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Bringing back the runaway grooms

Concerted efforts by a core group of abandoned wives and the passport authorities are giving the much-needed impetus to the fight against absconding NRI husbands14 Oct 2018 | 12:48 AM[ + read story ]

Jupinderjit Singh in Chandigarh

For the past 14 years, Abhilasha from Chandigarh had been fighting a losing battle against her US-based husband, who had deserted her shortly after their marriage. He had obtained an ex-parte divorce while Abhilasha attended endless hearings in courts here. Indian law does not provide for extradition of a person accused of abandoning his wife. With India yet to sign the  Hague Convention on International Personal Law to handle such cases, Abhilasha looked at a dead end in her road to justice.

But something changed in June this year. Five abandoned brides, who usually met at the NRI Commission, Punjab, and the Regional Passport Office, Chandigarh, pursuing their complaints, got together saying enough was enough. The Regional Passport Officer, Sibash Kabiraj, told them of a lesser-used provision in the Indian Passport Act, which provides for the suspension of passports of accused runaway grooms. The possibility of suspension of passport provided a glimmer of hope to these women, who formed a group called ‘Together We Can’ and began helping other victims, besides pursuing their cases.

Among the first to benefit was Abhilasha. Her husband’s passport was suspended.

Kabiraj explains the importance of the initiative, “Suspension of passport means the accused cannot travel to India, and if he does, he has to face the court trial or join police investigation. When the victims approached us, we told them about this provision, which required certain legal documentations for a foolproof case for the suspension of passports. Educated girls can arrange their case but many others needed help. We have a limited staff. So we thought of making a core group of victims who can help others.” The Ministry of External Affairs, headed by Sushma Swaraj, chipped in and provided them a room in the passport office. A movement in favour of the victims began to flow. The RPO, Chandigarh, has taken a lead on the issue.

“It is about making the best of your limited powers and jurisdiction to offer a solution to the menace. We thought of doing something at an institutional level, instead of passing the buck. Today, we receive five to seven complaints everyday.” The results were immediate. “We started in June this year, and have already suspended passports in 70 cases. Nearly 120 other complaints are under process. Two NRI husbands were arrested on arrival at the New Delhi airport. One of them had even dared his ‘abandoned’ wife to take action when he would land in India on a specific date.”

Together We Can 

Amritpal Kaur, who, along with Nitin Dhiman, formed the initial core group. They work as volunteers. “We help new complainants in file work, motivate them, explain the legal provisions, and eventually get them justice by seeking cancellation of the passport of the erring husband,” she said. This is lone victory but the war against runaway grooms is long and tough,” said Amritpal. She believes the girl power will make a difference. “Our WhatsApp group has reached the limit. Victims from all over India have joined us. Sumaira Pathak is in Pune while Reetu Sharma, pursuing PhD in bio-chemistry in Palampur, is running the movement in Himachal Pradesh.” 

The task of providing justice is enormous. Punjab is said to have the highest number of abandoned brides, followed by Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and some southern states. Though on their own, the Centre and respective state governments have no concrete data, they neither deny the figures quoted widely in media and research papers on the subject nor confirm the number. Not just men, but there are cases of women NRIs dumping men after marriage. “We have received two such cases,” she added.

Disturbingly, there has been a new trend of urban and well-educated girls becoming  victims. In 2003, when The Tribune had carried a series of stories on the issue, the victims were mainly from the rural background and less educated. This is not the case anymore. Rupinder Kaur is an MBA, Amritpal is MSc. Other victims include doctors, lawyers, corporate professionals and even an Assistant Sub-Inspector, as also a constable. 

Nitin Dhiman alias Niti, a fashion designing and hospitality management professional from Zirakpur, had read about the sordid tales of abandoned brides from Punjab. She took precautions before tying the  knot to Mohit Kumar, a China-based NRI, in April 2017. He is originally from Kurukshetra. As per the government’s mandatory provision introduced a few years back to check such fraudulent marriages, she even got her marriage registered with the District Magistrate a day after she got wedded.

She became another in the long list of victims of fraud NRI marriages. And hers is not an isolated case. It has taken more than 15 years for the world to take note of the plight of thousands of holiday wives. The government, too, has brought in more laws and checks to prevent the frauds. However, girls like Niti continue to be added to the list.

Many brides, many bruises

Rupinder Kaur of Amritsar was a bride for seven days only. She married Gurpreet Singh of Canada in December 2015. Dilpeet Kaur,  wife of Kulwinder Singh of  Italy, suffered a similar fate. She, too, was a bride for seven days. As Amritpal Kaur puts it, “In all these cases, the grooms and their families had the best time. They were treated like gods by girls’ families. They got dowry, gold, cash, and consummated marriage. They enjoyed their little holiday in India. Now, they say they are away from Indian laws and no one can touch them. My husband even told me he had married for money and fun.”

Even though the National Commission for Women, the Ministry of External Affairs, judiciary, social activists, politicians and media have pressed hard for a framework to provide them speedy justice, through new laws and formulating procedures to check fraudulent marriages, not much has happened to prevent fresh cases and give justice to old ones. 

Pritam Kaur has been struggling for justice for 22 years. She could not get the passport of her husband cancelled as he had become a citizen of Canada. The core group taught her the power of social media. Pritam now talks about the issue on Twitter.

There are incidents of serial offenders as well. Amritpal’s husband had duped three other girls before he married her. He boasted to her recently that he would marry for the fifth time soon while she continues making rounds of police stations and courts. Each of the victims has a heartrending story of suffering at the hands of the NRI husbands, “If Amrita Pritam was alive today, she would have written such mournful verses on the exploitation of modern-day Heers like us,” said Nitin, while trying to fight back the tears. 

Bringing back the runaway groomsWedding woes: Women deserted by their NRI husbands give an account of their harrowing tales at Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in New Delhi recently Tribune photo: Manas Ranjan Bhui
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14 Oct 2018 | 12:48 AM

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