Saturday, November 19, 2005

Stamped Impressions

The foreign trap

Reeta Sharma

In Punjab, marriages with NRIs continue to make headlines, mostly for wrong reasons. If, on the one hand, more than 15,000 brides have been deserted by NRIs in Punjab then, on the other hand, double the number are desperately waiting to be married off by their parents to NRI bridegrooms.

Not only brides, but thousands of other Punjabis too wait to reach foreign shores any which way. In the past three decades, they have adopted unlawful methods to reach foreign destinations. It could have been pardonable if only teenagers had been blinded by the desire to go to foreign lands by hook or by crook. But here we have entire families that would stop at nothing to find their way abroad.

Travel agents are paid lakhs, often by selling land or by taking loans from relations; fake passports are made and young people are pushed to undertake risky voyages. Instances such as the Malta boat tragedy in 1996 in which 289 South Asians, including 170 Indians mainly from Punjab, drowned in the icy Ionian Sea, have also not deterred those frantic to go to any foreign land.

I interviewed 19 parents from the Doaba belt, who confessed that they were aware that their sons would gain illegal entry into a foreign country. Most of them tried to shield themselves with the excuse that they were left with no alternative as their sons were repeatedly denied visas by the embassies concerned.

It is a question of how much one respects the law. It is this respect for law which in the aforesaid cases is completely missing. The same lack of consideration for law is revealed in the following case of a girl’s marriage to an NRI.

Ravneet Kaur, a resident of Barundi village in Ludhiana district, was married to Rajinder Singh, a permanent resident of the US in March 2004. After a year, the couple met with an accident near Ludhiana, in which the husband died. Ravneet’s tragedy did not end here. “As if the loss of my husband was not enough, my in-laws severed all ties with me. I was bundled off to my parents’ home like an unwanted piece of furniture. The entire family was desperate to get hold of my husband’s passport because they were planning to send one of their boys to the US on that passport,” reveals Ravneet.

Ravneet received yet another shock when her husband’s relatives in the US “fraudulently attempted to claim nearly $ 27,000 from the insurance company”. “I have had to hire lawyers to stall this move and am now in touch with the Embassy and the insurance company to stake my claim,” says the grieving widow.

Similar is the case of Gurpreet Kaur of Hoshairpur. Her NRI husband died of cancer. A mother of three children, she too was deserted by her in-laws as her husband had never taken her to the UK after her marriage. Today, saddled with the burden of rearing three children, she is staying with her parents. She is being denied the right to her husband’s property. As she comes from a poor family, her father cannot afford a good education for her children. Her in-laws have refused to support her in any way.

Many young widows have been deserted by their in-laws because the latter want to grab their dead son’s property and insurance claims.

(Names have been changed)