It was a match made in heaven. The bridegroom had flown down from America and the marriage was solemnised according to Hindu rites.
After a two-week honeymoon in India, the bridegroom returned, promising to send his new bride a ticket and visa. What she got instead was a demand of Rs 5 lakh from her father-in-law. When the family failed to pay up, they were told that the marriage had been annulled in the US.
The bride was on her way to Manchester — her new home — just a week after the wedding. At the door was another woman, her husband’s live-in companion. A compromise could be worked out, the husband suggested. The three would live together and the wife could take care of the house. However, her husband divorced her in a month.
Over the past year, the National Commission of Women (NCW), received more than 200 written complaints from women trapped in “troubled marriages” with Indians abroad. Many of them were cheated, tortured, abandoned or forcibly separated from their children. According to NCW chairperson Girija Vyas, verbal and anonymous complaints are three times more than the written ones. Most complaints pour in from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kerala, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh — described as “problem states”.
The NCW, which says the problem has assumed endemic proportions, has stepped in with a slew of measures to bring justice to the abandoned brides.
The measures aim to serve judicial documents abroad, recognise divorce and legal separation across countries, ensure maintenance and child custody, impound passports of errant grooms, initiate criminal proceedings against relatives, attach property in India and facilitate residence permits for those women, who want to go abroad to fight their cases.
The NCW is counting on the government to set up special cells in Indian missions in countries with a large Indian diaspora. These cells will offer counselling, crisis assistance, legal support and information to Indian women duped into marriage. They will also provide information to women about prospective NRI bridegrooms. That’s the first step. The NCW says the government needs to get into bilateral arrangements with other countries for policing of troubled marriages with specific provisions for divorce, child custody and maintenance.
According to the NCW, India needs to sign the Hague Convention relating to cross-border marriages, develop an Indian private international law and formulate guidelines for the police on how to deal with such complaints. Stumbling blocks abound.
The issue of coordination among the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry for Women and Child Development is one such thorn. Moreover, officials from MOIA and External Affairs Ministry are wary about signing international conventions without “fully understanding the implication in the Indian context.”
At a recent workshop on the subject, Sandhya Shukla, director, MOIA said conventions come with a lot of “baggage…and it should be seen if they really help solve the problems.” M. Gandhi, director in MEA, pointed out that some “target” countries like the US were not members of the conventions dealing with matrimonial disputes.