According to the Ministry of External Affairs, as many as 4,698 complaints were lodged by Indian women deserted by their NRI husbands in the last three and half years.
Lucknow’s Zuby Zaida, Delhi’s Geetanjali, Indore’s Kiran and Chennai’s Cynthia may be from different Indian cities but all of them have faced the similar fate of being duped into ‘marriage of convenience’ by Non-resident Indian (NRI) grooms along with huge dowries and then being deserted by them. Some even end up facing harassment and torture while a few were left stranded at foreign countries.
Marriages in India have become more of a symbol for social status than being about relationships. The increase in NRI marriages show the way the parents are desperate to get their daughters married abroad. They even pay huge dowries and send away their daughters to a foreign land with strangers.
The NRI cell of the National Commission for Women (NCW) has registered 4,274 complaints from ‘nowhere brides’ or ‘honeymoon brides’ who were abandoned in foreign lands after being subjected to mental and physical abuse. These complaints have mostly been received from Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala. They are usually regarding desertion, domestic violence, harassment, child custody and appeal against foreign courts’ decision on divorce. The rate of these complaints has risen from 468 in 2015-16 to 828 in 2018-19.
However, various NGOs have estimated the number of such cases to be much more. Still Alive Foundation (SAF), a platform created by Zuby Zaida for abandoned wives to fight for justice has estimated that as many as 50,000 such cases are pending. Another NGO ‘Abandoned Brides by NRI Husbands Internationally’ in Punjab has estimated it to be 32,000. The Regional Passport Office (RPO) of Chandigarh has suspended 370 passports of accused NRIs and revoked 21 passports in the past year along with deporting 52 people
Steps taken by government
The central government of India has recently introduced a multipronged approach to help the wives deserted by their Non-resident Indian husbands. The external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj introduced a Bill on Registration of Marriage of non-Resident of India in Rajya Sabha in the month of February this year. The Bill is an outcome of a joint initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law and Justice.
The objective of this Bill is to create more accountability and offer more protection against exploitation of Indian women by their NRI spouses. According to the provisions of the Bill, the compulsory registration of marriage within 30 days of marriage in India or abroad would provide better enforcement of rights of the deserted spouse under various family laws. Similarly, the Amendment to the Passport Act would empower the Passport Authority to impound or revoke the passport of NRI, if it is brought to their notice that the NRI has not registered his marriage within 30 days from the date of marriage.
Amarjeet Singh, president of SAF also pointed out that some level of scrutiny should be exercised by matrimonial sites as well because most of these cases begin there.