A national helpline for women deserted in Non-Resident Indian (NRI) marriages and the need for a dedicated fund to provide assistance to them are among the recommendations made at a consultation on Wednesday organised by the National Commission for Women (NCW) on ensuring access to justice to such women.
The NCW invited experts from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, women victims, State police departments, NGOs, Indian missions in Australia and Canada, among others.
The consultation was held on two broad topics — identifying problems faced by Indian women married to Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and NRIs, and challenges faced by deserted wives in the legal system in India and abroad.
“The meeting took up issues such as ways to serve a non-bailable warrant against a male offender residing abroad who has abandoned his wife. Often, these men keep changing their address and it gets challenging to track them. So, we have suggested that a special website be set up, so that summons posted there are deemed as served on a person. Another way to track them would be through their Social Security Number,” ex-Chairman, Punjab State Commission for NRIs, Justice (Retd) Rakesh Kumar Garg told The Hindu.
Other matters discussed were ex-parte judgments on divorce obtained by husbands abroad, which are already addressed under Section 13 of the Civil Procedure Code that deals with conditions under which foreign judgments are not conclusive, said Mr. Garg.
Instances of child custody disputes were also raised. “For such matters, when a habeas corpus writ is brought to India for producing a child before a foreign court, Indian courts have often held that both parents are natural guardians under Indian laws and, in fact, mother is the guardian of a child under five years. We are also not signatories to the Hague convention, so we don’t have to return the child.”
The consultation did not, however, discuss whether India should sign the Hague Convention, which requires that if a parent has run away with a child from one country to another due to a marital dispute, the child has to be returned to the country from where he or she has been removed. The Indian government maintains that it is not ready to sign the treaty.
Another person who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity that ways to ensure maintenance for such wives, legal assistance, and financial support through a dedicated fund were also raised.
Many of the suggestions made are not new. They were part of the report of an expert committee formed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and headed by Justice Arvind Kumar Goel, ex-Chairperson, NRI Commission, Punjab, submitted in August 2017. On the basis of these suggestions, a meeting chaired by the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in November 2017 took a decision to ensure compulsory registration of NRI marriages and set up a website of MEA for posting summons.
Following this, in February 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs introduced the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019, in Rajya Sabha. The Bill was sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which approved it with some recommendations. But after the passing of Sushma Swaraj in August 2019, the Bill has been put in cold storage.