Poonam Joshi has never believed in awards and accolades.
She was even more cynical about “award ceremonies” – the dime-a-dozen events where the same group of British Asian acquaintances have a bit of a slap up, write some cheques and “honour greatness” in their midst, year in and year out.
The 40-year-old journalist and campaigner has seen more than enough reward for her work, in her own home which she has opened to dozens of destitute women, victims of domestic violence and spousal abandonment who had come calling for help through the community group she founded and helms, Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK).
But it was different – marginally – when a company called Oceanic Consulting, organizers of the British Indian Awards, approached her.
It wasn’t her that they wanted to “honour” but an ILUK initiative– ‘Beta Padhao, Beti Bachao’ (‘Educate Your Sons to Save Our Daughters’).
Launched in early 2018, the initiative calls on India to educate its young boys and men on issues such as female health and equality in a bid to stem the tide of violence against women.
It had caught the imagination of no less a person than the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the UK in April when he invited Ms Joshi and members of ILUK’s steering committee to discuss the initiative.
Days later he echoed the very same words ‘Beta Padhao, Beti Bachao’ at a political rally in Central India.
It had taken weeks and months of hard work by Ms Joshi and her committee of tireless volunteers to get the Prime Minister’s attention on what is arguably the greatest stain on India – the continued oppression of India’s daughters, whether it is the teenager brutalized in a Bihari backwater or the educated, middle-class IT professional cruelly abused and abandoned by her NRI husband.
So she was delighted when the campaign – and the women who had helped her bring it to the world’s attention – was to be “honoured” as the ‘Initiative of the Year’ at the British Indian Awards.
The first emails arrived in early May.
Ms Joshi was told that after a “public vote”, Beta Padhao, Beti Bachao had been shortlisted along with nine other social campaigns. She was told that thousands of members of the public had voted to honour ILUK’s extraordinary work.
Ms Joshi was contacted by a woman named Puja Pradhan who said that ILUK would be given a complementary ticket to attend the awards in Leicester on 21st June.
If Ms Joshi or any other individual or organizational honouree who wanted to bring along someone to share the joy on their ‘big’ day, they would have to cough up £80.00 for the privilege.
But Ms Joshi DID want to share the joy and was told by Ms Pradhan that if she wanted to bring along members of ILUK, Oceanic was prepared to offer the additional tickets at a flat rate £40.00
ILUK initially bought ten tickets and eventually 15. ‘Ms Pradhan’ informed Ms Joshi that the company would require ILUK’s charity card details but that it was merely for ‘security’ purposes as Oceanic didn’t have the ‘facility’ to charge cards – a fact that was spelt out in bold red font in each of the emails Ms Joshi received.
Then in an email dated 19th June – seen by the UKAsian – Ms Pradhan informed Ms Joshi that the event had been cancelled and was told to await instructions. Ms Joshi was forced to cancel plans to travel to Leicester.
The same day, on checking her bank account, she discovered that a total of £600 had been taken out of ILUK’s bank account.
Alarmed, Ms Joshi contacted her bank only to be told that the well-known event company Eventbrite had taken the payment.
When she contacted Eventbrite, a representative told her that a man named Irfan Younis had taken the money using Eventbrite as a sort of clearing house.
It was then that Ms Joshi’s journalistic instincts kicked in.
Irfan Younis, is the British Pakistani founder of Oceanic Consulting, the same company which had claimed that it did not have the ‘facility’ to take payment from cards and which had insisted on a bank transfer.
And which had earlier that day had called off the awards.
A furious series of emails and calls followed from an outraged Ms Joshi as she demanded why a payment had been taken on the day she was told that the event would not happen (The UKAsian has been given all the email correspondence that took place between Ms Joshi and Ms Pradhan and those sent to a number of generic emails available on the Oceanic Consulting website).
A company, which had been in almost daily contact with Ms Joshi about the number of guests she was bringing to the event, was now keeping strangely quiet.
While the company had sent a number of invoices for the total to Ms Joshi, the emails between her and Ms Pradhan do not mention a settlement date – because of the fact that the final number of guests had not been decided.
Ms Joshi also noted that the payment details on the invoice were for settlement to an account held by the UK branch of Habib Bank – Pakistan’s largest commercial bank and biggest private sector concern.
The same bank that was fined more than $230 million and forced to close its branch in New York in 2017 for ‘money laundering’ and ‘illicit money transfers’.
An awards ceremony meant to honour British Indians, organized by a British Pakistani concern based in Glasgow with funds going to a Pakistani bank?
It was also then that she noticed the sheer scale of the operation – the cash flow.
And the numbers are truly mind-boggling.
Awards are handed out in a staggering 30 different categories with a minimum of 10 nominees in each category. And those categories appear to have been plucked out of thin air to maximize the cash flow.
Take the business sector for example: there is a ‘Family Business of the Year’ award alongside ‘Business of the Year’, ‘International Business of the Year’, ‘Best SME Business’, and ‘Wow Business of the Year’.
Alongside ‘Best in Media’ there is also, curiously, an award for ‘Best in Creative’ Industries. Alongside ‘Best in Business’ there is a category for ‘Leaders in Finance’. Then of course there is ‘Businessman of the Year’ alongside ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’.
It’s a bit like American foreign policy – carpet bomb or napalm the hell out of the place and terrify all the warlords to come to the table and ultimately come away with nothing but a pockmarked landscape.
