting an astrological chart. Although Goyal initially brushed her mother off, she secretly knew this was something she wished to pursue. It was hearing her mother’s stories of building a new life in the UK after moving from Punjab in 1972 which eventually inspired the book’s premise.

“I was inspired by the stories that she used to tell me about her life, coming to Britain at the age of 18, and all the hopes and dreams that she’d had,” Goyal said. “Listening to the challenges she had had, including the gender inequalities she faced (…) that is really where the book began.”

Goyal hopes the book will be part of a trilogy – she is working on the next release, Voices from Gujarat, and there are plans to trace the stories of Rajasthani women in a third book.
There is also talk of a collection of stories from Punjabi men – an idea suggested by Goyal’s husband Avnish.

“There is definitely space for a book on men as I think they are more likely to come forward than women,” she said. “A lot of the women (we approached) felt they didn’t have a story to tell, but we’ve always managed to extract something special from their stories.

“They’ve shared such amazing gems with us.”

Voices from Punjab: The Strength and Resilience of 15 Punjab Women Living in the UK by Anita Goyal and Aastha K Singhania is out now

All images: Sofia Yang Martinez