Members of Britain’s largest Indian women’s group is to stage a silent demonstration outside the Home Office headquarters in London (40 Wellesley Rd, Lunar House, Croydon, CR9 2BY) to protest against the exploitation of Indian women on spousal visas.
The demonstration, planned for 16th August, between 3.00pm – 5.00pm, is organized by Indian Ladies in UK CIC, a 21,000-strong not-for-profit organization made up of first generation migrant Indian women in the UK, which campaigns on behalf of victims of domestic abuse, spousal abandonment and international child abduction.
Thousands of women move to the United Kingdom from India every year on so-called dependent visas, following professional husbands or those already settled in the UK.
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.
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 ostracized by families and communities.
Still others have been driven to attempt suicide.
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. If the marriage produces a child, the child is considered British at birth. The wife on the other hand is required to remain as a “dependent” for a period of five years before she is able to apply for permanent settlement.
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, leaving women exploited, abused and often dumped in India after travelling there in the guise of a holiday.
The reasons are manifold – the marriage breaks down, there are “dowry” issues (for example; the woman’s family being unable or unwilling to pay an amount demanded by the husband and/or his family); backward cultural reasons (for example, women who want to work, socialize or dress in a different manner are targeted by their husbands who will bar their wives from going out, having their own money and even bar them from having a phone so as to contact friends or family); money issues (for example, we’ve seen numerous instances where a woman who has found work has had her salary taken away by the husband because the husband feels he is “losing control” by allowing the woman to work and be self-sufficient) and so on and so forth. 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.
Each case is different but equally harrowing for the woman.
In a number of the most horrific instances, women have been taken to India ostensibly for a “holiday” only for them to be abandoned.
In one recent case, a husband – a British citizen of Indian origin from Madagascar working as a regional manager for a well-known fast food brand, who had married a lady from Gujarat – traveled 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 we helped organize 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 Madagascar with the children).
In another case, the husband traveled 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 proceeded to cancel her visa barring her from seeking justice in the UK.
Such separations lead to women being ostracized 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.
We are 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.
We are 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.
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. Much to the husband’s very evident chagrin.
As a result, all the financial, legal and logistical help was offered by Indian Ladies UK.
As it stands, the system is ripe for exploitation by men who use, abuse and discard women at will and the authorities must pay immediate attention to this issue to save hundreds of other women becoming destitute and their rights be preserved.
Poonam Joshi, founder of ILUK, 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.”
An online petition calling for the change in regulation has already garnered 100’s of signatures in 24 hours.