Only in this instance terror is replaced by a brazen appeal to the base human desire to be ‘recognized’ and milk them for all they are worth.
And much like the American military, Oceanic appears to operate on multiple fronts.
The #BritishIndianAwards is but one of the events organized by Oceanic.
Others include the British Muslim Awards, the London Curry Awards, the Scottish Curry Awards, The #EnglishCurryAwards, The English Asian Business Awards, the London Asian Business Awards, The Scottish Asian Business Awards, The Official Halal Awards (as opposed the erm…unofficial Halal Awards?), The British Diversity Awards, The British Asian Style Awards, ad infinitum.
At £75.00 a pop for a guest ticket, the math is quite staggering – particularly given that individuals, corporations and charities like ILUK will pay for multiple tickets.
For good measure, the number given to nominees to contact for any inquiries is a premium one.
Despite the doubtless vast sums generated, none of the events has a standalone website and curiously, the company doesn’t have the ‘facility’ to take card payments online – a facility that is even available to ice cream vans these days.
In 2017, the company was forced to defend itself against accusations of profiteering with the Scottish Diversity Awards after a number of Scottish charities questioned its methods.
Their defence was revealing.
Joe Kahn, a spokesman for Oceanic, told Scotland’s Third Force News: “We are here to make money, let me make that absolutely clear. We are a private company. We identify new markets we can target, we have the event to pay for, we have to make sure that everything is being done properly. That’s out in the open, it’s not something we hide behind. We run projects to make money.”
Frustrated at the lack of response from ‘Puja Pradhan’ or anyone else from Oceanic, Ms Joshi took to Social Media to voice her anger. It was then that Sunny Angel, an author and survivor of childhood abuse who had been nominated for an award, contacted her.
“I was told by phone call I was a finalist for a prestigious award called the British Indian Awards. I had never heard of them. When I asked who had nominated me Puja Pradhan told that she couldn’t tell me because it was a public vote but I had not seen the awards advertised anywhere. I told them that I would bring my daughter to the event and I was pushed for £80.00 for her ticket”, Ms Angel tells the UKAsian.
“My card was then fraudulently used at the time without my express consent and I was left £200.00 overdrawn. When the event was rescheduled for Birmingham, I told them that I would not be attending as it was too near to where my abuser lived. They refused the refund and it was only after 28 calls and 17 emails and much noise on Social Media that they sent me a cheque for £80.00 in the post”, Ms Angel adds.
‘Puja Pradhan’ meanwhile appears to be a ghost. No trace of someone by her name can be found on social media, or professional networking sites like LinkedIN.
And it’s not the first time there has been rumblings about the company.
In November 2017, charities in Scotland voiced their concerns about the inaugural Scottish Diversity Awards – which also featured nearly 300 nominations.
Nominees – including charities like Inclusion Scotland – were told the nominations were based on a “high number of nominations from the public” and that an independent panel of judges would choose the winners.
At the time, the Chief Executive of Inclusion Scotland Dr Sally Witcher told Third Force News: “I wanted to know, what was the nominations process? How and where was it publicised? Was it accessible to all? Also, who are the “independent panel of people” they talk about? What do they know about diversity? What do they know about the organisations in Scotland who work in that area?
“Is this primarily a money-making initiative from a marketing company keen to generate profits for itself and its clients?”
She questioned the glaring lack of transparency and said it made a “mockery” of her work.
A representative for another group nominated for an award also raised questions.
Speaking to the LGBT+ website Pink Saltire, the chair of Pride Edinburgh, Brett Herriot said: “I don’t believe the company behind the awards were fully transparent, judging the credibility of the awards was difficult as this is the debut year, however the company have a wide resume of involvement with other awards around the UK and I took that at the value it was for. I had to call the organisers myself to find out exactly what the Awards were about and how they were to be judged and I was informed it was to celebrate diversity from across the third sector. The Awards were to be judged by a selected panel drawn from across the third sector. I was never informed who the judges were and what criteria they were using.”
After Ms Joshi took to Social Media to complain, a representative of Oceanic, Joe Kahn responded, accusing her of “racism” and refusing to refund her.
Ms Joshi has been left a total of more than £1200 out of pocket – the initial outlay of £640.00 plus the £600 she has been forced to reimburse those members of her group who purchased the tickets.
In addition, Mr Kahn has sent two emails – both seen by the UKAsian – taunting Ms Joshi. In the first, he states that he doesn’t need to employ a PR agency to promote his event as she was providing the event free publicity.
In the second email, sent the night after the awards, he attaches pictures of the event to show how successful the night was.
Ms Joshi says: “I know many of these award ceremonies apparently “honouring” the community is a business but what has been really revealing with Oceanic is the vast scale of it.
“There are so many awards and so many categories. People get carried away that they have been nominated following votes from the public and then cough up their hard earned money to line the pockets of someone. It’s outrageous. These people have no interest in celebrating Asian achievements or diversity or anything else. It’s all and only about money.”
Despite the vast sums generated, Oceanic has lived and died in many iterations – a quick search of Companies House reveals that over the past few years it has been declared bankrupt or dissolved on multiple occasions – resurrecting itself in various guises, including Oceanic Retail, Creative Oceanic, Oceanic Group etc.
Despite several detailed requests for comment by the UKAsian, Oceanic Consulting has failed to respond.
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