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Updated: October 1, 2013 14:30 IST

Transborder brides

    Lavanya Regunathan Fischer
    Devadatt Kamat
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Diasporic marriages need state intervention. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
The Hindu
Diasporic marriages need state intervention. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

A multi-pronged approach is required to stem the steadily increasing numbers of abandoned Indian women trapped in fraudulent marriages overseas

The phenomenon of “holiday brides”, mostly poor unsuspecting women who are married off to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) only to be abandoned by their ‘grooms’ even before they can settle into their new lives, has been growing steadily. This concern, however, has been long recognised. In 2008, the National Commission for Women (NCW) reiterated that the issue of women trapped in fraudulent marriages has assumed “alarming” dimensions. The NCW has also brought out a book, Abandoned Indian Women Trapped in NRI Marriages - The Way Out, which suggests remedial measures.

But nothing much seems to have changed. Every year, different sources ranging from the Union Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) and the NCW to the media report steadily increasing numbers. In fact, according to 2008 media reports, attributed to the MOIA, 20,000 abandoned wives are officially recorded as abandoned as a result of such marriages.

With their remarriage prospects being virtually non-existent and their families left bankrupt because of the high dowries they have had to pay to the defrauding ‘grooms’, these women are often forced to either live with their families or depend on relatives for their subsistence.

The U.K. recently proposed a legislation that would ban legal aid to people who were not citizens and lived in the country for more than a year. Such a move definitely spells bad news for scores of immigrant women who are vulnerable to abuse and abandonment.

At first glance, such a state policy may not seem to have any relation to women in India, but a closer look will show that its ripples will indeed be felt, particularly in the small towns of the country. Indian legislators are aware of the well-established plight of abandoned wives, and the problems they face which include domestic abuse. Women of the Diaspora also face similar situations, yet have no established support structures or legal remedies. Today, in its attempt to engage with the NRI population, the MOIA is considering a proposal to establish Overseas Indian Centres in the U.S., the Gulf countries and Malaysia, to start with, because these are the regions where there is a significant presence of Indians. Besides other activities, it is proposed that these centres will extend “counselling facilities with the help of professional counsellors to those who face the problem of fake, fraudulent or failed marriages”.

But these are all post facto measures. There are more immediate and pertinent questions that need to be answered. How, for example, can women ensure that they do not fall prey to this form of abuse? And, if they do end up in such unfortunate situations, how will they be able to access measures of recourse?

One of the ways in which the government is proposing to do this is to raise awareness on the issues involved for those seeking to marry persons living abroad. Through booklets and other means, such information will be made available in the vernacular for rural readers. Of course, it is anybody’s guess as to who would actually read these booklets. Perhaps it would be more useful if, along with the various immigration documents made available to departing brides, a simple pamphlet is provided detailing the problem and listing emergency numbers or addresses that can be accessed. This may prove handy should any of them find themselves abandoned under foreign jurisdictions.

Dynamic and multi-pronged approaches are important when it comes to issues that transcend international borders, and the system of checks and balances needs to be continually fine-tuned. Unfortunately, there are currently no internationally accepted checks for diasporic marriages. One of the arguments against too much regulation is that it would place unnecessary restrictions on marriages that are healthy and safe, as the majority is.

But while we certainly should not create procedural headaches for the law abiding, we also need to provide succour from within the country to those who travel out and end up in intractable personal situations. This is in the interests of ensuring the safety and security of Indian citizens who can realistically hope that the country of their birth would protect their interests.

The recent passing of the Compulsory Registration of Marriage Bill, 2005, in the Rajya Sabha is an effort to find a workable solution to this problem and it might prove a significant check, since it at least allows such cases to be tracked. The good thing about this act is that it makes registration compulsory, even for marriages across religions.

Some civil society groups have expressed doubt as to whether it will indeed make a difference since conservative families or communities may choose not to disclose abandonment, if it were to happen. They also point out that there are no incentives or disincentives with regard to registration in this law. But despite its shortcoming, it could be seen as a step in the right direction.

(Women's Feature Service)

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