Rape survivor awarded British Empire Medal for services to community in pandemic

Harmit Ahluwalia

Harmit Ahluwalia - known as Anju - has been named in the Queen's Birthday Honours. - Credit: Harmit Ahluwalia

A woman who survived rape and experienced homelessness has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Harmit Ahluwalia - known as Anju - is to receive the gong in honour of her services to the community in east London during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She started Food4All with husband Nim in 2016 to feed homeless people and those on lower incomes. It is based at Namdhari Gurdwara in Forest Gate.

In the pandemic, Food4All supplied about 2,500 meals a week as well as supporting Newham Council, mutual aid groups, individuals and primaries.

In total, 120,000 meals went out and Anju has also raised £80,000 in cash and provisions since March 2020.

Anju said: "I feel really humbled. The way I see it, there are so many other people who have done more than me. 

"When I think about this award, I think what I can do with it to help others. I see myself as an individual who has experienced positive and negative situations in life and have taken those experiences and worked hard to make my life better and do more for others."

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On her 21st birthday, Anju was raped in the bathroom of her parent’s home by someone she had begun to form a relationship with.

The 44-year-old said: "It actually made me the woman I am today. Over the years, I used this not as a negative but as a positive. Today I am a survivor and not a victim."

Anju also survived a car accident in Leyton in May 2018, but developed fibromyalgia, a condition which causes pain and extreme tiredness as a result.

On what inspired her to do good, Anju explained that after graduating from Middlesex University London she started work, but within 18 months became ill and lost her job.

Unable to afford her rent or food, her best friend Mesi Afera took her in.

"From that moment, it was important to me to help anyone with the basic need for food. I understand what it feels like to go through circumstances that can affect your choices of where your next meal is coming from and if you have a warm bed to sleep in.

"Twenty years ago I experienced that situation and a beautiful soul supported me. I made a promise I would pay it forward," she said.

Anju dedicated the award to her mum, Joginder Kaur Ahluwalia, and thanked the donors and volunteers who make Food4All's work possible.