Photos: Wives deserted by runaway NRI husbands, seek justice in Punjab

In a pink-walled room of a government office at the foot of the Himalayas, women spend their days canceling the passports of their runaway husbands living abroad. Several women in Punjab have come out during protests, gatherings and social media meetings in recent years to report against the forgery. Many men in search of a better life abroad have lied during marriage and run away with dowry money, leaving behind their wives, and at times children also. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called NRIs (Non Resident Indians) the "brand ambassadors of India." But Indian government policy think tank Niti Aayog has nicknamed them "non-reliable Indian grooms."

Updated On Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST 14 Photos
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Women abandoned by runaway husbands, take part in an organised protest in Jalandhar, Punjab. They’re known as non-resident Indians, or NRIs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called NRIs the “brand ambassadors of India.” But Indian government policy think tank Niti Aayog nicknamed them “non-reliable Indian grooms.” (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Women abandoned by runaway husbands, take part in an organised protest in Jalandhar, Punjab. They’re known as non-resident Indians, or NRIs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called NRIs the “brand ambassadors of India.” But Indian government policy think tank Niti Aayog nicknamed them “non-reliable Indian grooms.” (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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In a pink-walled room of a government office at the foot of the Himalayas, women spend their days cancelling the passports of runaway husbands. Sibash Kabiraj, regional passport chief in the city of Chandigarh, says it all began when the wives started coming to him and pleading for help. A lifelong civil servant Kabiraj realised Indian law would allow him to suspend and even cancel the passports of overseas Indian men who had misled their wives. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

In a pink-walled room of a government office at the foot of the Himalayas, women spend their days cancelling the passports of runaway husbands. Sibash Kabiraj, regional passport chief in the city of Chandigarh, says it all began when the wives started coming to him and pleading for help. A lifelong civil servant Kabiraj realised Indian law would allow him to suspend and even cancel the passports of overseas Indian men who had misled their wives. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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The Passport Authority requires approval from the central government to cancel a passport but can do so if the holder lies or withholds information, or if there is a warrant or court summons, among other reasons. But there is a problem in this country notorious for its bureaucracy. Suspension of a passport requires a lot of paperwork. So he explained passport law to the women and made necessary arrangements so that the paperwork is dealt with. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

The Passport Authority requires approval from the central government to cancel a passport but can do so if the holder lies or withholds information, or if there is a warrant or court summons, among other reasons. But there is a problem in this country notorious for its bureaucracy. Suspension of a passport requires a lot of paperwork. So he explained passport law to the women and made necessary arrangements so that the paperwork is dealt with. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Amritpal Kaur (L) looks at Reena Mehla while she cries remembering her husband. In the past year and a half, the women have managed to suspend more than 400 passports and revoke 67 others, Kabiraj says. In all, more than 5,000 women have filed abandonment complaints with India’s Ministry of External Affairs. The women in his office, Kabiraj says, “have created terror” in several foreign countries. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Amritpal Kaur (L) looks at Reena Mehla while she cries remembering her husband. In the past year and a half, the women have managed to suspend more than 400 passports and revoke 67 others, Kabiraj says. In all, more than 5,000 women have filed abandonment complaints with India’s Ministry of External Affairs. The women in his office, Kabiraj says, “have created terror” in several foreign countries. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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A picture of Palwinder Kaur’s husband, who she says has abandoned her. Indians living abroad aren’t an easy group to fight with. They sent $79 billion in remittances to India in 2018, the most of any country according to World Bank data. They’re expected to send $82.2 billion in 2019. They pay for new roads and the school fees of children whose families are too poor to pay themselves. They host community feasts. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

