U.S.-based Anu Peshawaria runs SevA, an organisation that provides free legal advice to the immigrant community
Anu Peshawaria, a U.S.-based attorney, is the founder of SevA, a non-profit organisation devoted to helping the immigrant community of the U.S. with legal issues. She was in the Capital recently for a seminar, `NRI Investment, International Immigration and NRI Marriages'. She is also the younger sister of Kiran Bedi. SevA Legal Aid has attracted 40,000 members in one year. Peshawaria, who once played at Wimbledon, explains the legal flaws that need to be addressed and the preventive measures that need to be taken. NRIs are subject to Indian marriage and divorce laws. Indian girls, she says, marry American boys without proper verification. Women are often ill-treated because they are not aware of their rights. A simple measure like filing a VAWA (Violence Against Women's Act) will allow a woman to remain and work in the country, even after a divorce. Women often make the mistake of travelling to the U.S. on a dependent visa. Peshawaria urges women to expedite the transfer to H1, which will allow them to work. "Many girls and even recognisable public faces work under the table as they don't have H1 visas," she says. Laws, she insists, are in need of urgent change, as the community law doesn't apply to them. This means after a divorce, "A woman has to start from the beginning, as she can only get the assets in her name. In America, on the other hand, the laws are far more favourable to women, because of the community property laws." Peshawaria finds the term "maintenance" offensive. "What does maintenance mean? It is a matter of right after all. The woman has invested so much by raising the children." American Indian citizen girls, for instance, are wary of marrying Indian boys. She says, in the U.S., marriages often last only till the two years it is necessary to get a green card. Husbands often abandon children and wives after that period. She puts the prevalence rate at nine out of 10 cases.
Immigrants also have to face "institutionalised racism". She classifies the Patriot Act, "A draconian act, the term `patriot' is used just to stir sentiments. Post 9/11, immigrants have been the target of this act." To prevent this abuse, she plans to start educational programmes to make people aware of their rights as soon as they reach the airport. These simple programmes will teach people how to get a car, how to get insurance and how to put their children in school. She has already conducted 50 `clinics' in California aimed at the South Asian community. Through these workshops participants learn the legal basics to safeguard themselves from immigration and adjustment problems. NANDINI NAIR