“IELTS-pass girls for marriage, 6 to 8 bands,” reads an advertisement on a website, jalandhar. click.in. “IELTS-clear girls in the band of 5.5, 6, 6.5 and 7,” says another ad on ludhiana. quicker.com. Such phrases are now also common in matrimonial columns of Punjab newspapers. And the IELTS coaching institutes mushrooming in the state are trying to cash in on the booming matrimony market for ‘brides’ who can earn the groom the NRI tag.
The Punjab State Women’s Commission blames this new trend for cases of domestic violence being reported if foreign dreams fail to take off after marriage. Turning patriarchy on its head, it is families of grooms that are alleging that they had shelled out lakhs of rupees on marriage to “IELTS-pass” brides, after the latter file cases of domestic violence.
In one such case filed before the commission, the groom’s family alleged to have spent Rs 25 lakh on the marriage.
“The girl had a score of 5.5 band in IELTS but could not get the student visa. She approached us and filed a complaint under the Domestic Violence Act. During mediation, we found out that the groom’s family was putting pressure on her to return the money,” says commission chairperson Paramjit Kaur Landran.
In another case, the groom’s family alleged to have spent on the nursing course of the girl and her IELTS coaching but she could not clear the test after marriage. “In this case, we have asked the Bathinda inspector general of police to send us a report. “It is sad that even parents of girls are using IELTS scores to fetch grooms. Sons of farmers with small landholdings in Punjab are now entering into contract marriages with girls and sponsor their coaching for nursing or other sought-after professions abroad. They also pay for their IELTS coaching and exam. The boy goes along with the girl if she gets a student or work visa or a permanent resident (PR) status. It is not uncommon to find cases of women ditching grooms after finding better matches or settling abroad,” adds Landran.
Most of these matrimonial ads come with a condition—court marriage only—a euphemism for contract marriage. Experts on gender studies say preference for daughters as ticket to foreign lands has added a new dimension to gender discrimination in Punjab that is infamous for poor sex ratio. “In districts such as Hoshiarpur in the Doaba belt, we have found that one of the reasons for better sex ratio is daughters can take their real brothers abroad. Owing to more avenues such as nursing, it is easier for girls to find jobs overseas. Even government data shows more girls in Punjab complete senior secondary than boys. Also, more girls pursue higher education. So, daughters are being educated as an investment. It is a new dimension to female subjugation in a highly patriarchial system,” says Rainuka Dagar, head, gender studies, Institute of Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh.
GROWING NUMBER OF CASES
Experts believe education is also the reason why more women are reporting domestic violence. Of the 1,506 cases received by the Punjab Women’s Commission from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, the highest—524 —are of domestic violence. The number is three times that of dowry (158) that comes second in the list. The average number of domestic violence cases received by the commission is between 40 and 60 per month.
Overall, 5,331 cases of domestic violence have been reported in the last three years, according to figures obtained from the department of social security and development of women and children. And the number is steadily rising. It was 1,822 in 2014; 1,913 in 2015 and already 1,596 cases have been reported in first six months of 2016. Among the districts, the highest cases are from Patiala (522), followed by Amritsar (462).
Though there are special women cells at police stations to deal with cases of domestic violence, they are ineffective owing to political interference, says the commission.
“Many women allege that their husbands or his family were able to influence the case through political pressure at the women cell.
Like Haryana, Punjab too needs to appoint protectioncum-prohibition officers to implement the domestic violence act rather than entrusting it to the child protection officers,” Landran adds.