After 18 months of relentless lies, misinformation and abuse me and Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK), justice – of a sort – at last.
This week, the Metropolitan Police revealed it has issued Harassment Warnings to four individuals who have routinely attacked and maligned our work campaigning for the rights of women who have fallen victim to domestic abuse and spousal abandonment.
The Harassment Warnings were issued to Rashmi Mishra, Minal Jaiswal, Manu Pillai and Sanjay Thanki after a two year campaign in which they spread poison through a number of Facebook pages that cater to Britain’s Indian migrant community.
Officers from the Met conducted a six-month long investigation and trawled through more than 600 pages of documentary evidence I compiled.
Mishra, Jaiswal and Pillai are all admins of several different Facebook groups and had posted messages and curated “discussions” about me, designed only to attack my work.
And what does that work involve? Helping and fighting on behalf of women who have been beaten by their NRI husbands or abandoned in India.
And it wasn’t just online messages.
During one community event in 2017, I was approached by Pillai who physically attacked me and snatched my mobile phone in front of my ten-year-old son before he was restrained by the public.
In another particularly outlandish instance, Mishra – who runs a Social Media cultural troupe – posted in ‘Indians In London’, a Facebook group with more than 21,000 members, that two victims of domestic violence who I had given temporary shelter to in my own home were “fictitious characters” who I was using to make money.
That, despite the fact that the two victims had been registered with the Indian High Commission in London which was in the process of organizing more permanent accommodation and helping them regularize their status in the UK.
And who were interviewed by one of the world’s biggest media organizations just this week for a package that’s set to air in early October.
Even my family – including my elderly parents in India – were not spared as they were bombarded with dozens of abusive messages and falsehoods about her work in the UK.
Mishra and Jaiswal were one-time members of ILUK but were expelled for various transgressions while Thanki – an amateur photographer – had once covered an event organized by ILUK.
He started attacking me all over Social Media after he was questioned for distributing leaflets at one of our fundraising events. It appears that it takes so little to make poisonous enemies in this day and age!
ILUK’s meteoric rise since its inception in 2015 has invariably given rise to a whole cabal of naysayers and critics in the community – particularly those who are “uncomfortable” with the open targeting of NRI men who abuse their wives.
Initially launched as a community group aimed at promoting Indian culture in the UK, ILUK has grown to a 28,000 strong volunteer organization, which has helped dozens of Indian women who have fallen victim to domestic abuse, dowry abuse and spousal abandonment.
As a volunteer-led organization, its members often provide material support to victims, whether its free legal advice or providing shelter. Ms Joshi has personally opened her home to dozens of victims who have been left stranded both in the UK and in India.
On a number of occasions, we have resorted to publicly naming men who have refused to honour even the most basic rights of their jilted partners or have resorted to horrific abuse.
In one recent case, a well-to-do NRI from Tamil Nadu abandoned his wife and British-born child in India before stealing their travel documents and returning to the UK. The woman reached out to ILUK, and we helped her travel to London from where she could fight for justice.
When her husband found out that she had managed to return to the UK, he and his sister attempted to kidnap the child he had abandoned in India and is now staying with his maternal grandparents.
The impunity that these men feel – and which is reinforced by community leaders like Mishra and Jaiswal – is evident in the fact that this man had tried to snatch the child from INSIDE A POLICE STATION!
He was publicly named on ILUK in a move that was “condemned” by his friends and many men in the community.
Spousal abandonment remains a massive problem within NRI communities and has destroyed the lives of countless women who have found themselves abandoned in India and in limbo after their travel documents are stolen by their husbands who also refuse to grant them a legal separation as this would prove costly.
ILUK is the first organization to actively and publicly fight against this appalling practise and works closely with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. Earlier this year, I was invited by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to address a gathering of NRI organizations in Delhi.
And in April, my steering committee and I were invited to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
ILUK’s success and very public campaigning appears to have caused serious consternation to some.
Messages shared in their various Facebook pages include the relatively innocuous – I am mentally unstable – to the dangerously false – that I am using my victims to line my own pockets.
My organization’s work targets individuals who behave in the most callous way towards women so I have always expected the kind of hate that people like me will get. What I didn’t expect was for people who don’t know me to spread malicious lies and falsehoods about me among other members of the community and then target my family as well.
In late 2017, I attempted to have some of the malicious posts removed by repeatedly appealing to Facebook but the company refused, claiming that the comments – irrespective of whether they were accurate or not – were covered under freedom of expression rights.
That is a position that the company has since moved away from following the scandal of misinformation and the spread of ‘fake news’ that has come to light in the US Presidential Election and the referendum to exit the European Union here in the UK.
I then eventually approached the Metropolitan police with a dossier of all the online harassment I had faced. There too, I faced the hurdle of a police service, which was careful about handing out harassment warnings arbitrarily without “due process”.
As a result, officers spent more than 6 months investigating the abuse directed at me.
Harassment warnings are issued when individuals pursue a course of action that amounts to harassment to another person on two separate occasions.
The warning – while not amounting to a criminal conviction – is logged in the Police National Computer and can be taken into consideration for prosecution if an individual is accused of further harassment.
I am all for freedom of speech but when it becomes malicious slander about the victims that I work with then it crosses a line. It becomes cyber bullying. These people have never pursued us legally or have never been able to back up their assertions with facts. All they do is spread their hatred amongst each other. It’s quite sad.
The most horrifying thing for me was Mishra and others accused me of making money out of ILUK to pay my house bills.
I have three small children and I have a busy life. And yet I have opened my own home to countless victims. These are women I don’t know but who have come to me because they have been left vulnerable and destitute. And then to find that these people are saying on Facebook groups that I am making money out of them is just utterly outrageous.
It is symptomatic of our community that people will be quick to slander and defame those who do something meaningful. I suppose it gives their rather sad lives some meaning. I just hope that these warnings send out a message to others whose only purpose in life is to attack members of their own community. We have enough challenges to overcome without having to overcome this kind of jealousy and pettiness.
Another important thing is, if you become a victim of this kind of online trolling, it is imperative that you collect everything for evidence. As much as possible. All these people want is to cause as much distress as possible. They don’t have any other purpose other than to try and stop the work that you are doing.
But ultimately it has only made me stronger and more determined. These community groups are meant to help the community. The role of an admin is an important one – but instead of setting an example they are using the platforms to preach hate and instigate people, writing the vilest things about someone they don’t even know. If they think that it’s going to stop us, they are sorely mistaken.