New Delhi: The number of women being deserted by their non-resident Indian (NRI) husbands is increasing every year.
The situation is becoming alarming and women's organisations are urging the government to take up the issue and make bilateral agreements with countries where Indian women are denied rights under foreign law.
According to the government records, the maximum numbers of cases have been reported from the United States and Britain. And Delhi is second only to Punjab, where women are duped in the name of marriage.
Anu Peshawaria, founding trustee of SevA Legal Aid in Fremont, California, said: "NRIs continue to take advantage of the legal, social and familial benefits of marriage without the intention to stay in the marriage. The existing laws provide them lots of room for fraud and they get married in India and fly to America under legal or illegal immigration status. Later they get divorced, pocketing the cash given in dowry."
Peshawaria is an internationally known attorney. She is a social activist and the younger sister of ex-Indian Police Service Officer, Kiran Bedi.
SevA aims at making the immigrant community in the US aware of issues concerning US laws, social issues, frauds and domestic violence.
Recently, the Indian embassy in Washington appointed Peshawaria as its legal professional adviser. She would not only give legal advice to the mission in Washington, but also to all Indian consulates in the US situated in New York, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco.
Meanwhile, back home, the National Commission for Women (NCW), with its headquarters in New Delhi, reported that contrary to the general perception, the women duped by NRI men do not only hail from rural backgrounds. Educated women from metropolitan cities also figure in large numbers on the list.
NCW chairperson Girija Vyas said: "We are urging the government to focus on international conventions and examine their relevance to the Indian context. Many women are victims of ex parte divorce with no recourse to alimony, maintenance or even custody of their children."
She insisted that the government must step in to help such women and make registration of marriages compulsory. "We propose amendments in the Hindu Marriage Act to protect the rights of victims of failed marriages. We feel there is a need for making changes in the Passport Act concerning the process for issuing passports," Vyas said.
The NCW had set up an NRI cell in June last. It had received about 200 complaints relating to marital discord and had taken action on more than 100 cases.
The purpose was to lend a face to a problem that has continued for long. In most cases it becomes impossible for women to act on their own without local support, and as a result fake marriages abound in order to obtain valid legal status.
Gullu Walia, a victim from Punjab, said: "I discovered that there was no organisation to which people could turn to for help or guidance. The few NGOs that exist restrict their assistance to green card-holders or American citizens. Stranded women get to stay in shelter homes, but they have to hire legal assistance on their own."
She stressed the need for awareness campaigns for women's rights to save other vulnerable women from becoming victims. Walia said that only stray incidents got reported, although the cases ran into thousands. The feeling of desperation and anger at the system compelled her to say that the police report should be registered at the husband's town so that he cannot trap other women.
Walia added: "There's a need to create awareness among Indian women who wish to emigrate. Also, women who are left in their homeland after marriage need to understand the intricacies of law. That's because it's much harder for them to obtain visa if their husbands do not petition for them. And that's their nemesis."
Hers is one of the several thousand marriages between Indian brides and NRI grooms that have turned into nightmares. Despite being educated, young women and their parents are vulnerable to exploitation due to lack of awareness about emigration laws and get duped in treacherous matrimonial alliances.
Betrayed and abandoned
Rajni Sharma, a women from a middle-class family, always dreamt of going abroad. Since her parents weren't very well-off, she couldn't aspire to study in a foreign country like her rich friends. But when her parents began looking for a suitable match, they opted for an NRI husband for their only daughter.
She was married to Ritesh Sood in a simple wedding in India, after which he left for New York. Rajni followed him after two months. "I looked forward to living abroad, but within a month I found that my husband had a live-in girlfriend. On the pretext of buying a new house he even took away all the cash that my parents had given me," she said.
Left with no choice, she returned to India within an year.
Priyanka's case is no different. Although she is fighting for her rights after being abandoned by her NRI husband, she finds herself at crossroads. She said, "I left my studies mid-way when my parents got this proposal from some family friends, who claimed to know Nitin Kapoor, a businessman in the US. We were told that Kapoor was keen on marrying an Indian girl. But the truth was that he was forced into it by his parents, because they were fed-up of his philandering ways.
"I had taken up a small-time job there so that we could live comfortably. But this gave my husband an opportunity to bring his girlfriends home during my absence. By the time we complained to our family friends, they had emigrated to Australia and took no interest in my plight."
Priyanka said she had come across several startling stories of women living abroad. "I intend fighting it out and get my husband punished for mental trauma. But I know it's going to be a long fight," she said.
Life stories: US and Britain lead the way
- In Punjab, 87 women were deserted in 2009. The figure in Delhi was 59.
- Andhra Pradesh was in the third place with 32 cases while Tamil Nadu reported 21.
- The number of women deserted by NRI husbands in 2008-09 totalled 331 in the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai.
- The figures for the US and the UK were 130 and 44, respectively.
- While Canada reported such cases at 37, the number in Australia was 23.
- New Zealand had 11 cases and Dubai reported 15 cases.
Published from Gulf News