By Madhur Singh, Chandigarh, India, 25 October 2007
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in northern India are raising the alarm about a growing number
of women being duped and abandoned by émigré
husbands. Lured by the prospect of going abroad, some of the
women bring huge dowries to their marriages, which the husbands
take with them. Madhur Singh reports from Chandigarh that
these women have little legal recourse, and many do not go
to the police for fear of being branded as social outcasts.
wedding season in India, and in almost every neighborhood,
the streets echo with celebratory music.
north Indian wedding celebrations can last for days.
Sharma says she thought her wedding eight years ago, when
she was 25, would be no different.
she agreed to enter into an arranged marriage after her father
died and her mother and two younger sisters needed financial
support. She married a much older, Canadian-based astrologer,
whom the family believed was well settled.
too well settled, as it turned out. After spending six weeks
with his bride, the groom went back to Toronto promising to
send for her.
after six years of waiting, Sharma says she one day received
she felt used, explaining that women should be cherished and
not treated as merchandise, because wives give birth and make
the world go around.
an increasingly familiar story.
studies put the number of such abandoned brides in India at
between 15,000 and 30,000. But social activists say the real
number is much higher, as most cases go unreported because
of the social stigma.
customs, inadequate laws and a fascination with going abroad
all combine to cause the problem.
Indian state of Punjab is it common for families to have at
least one member living abroad.
of the sociology department at Panjab University, Sherry Sabbarwal,
says Punjabis, in particular, have a "craze" about
have a penchant for anything foreign. We are very fond of
showing off my imported car, and my imported whatever equipment
I may have in my house. So I guess they like to show off their
imported 'damaads,' their sons-in-law," she explained.
a half million Indians go abroad each year, primarily to find
work. Sociologist Sabbarwal says many women want to join this
exodus, in great part to escape from the patriarchal environment
this element of escaping the joint family system in India,"
she said. "The girl herself wants to go abroad so that
she doesn't have to live with the in-laws."
marriage to an Indian settled abroad is considered a status
symbol, and a possible means for the entire family to emigrate.
Singh is coordinator at the government-run Family Counseling
Center in Chandigarh.
very often such marriages are doomed because of a clash of
viewpoints, explaining that Indians who have lived abroad
for long still cherish an image of India that is no longer
says, India has changed, and Indian girls have changed. Singh
contends these grooms want a bride who will be coy and submissive
and will have all the qualities that are impossible in today's
reason, grooms frequently end up abandoning their homegrown
wives after receiving a dowry and engaging in a brief marital
Family Counseling Center informs women and their families
on how to verify the credentials of prospective husbands,
including checking their passports, residency status and financial
industry of private investigators and international law firms
has come into being devoted to checking out prospective grooms
and brides. And the government's Ministry of Overseas Indian
Affairs has launched a program to provide legal, monetary
and psychological help to women abandoned by émigré
rights activists are now demanding the government sign agreements
with other countries to protect those who end up marrying
into the Indian diaspora.