Like its neighbour Haryana, brides in Punjab too are now coming for a price, albeit as ‘passport’ to foreign lands.
Four years ago, when 30-year-old Kamaljit Kaur took her wedding vows with Hardeep Singh, a resident of Kalal Majra village in Barnala, her pact with the groom’s family included fee for her nursing course, classes to learn Norwegian, bank deposits, and work visa in Norway. His sister, Pardeep Kaur, was already employed in the Scandinavian country as a nurse and his two cousins from Takhan Wadh village in Moga too made it to Norway through such “contract marriages”.
But Kamaljit refused to get Hardeep to Norway after frequent arguments, and the two have since divorced. Left counting his losses, both financial and emotional, Hardeep’s father Mukhtiar Singh claims to have spent Rs. 25 lakh on his estranged daughter-in-law. “We paid for her course, language classes, bank deposits and visa fee. We have all the receipts as my daughter made the payments through bank. But Kamaljit turned her back on our son after getting a permanent job there. My son went into depression, and is now under treatment for heroin abuse,” says the father of the 30-year-old.
Punjab, a state with poor sex ratio and female literacy figures unlike Kerala, is also increasingly taking the nursing route to foreign shores. And this lure of settling overseas is turning the system of “contract marriage” on its head. In exchange for sponsoring courses and visa fee, women are taking ‘husbands’ to countries like Canada, Australia, US and New Zealand, after getting the NRI tag.
The high demand for nurses — as brides and otherwise — has reflected in the spike in number of private nursing institutes in the last decade. According to information obtained from the Punjab Nurses Registration Council, the number of private institutes in 2005-06 offering courses in ANM, GNM, BSc, post-basic BSc and MSc courses in nursing was merely 138 in addition to 10 in the government sector. In 2013-14, the number of private institutes jumped three-fold to 559 and government to 26. The number of nurses, both men and women, seeking registration for jobs overseas last year crossed 1,000, and the figure has already gone past 1,036 till July this year.
Nurses from Punjab are heading for jobs in as many as 27 countries, including the hitherto unknown destinations like Tanzania, Botswana, Georgia, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Finland. “The most favoured destination remains Canada. Compared to 661 last year, 758 candidates have registered with us for Canada alone till July this year. The other preferred countries are Australia and the US, for which we have so far received 116 and 114 candidates, respectively,” says PNRC registrar Charanjit Kaur Cheema. Not surprisingly thus, the state council and the mushrooming nursing institutes have become a common haunt for wannabe grooms.