A picture of Palwinder Kaur’s husband, who she says has abandoned her. Indians living abroad aren’t an easy group to fight with. They sent $79 billion in remittances to India in 2018, the most of any country according to World Bank data. They’re expected to send $82.2 billion in 2019. They pay for new roads and the school fees of children whose families are too poor to pay themselves. They host community feasts. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Amritpal Kaur (L) and Reena Mehla work together at a desk in the regional passport office in Chandigarh. The wives say many of the men demand and often get tens of thousands of dollars in dowry, despite the ancient practice being illegal. The husbands can use that money to establish themselves overseas and obtain permanent residency or a new passport, leaving their wives and children behind in limbo. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Amritpal Kaur (L) and Reena Mehla work together at a desk in the regional passport office in Chandigarh. The wives say many of the men demand and often get tens of thousands of dollars in dowry, despite the ancient practice being illegal. The husbands can use that money to establish themselves overseas and obtain permanent residency or a new passport, leaving their wives and children behind in limbo. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Every day, women with husband problems pile into Satwinder Kaur’s (C) family courtyard. Only a few thousand people live in Toosa, but her relationships span the globe. She’s helping nearly 400 women who’ve been abandoned by their men. Satwinder’s own husband left her in 2015. He now lives in Poland. In Toosa, women don’t leave home alone, even in walled family compounds. Satwinder is slowly breaking through this and has become a symbol against the patriarchal system. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Every day, women with husband problems pile into Satwinder Kaur’s (C) family courtyard. Only a few thousand people live in Toosa, but her relationships span the globe. She’s helping nearly 400 women who’ve been abandoned by their men. Satwinder’s own husband left her in 2015. He now lives in Poland. In Toosa, women don’t leave home alone, even in walled family compounds. Satwinder is slowly breaking through this and has become a symbol against the patriarchal system. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Satwinder Kaur reads messages on her phone at her house in Toosa. She runs a WhatsApp group and Facebook page, and tells rural Punjabi women what paperwork they need to cancel their husbands’ passports. She also organizes protests. In a fierce torrent of Punjabi punctuated with sharp hand movements, she holds up photographs of fantastically lavish weddings produced from plastic bags or passed around on mobile phones and shared on WhatsApp. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Satwinder Kaur reads messages on her phone at her house in Toosa. She runs a WhatsApp group and Facebook page, and tells rural Punjabi women what paperwork they need to cancel their husbands’ passports. She also organizes protests. In a fierce torrent of Punjabi punctuated with sharp hand movements, she holds up photographs of fantastically lavish weddings produced from plastic bags or passed around on mobile phones and shared on WhatsApp. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Satwinder Kaur arrives for a court hearing in the lower court in Jagron on April 22, 2019. She has filed 11 court cases against her husband; it’s hard to be a middle-aged, childless woman whose husband has left her. Her ferocity is in constant battle with her fear. She sends her husband WhatsApp messages every day. She can tell he’s read every one of them because of the little blue check marks, but he hasn’t replied since January. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Satwinder Kaur arrives for a court hearing in the lower court in Jagron on April 22, 2019. She has filed 11 court cases against her husband; it’s hard to be a middle-aged, childless woman whose husband has left her. Her ferocity is in constant battle with her fear. She sends her husband WhatsApp messages every day. She can tell he’s read every one of them because of the little blue check marks, but he hasn’t replied since January. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Baljit Kaur’s police uniform is laid out on her bed at her staff quarters, where she works as an Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) for Punjab Police in Fatehgarh Sahib, Sirhind. Baljit lives two lives. In the first, she’s a policewoman, composed and authoritative in a pressed uniform and red lipstick. In the second, she’s an aging bride, abandoned by her husband and sleeping under sheets printed with red hearts. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Baljit Kaur’s police uniform is laid out on her bed at her staff quarters, where she works as an Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) for Punjab Police in Fatehgarh Sahib, Sirhind. Baljit lives two lives. In the first, she’s a policewoman, composed and authoritative in a pressed uniform and red lipstick. In the second, she’s an aging bride, abandoned by her husband and sleeping under sheets printed with red hearts. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Baljit, 42, was one of four siblings born to an army family in Punjab. She waited for her siblings to settle, so, at age 39, was late to marry. When pushed, she paid a large dowry, even though as a cop, she knew such payments were illegal. “Sometimes she was brave,” said Harpreet Kaur, a fellow officer, “Sometimes Baljit would say…that people would laugh at her because she was a police officer and this thing happened.” (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Baljit, 42, was one of four siblings born to an army family in Punjab. She waited for her siblings to settle, so, at age 39, was late to marry. When pushed, she paid a large dowry, even though as a cop, she knew such payments were illegal. “Sometimes she was brave,” said Harpreet Kaur, a fellow officer, “Sometimes Baljit would say…that people would laugh at her because she was a police officer and this thing happened.” (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Sarbjeet Kaur sews a garment at her house in Gurdaspur. Sarbjeet Kaur’s husband stopped sending money for his daughter’s school fees in 2016, with three months left in the term. Sarbjeet sold her sofa and two cupboards so she could finish. Last year, she sold the gold earrings her parents had given to her daughter – again, for school fees, this time at her new, cheaper school. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Sarbjeet Kaur sews a garment at her house in Gurdaspur. Sarbjeet Kaur’s husband stopped sending money for his daughter’s school fees in 2016, with three months left in the term. Sarbjeet sold her sofa and two cupboards so she could finish. Last year, she sold the gold earrings her parents had given to her daughter – again, for school fees, this time at her new, cheaper school. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Ekampreet, 10, gets ready to go to school at her house. Sarbjeet was married to Daler Singh, who went to South America first, then Mexico. She sold her jewelry for almost $5,000 to help him cross into the United States in late 2010 and borrowed $3,600 from her parents to help him enter Canada in 2014. She wanted her daughter, Ekampreet, to study in Canada, so she pawned her cousins’, aunts’ and friends’ jewelry for $700, too. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Ekampreet, 10, gets ready to go to school at her house. Sarbjeet was married to Daler Singh, who went to South America first, then Mexico. She sold her jewelry for almost $5,000 to help him cross into the United States in late 2010 and borrowed $3,600 from her parents to help him enter Canada in 2014. She wanted her daughter, Ekampreet, to study in Canada, so she pawned her cousins’, aunts’ and friends’ jewelry for $700, too. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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Ekampreet with her mother Sarbjeet Kaur at their house in Gurdaspur. In 2015, Singh asked for a divorce, saying he needed a paper marriage to a Canadian woman so he could stay while the government processed his refugee application. When asked about her father, Ekampreet says only that she wants to ask him what she did wrong and why he left her. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Ekampreet with her mother Sarbjeet Kaur at their house in Gurdaspur. In 2015, Singh asked for a divorce, saying he needed a paper marriage to a Canadian woman so he could stay while the government processed his refugee application. When asked about her father, Ekampreet says only that she wants to ask him what she did wrong and why he left her. (Anushree Fadnavis / REUTERS)

Updated on Dec 11, 2019 04:37 PM IST
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