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Open Features: Dreams To Nightmares

Kul Bhushan, journalist, editor and author, highlights scandalous fraud which is ruining thousands of lives.

Dreaming of the good life in Britain, Satwant Kaur landed at Heathrow Airport, London, to start her new life with her husband away from her tiny village in Punjab. She found him waiting near the gate. Happy to meet her, he took her suitcase and passport telling her to wait wjile he went to get his car to go home.

He never returned.

The distraught bride waited and waited. In tears, she sought the help of some Sikh staff at Heathrow. She had no idea of her husband's address. Nowhere to go, the Sikhs took her to the nearest Gurudwara at Southhall. The community tried to locate her husband without success. Then they re-applied for her passport, raised some money for her ticket and arranged for her to return home. For no fault of hers, she is abandoned.

This is just one of the 15,000 marriages of NRI grooms and Indian brides that turned dreams into nightmares. The often repeated tragedy: an NRI boy lands in Punjab, marries a local girl, pockets the cash dowry and leaves for Britain - never doing anything to get his wife over who waits in vain. Often, these new brides find after their arrival in Britain, the United States or Canada that their husbands have already got a local 'live-in' or a wife and children too. When challenged, they claim that their parents forced them to marry an Indian hoping that he would give up his live-in partner or divorce his wife.

The anguished NRI widows and their furious parents suffer with NRI marriage frauds. To address these problems, a workshop was held by the Ministry of Overseas Indians and the National Commission for Women (NCW) with NGOs in Chandigarh recently. Many horror stories of NRI widows were related and a number of solutions were discussed as Punjab has 15,000 such registered cases and NRI husbands have abandoned an estimated 30,000 Indian women. The workshop was shocked to learn that 1,200 women from Punjab are living in shelters across Britain.

The NRI marriage racket also involves Indian grooms. Many young men see their marriage with an NRI girl - literally! - a passport to the good life abroad. These growing number of 'passport weddings' enjoin an Indian and a NRI holding British, American and Canadian citizenships. Once they get their foreign passports, arrive on the desired foreign soil, many of these 'con artists' resort to trying to extract more dowry and the females crying false allegations of dowry harassment.

The NCW chairperson Ms Girija Vyas called for establishing women's cells in Indian embassies abroad to tackle the offences in NRI weddings. She also pointed out the need to enhance support systems for women trapped in distress situations in alien lands. The US State Department has issued an advisory long back on US Citizens of Indian origin who came to India to marry but were charged with crimes related to dowry. The Canadian Embassy is also citied a growing number of Indian-Canadians involved in martial frauds and dowry abuse. The British High Commissions in India have been active in dealing with such cases for along time and have repeatedly expressed their reservations about these crimes.

The Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs fully recognises the urgent need to safeguard unsuspecting brides, and their parents seeking marriage alliances with overseas Indians. The Ministry is developing policies for gender and marriage issues; setting up an advisory group and overseas Indian centres in the US, the Gulf and Malaysia to provide legal, medical and social counselling for victims of failed marriages and a helpline.

The Ministry has published a booklet on 'Marriages to Overseas Indians' offering guidelines to avoid these matrimonial horrors. But the publication has been roundly criticized in the NRI world especially the United States. A spokesperson for Save Indian Family Movement in the US maintained that the booklet suggests that NRIs are cruel, arrogant and frauds. Moreover, it only mentions women's rights but not any rights for men.

NCW has committed itself to draft comprehensive legislation to tackle offences in NRI marriages by November this year. This will be done after more regional workshops to be organised in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi to cover the special circumstances in these states. These laws will have teeth only if they can be enforced in foreign countries of the spouses of NRI marriages - mostly Britain, Canada and USA. So bilateral; treaties need to be signed with these countries. But the marriages go on. A practical solution is for the prospective Indian brides or grooms to make inquiries about the martial status and bone fide of the spouses with the overseas Indian associations, cultural organizations, sports and women's clubs if their database is compiled and publicized in India. Thus NRI community leaders can turn the tide for brides like Satwant Kaur.

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