Deserted by their NRI husbands, these women fought for their rights, and won
Until last year, they were alone in their heartbreak, with only their parents to support them. Then they discovered each other. Deserted by their non-resident Indian (NRI) husbands, these women made a common cause. Last week, they got their first major win when the Regional Passport Office (RPO), Chandigarh, suspended the passports of 14 NRIs for duping their wives.
The women are spearheading the task force group at the RPO here. Their room is full of files that tell tales of betrayal and shattered dreams. But working from their one-room office, these women are giving new hope to others like them. “Apart from using our computer literacy and educational skills, we are guiding scores of girls who call from various corners of the country for help,” says Rupali Gupta as she tells a caller about the documents needed to make a watertight case against her absconding husband.
Strength in unity
It was Rupali, a computer engineer from Bathinda, who first tweeted a message to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi last December. Rupali married Trilochan Goel of Surrey on September 28, 2017, after her parents saw a matrimonial advertisement inserted by him. Three months later, a pregnant Rupali found that he was already married. Goel decamped with their wedding gifts. Last week, his passport was impounded.
“The suspension of passport will result in revoking the visa of these NRI men. It leads to the withdrawal of all legal grounds of the stay of these men in foreign countries and the facilities and rights they enjoy thereof. With the intervention of Indian embassies, they will get a one-time chance to reach back India”, says regional passport officer Sibash Kabiraj.
Inspired by Rupali, other women started tweeting their troubles to the two ministers and the National Commission for Women. It was on December 25, 2017, that they exchanged numbers. Ritu Sharma from Palampur in Himachal Pradesh and Sumera Parkar from Pune met at the NCW, while Yasmeen Kaur, a dentist from Kharar, Amrit Pal Kaur from Budhlada, and Reena Chauhan from Mundri in Kaithal met at the State Commission for NRIs, Punjab, here.
Together we can
The commission in Chandigarh became their rallying point. “Though the tweets did not result in any action and only had people rebuking us for marrying NRIs, it brought us together,” says Ritu Sharma. They named their 60-member group with women from all over the country as Together We Can.
Amrit Pal Kaur, an MSc in information technology, could instantly connect with Rupali for in October 2013 she was duped into marrying Kulpreet Singh, an Australian national who had been married thrice. He left her after a week and sent her divorce papers a year later.
From the last week of March, they made it a point to remain in touch. “We shared our experiences, focused on our vulnerabilities and strengths and realised our education was the biggest weapon,” says Ritu, who is pursuing PhD in biochemistry. Abandoned by her husband, Sanjay Singh, a US national living in Atlanta, Ritu suffered the same trauma of fake promises, pregnancy, and miscarriage.
The women met in Chandigarh in May and approached Kabiraj with the request to suspend the passports of their husbands. Once in Chandigarh, they decided to stay on and work to get justice not merely for themselves, but for many others less educated than them.
The RPO’s decision to suspend the 14 passports gave a boost to the women, who are grateful to NRI commission chairperson justice Rakesh Kumar Garg (retd), who directed the police to register FIRs against the runaway husbands.
Needed, a state fund
Justice Garg says there should be a national commission for NRIs and a state fund for the rehabilitation of such women.
“The embassies should be given a data bank, warning them against such grooms. Even intelligence agencies should pitch in with cases like that of Arampa Kaur, where the husband managed to get another passport issued in Milan,” he says, adding the ministry of external affairs has to play a more active role in getting such men extradited to India.
Kabiraj says there are 12,000 such cases in the RPO in Chandigarh, which covers 24 districts of Punjab and Haryana besides Chandigarh. The Passports Act, 1967, and the passport manual have the provision for revoking or suspending passports of NRI husbands who have been declared proclaimed offenders, or are facing arrest warrants. “They pose a risk to both India and the country they are living in,” he says.
Register such marriages
Manisha Gulati, the chairperson for the Punjab State Women’s Commission, says she will seek action against Punjab Police officials who drag their feet in such cases. Gulati says she plans to meet ambassadors of Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Italy and Germany to apprise them of the suspension of the passports of people living in their countries so that they can be deported fast.
“According to a law in 2013, women getting married to NRIs have to register their marriage with the commission, but to date we have had only one couple doing that,” says Gulati, who plans to raise awareness about this issue.
Meanwhile, the women are planning to continue their battle. As Sumera and Ritu put it, “Had the women before us taken up this fight earlier, we may have been spared this fate.”