Till debt do us part: Punjab’s ‘contract marriages’ are not marital disputes but cases of cheating

Their marriages arranged to facilitate migration, girls allegedly renege after they reached the promised land first

Updated - August 09, 2021 12:20 pm IST

Published - August 08, 2021 05:59 pm IST - CHANDIGARH:

26-year-old Harpreet Singh’s family in Punjab’s Mandi Gobindgarh is yet to come to terms with what they describe as a “marriage fraud” allegedly played on them by their daughter-in-law after she left for Canada two-and-a-half years ago.

“We got our son [Harpreet] married in July 2018. In January 2019, my daughter-in-law, who had scored well in the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), went to Canada on a study visa. After reaching Canada, she conveyed to my son that she did not want continue her relationship with him as she had plans to spend her life with another person,” Manjeet Singh, Mr. Harpreet’s father, told The Hindu . “It was a shock for the family. My son is in extreme distress. We have not yet come to terms with it. I spent around ₹28 lakh on the wedding, paid for her air tickets, the institute’s fees... we did not think such a fraud would be played on us.”

Later, after pressurising the girl through mutual friends and relatives, the family was able to send Mr. Harpreet to Canada on a spouse visa. “But the girl then filed for divorce in Canada. After this, I filed a complaint here and an FIR was lodged for cheating under Section 420 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), among other sections, against the girl and her family,” Mr. Singh said.

Punjab has been witnessing an increasing number of “contract marriage frauds” carried out for securing the Canadian ‘Permanent Resident’ status required to migrate to that country.

Jobenjeet Singh (33) of the Fatehgarh Sahib district has a similar tale to share. “I got married in 2012. My wife had a good IELTS score and she applied for a student visa to Canada, which she received in January 2014. I deposited her college fees and spent lakhs of rupees on her travel to Canada. After reaching Canada, initially she stayed in touch with me, but later stopped all communication. My in-laws are based in Ludhiana’s Barundi village and every time I met them, they would assure me that she would soon apply for the spouse visa. But they filed divorce case on behalf of their daughter in 2020. It was then that I approached the NRI (Non Resident Indian) wing of Punjab Police, following which a case under Section 420 was registered,” he said.

According to official data, 4,266 complaints were received by the NRI wing of Punjab Police in 2019, which included cases of cheating, matrimonial dispute and property dispute. The complaints were filed by both men and women. In 2020, the number of complaints stood at 3,829, while in 2021, so far, 2,248 complaints have been lodged.

A large number of people, especially youth from Punjab, travel abroad in the hope for a better life. Marriages of convenience are known to facilitate these aspirations. To do this, the bride or groom or their families enter into an informal contract in which the boy or his family is willing to pay for girl’s education and travel abroad, provided once she completes her education and gets a Permanent Residency (PR) of the foreign country, she will apply immediately for a spouse visa. However, many young men find that “the women go abroad and dupe” them.

“It’s basically an arrangement to facilitate the immigration of boys who are not scoring good grades in the IELTS. In some of the countries, one can take spouses along, but in some others, it is not allowed. Canada has certain conditions and it’s only after fulfilling those conditions that spouses are given a visa, hence the cases of cheating surrounding Canada are a tad higher,” A.S. Rai, Additional Director General of Police (NRI Affairs), told The Hindu .

Mr. Rai said it had been observed that the cases were not of matrimonial dispute, but instead that of cheating, “where one party has entered into a contract with the other person, who has the promised delivery of some service, and one has paid a certain amount of money, but the person has rescinded on that contract”. “In such cases, we check up the financial transactions. The finances have to be routed through legal channels — for instance, air tickets have been purchased, university fees paid, etc., and then we are able to establish a case of cheating,” he said.

“Around 2.5-3 lakh students move abroad annually from Punjab, besides about 2 lakh other people who leave for jobs, etc. The trend of going abroad soon after passing Class 12, which was increasing very rapidly, slowed down in 2020 because of the pandemic,” said Mr. Rai.

Mr. Rai added that the Punjab government is cognisant of such cases, and the “Ghar Ghar Rozgar and Karobar Mission” provides free counselling for youth interested in foreign study and placement. The initiative is beneficial for Punjabi youth to secure study and work visas according to their interests and qualifications, he said.

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