In 2014, Indian national Zubi Zaidi was married off in a traditional, arranged marriage setting. At the age of 26, she was told that her husband was almost 12 years her senior, and she was to move from Lucknow in India to Abu Dhabi.
"Again, I was told I was going to live with my husband, his parents and some extended family members. My family was also told he has a US citizenship," Zaidi told Khaleej Times.
However, the sequence of events that unfolded after her marriage led Zaidi to start a movement with almost 200 Indian women who'd suffered domestic violence from NRI husbands and their families.
Zaidi found that her husband had lied about his age, and even had a child from a former marriage. "I realised things were going amiss in the marriage after they demanded huge sums of money to start a crawfish business in the US. I refused to give into their demands, and that is when the abuse began," she added.
After which, she suffered several forms of emotional, physical and psychological abuse, which also included an incident where Zaidi was locked up in their Khalifa City apartment for three days. After escaping from there, she returned home to Lucknow only to find a divorce notice waiting for her.
Now, 30-year-old Zaidi is an advocate, and is leading a movement in India with other women who have faced a similar fate. Under the banner of Soch Foundation, an NGO in India, Zaidi has created a registry of 200 women who've suffered abuse from NRI husbands. "The list is fast growing because women are coming forward and the Indian government is cracking down on these wrong-doers," she added.
Sreedhar (name withheld to protect identity), father of a 27-year-old daughter who was abandoned in New Zealand, said: "I worked my entire life in the UAE to provide her with good education and get her married to a good family. We were in shock when we found that our daughter was left behind by her husband."
The now 60-year-old man had to rush to Auckland to get his daughter, who was left behind with no means to fend herself. The mechanical engineer added: "The issue with cases like these is that no parent is prepared for such a trauma. So, many times we don't know whom to approach and where to go."
Speaking about the registry of women she works with, Zaidi said: "Cases of NRI brides suffering abuse was unheard of about two decades ago. Many women still suffer silently. After I started my fight, I gave others the strength to fight.�
"I counselled them, gave them the confidence to lead a respectable and strong life even in the face of challenges."
Zaidi recommends stronger steps must be taken to prevent such incidents from happening again. "Laws are being put in place to prevent this problem. I also recommend that such acts be strictly punished," she added.
Meanwhile, Sreedhar said: "We are providing our daughter with much emotional support which will help her rebuild her life."
Speaking about the prevalence of domestic violence cases in the UAE's Indian community, top officials at the Indian Consulate-General and the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) admitted it is relatively common. The consulate has recorded several hundred cases of marital dispute cases, and over 120 cases were registered in 2017.
Indian Consul-General Vipul said: "At this given time, we are working with five to six cases of domestic abuse." He said the consulate provides a two-step marital counselling to both spouses.
"First, the officers speak to the couples, and if there is no interest to resolve the issues amicably, the consulate offers legal counselling to the couples. In the case of domestic abuse or abandonment, the consulate also provides financial assistance and sustenance to these women through the Indian Community Welfare Fund," he added.
Sumathi Vasudevan, labour consul at the Indian Consulate, provides counselling to the couples. She said: "As a policy, we never meet one spouse alone. Both the husband and wife have to be present for the sessions. Some of the most common reasons for marital disputes are extra-marital affairs and bigamy."
Similarly, Sailaja Menon, a freelance clinical psychologist who has been working with IWRC since 2005, stated today she sees up to four to five couples every week. "We began a psychological counselling programme for any member of the Indian community residing in the UAE. The consulate even set up a hotline for such cases. Today, the same programme is being offered by the IWRC, free of cost."
Menon explained that in many cases, abuse victims presume they cannot approach local authorities for help. "However, when the abuse is severe, some women have called the Dubai Police. Given that Emiratis and South Asians have a similar value system, the police tried to amicably settle these issues at home, before escalating it legally."
Moreover, Menon also noted that victims of abuse in Dubai, especially women and children, are well taken care of by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWC).
The foundation's helpline 800111 operates 24 hours every day. Victims of all nationalities under threat or at risk of being stranded on the road are being offered emergency shelter for the time it takes to solve their problem, including the required support to live a decent life.