Blog, stories and articles on personal issues and challenges faced by South Asians and Non Resident Indians (NRIs)

Indian brides seek protection from abusive grooms


Sonal Agarwal says her disfigured face is a constant reminder of the most terrifying night of her life – her wedding night.

My husband just went crazy. He said he wanted to kill me and lashed out at me with a knife and cut my face.” said Sonal, tugging a blue scarf covering her head to hide slash wounds on her left cheek.

The 22-year-old student from the north Indian city of Chandigarh thought she was heading for a prosperous new life in the West with a British-born Indian doctor after he chose her from scores of women who replied to his ad seeking a bride.

But after leaving her family and homeland to live in the U.K., Sonal found her new husband was a fraud.

“He was mentally sick and wasn’t a doctor and didn’t have a job. His family tricked me and now my life is finished,” she said.

Women’s groups say every year hundreds of starry-eyed girls seeking a better life in the West are duped into wedlock by men of Indian origin living in diaspora – in countries like the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia – mostly for money.

“Thousands of Indian men in the West come here and advertise in matrimonials every year,” said Yogesh Mehta from the National Commission for Women, a government body for women’s rights.

“While many are honest about who they are, there are also a lot who lie about their jobs, economic and marital status often to get the dowry,” he added.

Dowries – often jewelry, expensive clothing, cars and money – are given by the bride’s family to the groom and his parents, traditionally to ensure the bride will be comfortable in her new home.

The custom, outlawed in India more than four decades ago but still widely practiced, is often exploited with the groom’s family demanding more money in return for not abusing the bride.

“CHEAT” MARRIAGES

Women’s groups say the number of women marrying men of Indian origin living overseas or Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) is rising proportionately as the Indian population overseas increases.

Consequently, there are an increasing number of complaints from women who are victims of fraud or “cheat” marriages.

“Everyday we get around three complaints just to our ministry alone from women who are victims of these marriages,” said one official from the ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

“It’s a serious issue which needs to be tackled as some of the stories of what happens to these girls can be quite shocking,” the official added.

Very often the women go abroad after the wedding only to find themselves abandoned with no one turn to, no money, no ability to speak the local language and no knowledge of the norms and customs of the alien country.

Other women tell tales of being battered or kept prisoner in the home and treated like domestic workers. Some even find their new husband is already married to someone else.

There are also cases of “holiday brides” – women abandoned in India within days or weeks of marriage with the husband promising to return once visa arrangements have been made for his wife, but never actually doing so.

There are no accurate numbers on how many fraudulent marriages take place, but some reports say India’s northern state of Punjab, which has a large community overseas, has so far registered 15,000 cases alone.

Other states like Gujarat and Kerala have also seen cases.

But activists say the number of deceived brides is under-reported with many unwilling to speak out, fearing the shame and stigma associated with being a divorced or separated woman in traditional Indian society.

GREENER PASTURES

In many parts of India, a match for their daughter with an Indian living abroad is coveted by parents lured by the prospect of greener pastures for the entire family.

Eager not to let go of such lucrative offers, the families often ignore the common cautions that are observed in traditional Indian matchmaking.

“If a marriage proposal comes from a man in India, then checks are made about him and his family through mutual acquaintances and other ways,” said Sneha Singh, a social worker and victim of a fraud marriage to an Indian living abroad.

“But when it’s an NRI no one bothers to check anything because he is from the West so he is thought to be rich and respectable.”

Activists say social awareness campaigns must be held advising families to check a groom’s background – perhaps through his voter registration card, social security number, employment record and tax returns – which would show his true status.

They also argue legislation must be reviewed as even those brides brave enough to seek justice get entangled in a web of legal complexities due to the different laws pertaining to marriage in India and the country where the NRI husband is from.

Activists suggest bilateral pacts with countries with a large Indian population to facilitate recognition and enforcement of foreign divorce decrees, child custody orders and property rights.

India must also make it compulsory for marriages to be registered which will give more legal protection to the duped bride, women’s groups add.

By Nita Bhalla. Source: Reuters

NRI Divorce® 2006-2010