From Trump to Brexit by way of Boris Johnson, the Straits of Hormuz and extreme weather caused by climate change, good news is in short supply at the moment.
The eternal optimists will say that it is the sort of time when we should focus on the small victories and celebrate the silver linings.
And so it was for Indian Ladies in UK, this week as we welcomed back to London a young woman who had been used, abused, exploited and driven to the brink of total despair by her husband.
And as the icing on the cake, she was accompanied by her adorable 4-year-old son who had been put through the mill, along with her, by a man whose callous, exploitative and manipulative behaviour threatened to destroy the lives of an innocent young woman and child.
On Monday, there were more tears for Brundha Venkatachalan but on this occasion they were tears of joy and sheer relief after she managed to extract her son from India and returned to the city where he was born to try and build a new life together.
Brundha is but one of the innumerable victims of “spousal abandonment” that we have helped here at ILUK. And she’s among the countless number for whom we have helped achieve justice.
Just over a year before, Brundha’s tears were of utter despair and terror – despair at the manner in which her husband had taken her and their little son to India ostensibly for a holiday; and terror after the man who had promised to look after her and her son for the rest of their lives, callously dumped her in India, stole her travel documents along with those of her son and fled back to the UK.
She was but the latest victim of a particularly cruel and insidious form of abuse that doesn’t get the attention that violent physical abuse gets but leaves victims scarred at a deeper emotional and psychological level.
Brundha – a highly qualified IT executive who had worked for Accenture in India – had initially contacted ILUK in early 2017. She had moved to the UK after meeting her NRI husband Vijay – also an IT professional – on Facebook.
After the wedding, Brundha moved to the UK in 2015 when she also had her son.
It appeared – at first – the ultimate success story. Two high-flying professionals settling in one of the world’s great capital cities to begin a life together.
By 2017 however, things had soured. It was in early 2017 that Brundha initially made contact with ILUK for support, saying that her husband had become controlling and abusive; she was “barred” from working and every aspect of her life was being micro-managed and dictated to.
She sought advice and support and comfort from a community of fellow first generation migrants and found all of those things and more. What’s more, ILUK, much like it has done with abusive NRI partners previously posed an “existential threat” to Brundha’s husband: a campaigning organization that was never afraid to go public with the abuse suffered by migrant Indian women in the UK.
Time was when women would suffer in silence, alone in a foreign country, barred from contact with her family back home and forced to submit to the whims of her husband. No longer.
We are a community that looks after its own.
When Brundha’s husband Vijay realized that his wife had found support with ILUK, he panicked. He planned a trip to India for the family – under the guise of a “restorative” holiday for himself and Brundha and obtaining medical treatment for her son.
After taking Brundha and her son to a remote medical facility far from any family or friends, Vijay stole the travel documents of his wife and child and promptly fled back to London. It’s a tactic frequently used by NRI husbands who marry women from India.
Once abandoned in India, it is virtually impossible to return to the UK where they can at least attempt to find some justice. In India their chances are next to nil in the face of a society that will invariably blame the woman for the breakdown in a relationship and a legal system that is more keen to impart lessons on “morality” to young women than implementing the law.
This is when Brundha’s uphill struggle for justice began and when ILUK went into action. Our first advise to her as it is for every woman abandoned in India is to make her way back to the UK as fast as possible. At that point, she made the heartbreaking choice of returning to London to fight not just for herself but for her British-born child who was forced to remain in India because the British authorities would not issue him an emergency travel document without his father’s signature – which of course he refused to do.
Fearful that her husband’s relatives might try to snatch her son, Brundha was advised to obtain a guardianship bond, establishing her father as the legal guardian of the child. It would prove a wise decision for as soon as Vijay discovered that she had returned to London to fight for her marital rights he filed a legal case in India claiming that his son – the very same one he had callously abandoned – had been “kidnapped” by his maternal grandparents.
When Brundha returned to London, she was put up at my home where there was already another victim living who had been refused help by the authorities.
When Vijay filed his case in India seeking custody of her son for his own family, Brundha’s world seemed to collapse. She became frantic, doubting her decision to return to London but she found strength in the ILUK community and resolved to fight on. We started campaigning for Brundha and her son so that her husband couldn’t get away with his dirty plans just because Brundha was now in the UK.
We organized legal advice in India for Brundha’s parents forcing the local authorities to implement the letter of the law – reaffirming Brundha’s father’s guardianship of her child – that despite an attempt by a member of Vijay’s family to kidnap their son from the police station.
There then ensued 8 months of legal wrangling between Brundha and a man who had not had the courage to end his marriage in an amicable and just manner. In the UK, Brundha with the help of ILUK worked relentlessly to regularize her status in the UK while simultaneously remotely conducting her legal case in India.
And in both places, she was not only grappling with the law but with a system that is intended to make life as difficult as possible for someone in her position. In the absence of legal aid or any manner of help, ILUK obtained the assistance of the outstanding legal minds at Duncan Lewis (for immigration) and Dawson and Cornwall (family law in obtaining legal status for Brundha’s child).
Just to illustrate the extent to which the system fails victims like Brundha – consider the help that is immediately available when someone in her position returns to the UK. After meeting the plethora of conditions to obtain a temporary visa to return to the UK to continue her fight for justice, Brundha was then faced with another long list of problems in the UK.
As she had “no recourse to public funds” under her visa, she was routinely turned down for shelter and any form of assistance by numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations, including ‘refuge’, which appears to be an Bed and Breakfast service where vulnerable women are asked to pay to actually find “refuge”.
The Indian High Commission said it could help – particularly against the background of a concerted effort by the Ministry of External Affairs to crack down on NRI spousal abuse – but there was a three-week “approval” period to house victims. If they are house, they were eligible to only 29 days of the High Commission’s hospitality – a laughably short time to resolve the myriad issues the average victim must resolve.
But ILUK – a non-profit organization funded and resourced entirely by its own members – stepped up. While I provided Brundha a home, many others provided all manner of assistance.
It is truly a magnificent example of a community – nay a SISTERHOOD – coming together to help and lift a sister, a mother, a woman from the depths of despair.