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A lifeline for battered wives of non-resident

battered wives of non-resident Indians

The Centre is proposing changes in the code of criminal procedure (CrPC) to declare “absconders” the NRI husbands who abandon their wives..

When Shweta, 30, tied the knot with California-based software engineer Sameer Pathak in June 2016, little did she know that her fairy-tale marriage would soon turn into a nightmare. Nine months later, the Ludhiana-based teacher found herself dumped in India by her husband soon after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Suspecting his wife to be vulnerable to the dreaded disease, Sameer unconscionably severed ties with his new bride. Though Shweta’s family filed a case at the Non-resident Indian (NRI) cell in Ludhiana, action on the errant groom is still awaited.

The phenomenon of runaway grooms and holiday wives isn’t confined to cinema. It is a horrific reality that confronts thousands of Indian women who marry NRI men mostly in countries like Canada, United States, United Kingdom and the UAE. These women aspire to live a happy, comfortable life on foreign shores. But upon landing there, they are shocked to know that they’ve been hoodwinked by their husbands who are already married or intend keeping them as domestic servants to serve their families.

The magnitude of such fraudulent marriages is far larger than is currently reported. In fact, the number of women who fall prey to such alliances every year is staggering. According to non-profit organisations working in the Doaba region of Punjab, more than 20,000 girls have not seen their husbands after their honeymoon. In 2015, Indian missions abroad received 3,328 complaints from Indian women about marital disputes with their NRI spouses. In most cases, the husband was found to be either already married, demanded dowry or was guilty of abandoning his unsuspecting wife in the foreign country. According to a paper published by the New Jersey-based NGO Manavi, there were 12,000 abandoned women living in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2004. A 2007 study estimated 25,000 wives of NRIs to have been deserted in Punjab.

It is to address this growing social and human rights infraction that the Indian government is launching a centralised web portal. The portal will help these battered and abandoned women seek succour in the form of a divorce or maintenance for themselves and their kids from their NRI husbands. They will also be able to locate civil society groups to help guide them in legal matters or sensitise them about institutionalised aid they can avail of. Information on lawyers and non-profit organisations working in this field will also be available on tap.

The site will also include advice on how to proceed with a case, approach the Indian missions overseas and seek assistance of empanelled lawyers and NGOs. Currently, the Indian government offers legal and financial aid ($3,000, or Dh11,034, in developed countries and $2,000 in developing nations) to women who are abandoned or face divorce proceedings within 15 years of their marriages.

The long overdue initiative is clearly welcome. It can help the Indian government tackle such burgeoning complaints with greater urgency while putting in place an institutional mechanism for wronged women. Both External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi have also addressed the issue on several public forums.

Some experts also recommend that cases of domestic violence be included in the ambit of extradition treaties that India inks with other countries. Another suggestion is that registration of NRI marriages be made compulsory. Both these moves will undoubtedly be robust deterrents to charlatans who think nothing of deserting their spouses. In 2009, the then National Council for Women chairperson, Girija Vyas, had remarked that “out of 10 NRI marriages, two resulted in the wife being abandoned after honeymoon”.

Another expert panel has suggested that passports of erring husbands be impounded. Collectively, all these measures will likely make unscrupulous husbands think twice about harassing their wives. Not only is such battering a violation of basic human rights, but it hews to patriarchal mindsets that treat women as objects.

According to a United Nations December 2017 report, the Indian diaspora is the world’s largest with more than 15.6 million people from India living overseas. This demographic constitutes 6 per cent of the total number of international migrants (people living outside the country of their birth), estimated at 243 million in 2015. Given these staggering statistics, the Indian government’s outreach to hapless NRI wives is timely and vital.

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