I had been chatting with SORRISO weddings and portraits for a while and she was telling me how excited she was to shoot her first multicultural wedding. The day of the wedding, she messaged me at 5:30am with devastating news, I couldn’t believe what had happened, my heart sank and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
When Sim emailed me wanting to share her story, I jumped on board straight away. I felt that this story was too important not to tell and others in similar situations may find it useful. Let’s begin by getting to know this couple…
Sim and Sam met two years ago in Birmingham. Their first date was in Sim’s favourite coffee shop and it all went from there. All the answers below are from Sim in her own words.
We decided we wanted to have an intimate civil ceremony in Derbyshire as that’s where Sam’s family live and where Sam grew up. We had our ceremony in Ringwood Hall with our immediate families of 17 guests. The religious ceremony was planned to include all our family and friends – a total of about 400 people.
The planning wasn’t too bad really, mostly peaks of stress but overall it was made easier and more enjoyable because we used people we knew – so the cake, the flowers, the photography and menhdi were all done by friends or family of friends. It was really important to keep it close so that we could have creative control, because who’s better to take your photos than someone you know, right? In hindsight I really enjoyed the wedding planning – for both ceremonies.
The Wedding Day
The civil ceremony was lovely, we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was a real opportunity for our immediate families to get to know one another. For the religious/ cultural wedding it started pretty perfectly. My mendhi looked amazing, thanks to my dear friend and professional mendhi artist. The jago party on the Friday was a lot of fun.
The Anand Karaj (Sikh wedding ceremony) was booked at our family Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Gurdwara, in Smethwick. After the formalities at the jago party, my dad had to leave to go to the Gurdwara to meet the committee and representatives from the Sikh Youth Birmingham. Meanwhile Sam is in Derby with his family and friends having their own pre-wedding celebrations.
Dad was then requested to bring Sam to Birmingham as the Sikh Youth Group wanted to meet him face to face. Sam agreed and was collected, by my dad, at 9pm from Derby.
When Sam arrived, at around 10pm, he was met by about 30 young men representing the Sikh Youth Group. Sam was then taken into a room with three of the Gurdwara committee and two from the Sikh Youth Group. One of the Sikh Youth Group representatives then began asking questions about Sam’s faith, which he felt he answered well and honestly. The questions then became more personal, asking inappropriate questions about our personal relationship.
Sam recalls him then saying ‘it’s people like you that are taking our girls’
From here it was clear that the issue of the marriage wasn’t religion but race by simply making a divide of “us and them”. The representative then went on to say that he couldn’t promise there wouldn’t be protests, if the wedding was to go ahead, or that they wouldn’t turn violent and our guests wouldn’t be hurt.
The committee brought my dad back into the room and explained that they weren’t prepared to go ahead with the wedding due to safety concerns and explained that they weren’t prepared to involve the police. This was explained to my father and husband at 10:30pm the night before our wedding was due to take place. I found out at 11:30pm when they returned home.
The Worst Part
The worst part is how Sam was treated and the inappropriate questions he was asked. The fact the committee made up their minds about our wedding the night before is the most heartbreaking part. They treated our wedding as a bad thing.
Sam decided that he wanted to come into Sikhism, he included Singh in his name, started to learn Punjabi and visited the Gurdwara to develop his understanding of the faith. The faith that I have grown up in and the faith I am proud to say has its foundations on the teachings to accept all and treat everyone as equals. A religion that is about defending and not one that threatens violence.
We wanted to have an Anand Karaj with all our family and friends, in my family Gurdwara. We were not doing anything wrong. We are two people that want to spend our lives together, The Sikh Youth Birmingham passed their judgement and were given permission to do so when the committee was unwilling to defend us. They act as a pressure group and use their own personal agenda to stop weddings that they are personally not happy with, which is clearly represented in their hateful online videos. A video that focuses on people of two different skin colours, and interestingly only white men and brown women- not the other way round which reflects on the comment “it’s people like you taking our girls.”
Another thing I don’t understand is that at no point in any of this did the Gurdwara or the Sikh Youth Group ask to speak to me. No one wanted to hear my point of view. How very weak of them to shy away from the other part of the relationship.
How we felt
Sam felt completely out of control of the situation, he was asked to provide ID of his new name and even wrote a letter to the Gurdwara outlining his faith. He was rejected from our family Gurdwara and threatened by a group that prides itself in defending the religion.
Overcoming the situation
After hours of discussions and emotional turmoil in understanding that the wedding wouldn’t be taking place, we decided we would do the Anand Karaj at home. We were fortunate to bring the Guru Grant Sahib Ji to our home and the ceremony was conducted with pure love. We were married in front of our Guru and a small handful of our family and friends. While it wasn’t what we planned and many of our loved ones weren’t there to witness our marriage, my parents, family and friends couldn’t have done anymore. We all believe it was love that made the wedding happen, that’s pretty special.
Having said all that it is important to outline that our day was taken and we won’t ever get that back, that’s very hard to forget
Advice for multicultural/interfaith couples
Sam and I are not an interfaith couples because we wanted a Sikh ceremony, neither of us wanted any other religious ceremony. However we are clearly a mixed race couple and sadly so many people hate that. So many people don’t agree with us sitting together and will do everything they can to ignore and reject us. We wanted our wedding to represent us and so having the civil ceremony and the religious suited us. Our advice would be to do what you think is best for you and stay strong to it. Hate and negativity is something that some people can’t let go of but don’t let that stop you.
Will we learn nothing?
Something has to happen to ensure that our story isn’t repeated. The Sikh leaders, and other religious leaders, need to understand that these types of marriages are taking place and it’s not going to stop. If we continue to reject people from the religion then we aren’t going to achieve anything.
We need to contain extreme groups like the Sikh Youth Birmingham because if we don’t then they become the leaders, and that’s not a religion I personally want to be involved in!
I call for our Sikh leaders to make a stand and ensure that we have proportional representation. I wonder how our story would have unfolded if it wasn’t 30 young men meeting Sam but a mixture of men and women and if there was even just one women forming the questioning panel where we were threaten and asked personal questions.
There is a reason we have religious leaders, they need to be forward thinking enough to encourage different people to learn and understand this religion that is so beautiful and so welcoming.
What Sam and Sim had to go through is very heartbreaking and this story can be seen as controversial. All I ask is that you see the situation from their point of view. Positive comments only, any negative comments will not be approved.
Photography: Hello Sorriso