Britain's largest Indian women's group is planning a silent protest outside the Home Office Headquarter in London next week, against increasing abuse and exploitation of migrant wives on “dependent visas”. Hundreds of these women find themselves abused and exploited due to a provision in immigration law in which the sponsoring partner - the husband - is able to cancel his partner's visa by merely writing an email to the Home Office, leaving the women in limbo. Statistics show that thousands of Indian women move to the UK every year, following their husbands as dependants, with dreams to create a house filled with love and laughter. But the reality is often different.
These women who are then either abandoned in India on pretext of a vacation, or are thrown out of their houses in the UK, controlled and ill-treated mostly for financial reasons. Some women are even driven to commit suicide or beg on streets. Most of them have no idea that the High Commission of India has a women cell, that may be able to advise them free of cost, though certain limitations exist. That is where organisations like the Indian Ladies in the UK come forward to assist the helpless women. They have started an online petition calling for the change in regulation and has already garnered hundreds of signatures in 24 hours (https://www.change.org/p/home-office-justice-for-women-on-spouse-visa).
India's Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has also come on board to support this organisation's women. The Ministry has created a special committee, that promises to 'hear and see', investigate and provide support wherever possible.
Indian Ladies in the UK (ILUK),anon-profit organisation, has 21,000 members and is made up of the first generation migrant Indian women in the UK. They campaign on behalf of victims of domestic abuse, spousal abandonment and international child abduction. They have planned a protest on 16th August, between 3pm – 5pm.Several of the victims are expected to join ILUK members for the demonstration at Lunar House in Croydon. The plan is to stage a silent demonstration to show objection against the exploitation of Indian women on spousal visas.
Founded in 2015, ILUK's primary focus is campaigning on behalf of victims of domestic violence, forced marriage, spousal abandonment and international child abduction. The group has helped hundreds of women in the UK in a variety of ways, including providing accommodation and assistance to women who have been abused to spearheading cross-border efforts to reunite children – some as young as 2 – with their mothers.
The issues are manifold.
First, women accompanying their husbands to the UK, who are already settled or moving countries, mostly do not know anybody here. Friendless and lonely, these women, if and when abused have no one to fall back on. They often don't even have any money of their own.
Second, some women in the pretext of holidays are left behind in India, and with visa cancelled by the husband without her formal permission or notice. Many times their passports and resident permits are confiscated by the husbands who then sneak out of India, many times with their children, leaving the woman in complete destitute.
Third, most women suffering from economic abuse are very well educated. Some have worked in India for the longest time and own property or land in their name- which the husbands then claim for. When these women arrive in the UK, many automatically secure a job here. But they are then forced to give up all their earnings, and left with merely £50 per week to live on.
The women who do not earn anything themselves, often have only £5 to live on, for a week.
They are mentally tortured, economically exploited and sometimes even physically hurt- and sources reveal most these fights have stemmed from disputes about money, many times a pending dowry that the woman's family being unable or unwilling to pay. Without a proof of physical scars, often police is unable to help them- though their mental scars are often beyond repair.
Fourth, backward cultural reasons. For example, women who want to work, socialise or dress in a different manner are targeted by their husbands, who eventually bar their wives from going out, having their own money and even stop them from having a phone so as to contact friends or family; Due to social stigmas and family pressure scores of women continue to live in these abusive relationships. This despite the fact that the victims we have come across are highly educated.
With no help from either government, these women are left totally helpless. Their exploitation is made worse by the fact that these women have "no recourse to public funds" leading to women experiencing serious mental health problems while others are left destitute and ostracised by families and communities.
These victims, who leave behind extensive family networks in India, often live in a constant state of insecurity, often counting down the five long years that they are required to remain as “dependent” spouses until they are able to attain any rights for themselves.
ILUK has, just in the past 24 months, come across and provided support to dozens of victims whose husbands, for myriad reasons have routinely abused their position of power. Each case is different but equally harrowing for the woman.
In one recent case, a husband - a British citizen of Indian origin from an African country working in a well-known company in the UK, who had married a lady from Gujarat - travelled to India for a holiday with the couple's two young children.
One day, under the guise of taking the children to a temple, the man took his wife's passport, visa card and telephone and fled India with the children. She contacted ILUK and the organisation then helped to organise an emergency passport and a short term visa for her to return to the UK where she continues to fight her case. (The husband has since fled to his parent's native with the children).
In another case, the husband travelled to India with the wife and abandoned her there after stealing her British Residency Permit and handing it over to his parents. The moment he returned to London, he informed the home office that he was "no longer married to his wife" and to cancel her residency permit. The Home Office, based on his word alone, has allegedly proceeded to cancel her visa barring her from seeking justice in the UK.
Such separations lead to women being banished by their families and communities given the inferior status of women in India. They are kept in limbo, unable to return to the UK, unable to return to their homes in India due to societal norms. Based on the staggering number of cases that ILUK has come across in the past two years, it is reasonable to assume that it is a widespread problem.
One woman, a 24-year-old Muslim girl from Andhra Pradesh, last year managed to return to the UK after her husband abandoned her in India, she found herself locked out of the marital home in Hounslow but unable to find emergency accommodation.
The husband had written to the Home Office asking that her visa be cancelled but the request had not been processed in time, allowing her to return to the UK.
As a result, all the financial, legal and logistical help was offered by Indian Ladies UK. While the organisation receives no funding assistance from any government source, it is run by donations and contributions from their own members.
What are the organisation's demands?
The organisation is hence calling for the process of cancelling a woman's dependent visa be made a more stringent one by the Home Office.
At the moment, a man needs only to write a letter informing of a separation, which in turn leads to the cancellation of a dependent visa in a matter of 7 days.
They are also calling on the Home Office to demand documentation proving that there has been a legal separation - meaning that the wife has been granted her rights under the separation - before proceeding with the cancellation of a visa.
Alternately, particularly in the cases of abandonment of wives in India, a provision must be put in place to ensure that the Home Office is aware of the wife's position and that their most basic human rights are protected. Obtaining the wife's consent prior to cancelling her visa is paramount.
The abuse of these women is merely exacerbated as one of the conditions of their dependent visa is that they have "no recourse to public funds". As a result, women abandoned in the UK are unable to find help through local councils.
Poonam Joshi, founder of ILUK, widowed at a young age, has had a bad personal experience herself. She has worked with Westminster Council, where she has dealt with many such abandonment or abuse cases, and it motivated her to start this organisation, which has a spectacular social media presence.
Speaking to Asian Voice exclusively, she said, “The Indian community in Britain is often perceived as one of the most progressive and most successful migrant communities in Britain. Yet underneath this façade, huge problems exist. Migrants often bring their homegrown prejudices about the treatment of women, caste, dowry etc, with them to the UK. It’s absolutely appalling that in this day and age in a country as devoted to the cause of justice these kinds of things continue to happen. While Britain’s immigration system has been generous to millions, it is also quite easily exploited by individuals who have no sense of right and wrong when it comes to the treatment of women.
“Whilst I appreciate that it is difficult for governments to change and amend laws to suit every conceivable problem, this particular issue is widespread and horrific enough for the victims for the law to be amended.”
(*Names not revealed on requests)