One of Britain’s largest Indian community organizations planned an unusual protest in London’s iconic Piccadilly Circus aimed at highlighting the plight of first generation migrant Indian women in the UK who are abused and exploited by their spouses and let down by the system.
Members of Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK) – a 14,000-strong women’s group made up of first generation female migrants from across India – braved the December cold and become “homeless” for one night, sleeping rough on the frigid streets of London on 23rd December.
They aimed to shed light on the plight of scores of women who have been left physically, mentally and emotionally abused and destitute by their spouses.
The protests came after another year during which ILUK has helped dozens of young women from across India who have fallen victims to abusive partners.
Among those participating in the protest is one woman – originally from Gujarat – whose British-Indian husband took her to India in mid-2016 only to abandon her and kidnap her children and take them to his parent’s home in Madagascar.
The woman – who asked that she be identified only as “C” – was left stranded in the Indian capital Delhi without money or her travel documents. She soon made contact with ILUK which helped organize a passport and an airline ticket back to Britain where she is currently pursuing legal action against her husband and his family.
ILUK and its members have also organized accommodation and counselling for her as well as representing her in court.
Another woman, “S” from Hyderabad, returned to London in October after a visit to India to find that she had been locked out of her home by her IT executive husband who claimed that he had obtained a divorce through the so-called “triple talaq” system of Islamic divorce which is not recognized in the UK or India.
She was left homeless before she made contact with ILUK who organized help for her.
Many of the victims often have little knowledge about how to find help in what is, for many, a largely alien country and are often turned away by police and local councils with the excuse that they have “no recourse to public funds” – a reference to their residency status in the UK.
Poonam Joshi, founder of ILUK, said: “These are young women who come here with great hopes and dreams and are left in the lurch by the very people who they trust the most – their partners. Compounding their problem is the fact that the authorities – including the police and social services, whether it’s due to language difficulties or regulations surrounding visa conditions. I firmly believe that we as a community need to then come together to help, support and empower these women so they can become better integrated into their new homes. This protest is a way of highlighting the work that we do and appeal to both the Indian and British governments to do more to protect these young women.”
Founded in August 2015, the Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK) group was created with the intention of providing a Social Media platform for first generation migrant women from India to connect, network interact with each other. And above all to empower them.
Moving to an alien, western country is often a tremendous challenge for those born and raised in India – and is particularly taxing if you’re a woman and even more so if you’re a mother.
ILUK was intended to provide a support network to help Indian migrant women to find their feet in a new country as well as better integrate into their new home.
What began as an informal grouping for these women has grown into an 8000-strong support network which not only celebrates the great diversity of India – our members come from right across India’s ethnic, religious and socio-economic spectrum – but has taken on a greater purpose.
Innumerable women have sought support for myriad issues – from their children’s schooling and employment opportunities to domestic violence and dowry abuse; from organizing employment and skills workshops to organizing events where our entrepreneurial ladies can showcase their wares.
In turn, our members have used their skills and resources – both professional and financial – to assist and uplift the lives of their fellow members.
The group’s finest moment came during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UK in November. Inspired by Mr Modi’s engagement of the Indian Diaspora community as well as his stance on the empowerment of women, ILUK mobilized its members for the “Crochet for Modi” initiative. It saw more than 3000 first generation Indian migrant women come together to create a crochet blanket made up of thousands upon thousands of crocheted squares – representing the diversity of our membership and the Diaspora and in the process reviving a once popular past time – crocheting.