|Sunday, June 13, 2004|
The lure of a dollarised life spurs on many girls to seek a foreign husband. Only when they are scorched, does it turn into a nightmare for them. About 15,000 women in Punjab have been deserted by NRIs, reports Aruti Nayar.
THE attraction of girls and their parents for a husband from a rich western country exerts a powerful pull in India as in other developing countries. The enticing appeal of another "advanced", "modern" culture in a land of "opportunities" is rich with promise. Aspirations of an emancipated, better life in greener pastures abroad draw thousands of women to "eligible" NRI men, like moths to a flame. Only when they are scorched, do many of these brides, and their families, realise that the imagined foreign knight on a white charger is a blackguard.
The lure of dollars and a dollarised lifestyle that can transform destiny of not only an individual but of a whole family as if by a magic wand, is what drives many girls to seek an NRI for a husband. The urge, anxiety and ambition is so compelling, that few of the brides who are being baited, or their families pause to see the crassly commercial or seamy underside of this trend. Despite the harrowing tales of torture and desertion that never cease to make the rounds, many of the brides and their parents continue to fall victim to the "foreign husband". The seamy underside to this surface glitter is a fact shoved out of consciousness, despite harrowing tales of desertion and torture. According to sociologist S.L. Sharma, it is the promise of an "upwardly mobile, superior lifestyle that will ensure privileges and perks which will make them objects of envy in their parent culture." For others it can be an escape from the oppressive and inhibitive cultures that curb personal freedom and subordinate it to social regulations. It is another story that the desire to flee lands them in greater bondage than ever before.
As far as the Indian diaspora is concerned, there is a definite linkage between the desire of families to marry grooms abroad and the level of exposure and the pace at which the community migrated. In more conservative social set-ups like Uttar Pradesh, girls would not be married off to distant shores without a thought.
Gujaratis and Punjabis take the lead in this just as they took the lead in exploring foreign shores and crossing frontiers when others did not want to move out of the familiar cocoon. That is why this problem is more rampant in these states. A sobbing Ameena makes headlines for a while before apathy reigns and Hyderabad’s bride bazaar starts buzzing again. According to a report, about 35 marriages between old Sheikhs and young girls are conducted every month. Numerous stories of young girls (estimated at 15,000) in Punjab marrying unscrupulous NRIs and being deserted by them do the rounds. Despite efforts to generate awareness about this social malaise, many girls become victims of the greed of NRIs who want to "encash" their phoren status and their own family’s desire of marriage as a passport to a better life not only for the girl but for the entire clan.
While the marriage of a boy located in a superior, more affluent, privileged culture to a girl who eitherhas ambitions of improving her own lot or is prepared to sacrifice her own desires for the family’s upward mobility. It might be an entirely different story that the groom who comes and dictates terms in India might himself be marginalised in the country of his residence. Often living in ghettos, they see marriage as a means to amass wealth for families in India or exploit beautiful young girls in a ‘holiday’ marriage. Of course, in certain cases it is also the reluctance of the groom’s parents to settle for a girl born and brought up abroad, the reason given is that such girls are not malleable and are difficult to mould.
So despite living in a post-industrialised techno-savvy milieu, the mindset remains feudal. Despite being educated, she does not think out of the groove. Why do even girls from relatively well-off families not think of standing on their own two feet and realising their dreams by dint of their own effort and not by virtue of an alliance that can mar their future? Most families, eager to push their daughters towards a better future, do not check out the basics. Is it that girls are still treated like cattle, herded, bought, sold and discarded? There are girls who choose to remain abroad and prefer the anonymity of a foreign land to the loss of face. Despite all outward symbols of "modernity", nothing much seems to have changed in the perception of a girl as a "burden" to be offloaded as soon as possible.
As the land holdings shrink from murrabas to marlas,
the land-owning class feels bereft of power and privilege. Sending their
daughters abroad is viewed as a privilege and a social step up the
ladder. It is the same sentiment that spurs umpteen youth to hitch their
wagon to unscrupulous, wheeler-dealers and risk their future to travel,
packed like sardines, be it to Berlin or Birmingham. In quite a few
cases the parents are aware that the boy has been married before but
they hope his divorce will come through and do not mind putting their
daughter’s future at stake. A far cry from the times when the daughter
of a family was the daughter of the village.