A significant number of Indian brides find themselves ensnared in a marriage scam, resulting in financial hardship and abandonment. As per a petition filed in 2018 by eight victims, over 40,000 women have been deceived into marrying Non-Resident Indian (NRI) men. The Indian government, between 2015 and 2019, addressed over 6,000 complaints related to NRI men.
As per the Times report, one of the victims, Jagdeep Kaur, hails from the village of Akalgarh in Punjab. Her family bestowed a dowry of $8,500 (approx. 12830 AUD) upon Sukhminder Singh and his family. Additionally, Jagdeep’s family gifted expensive gold, clothes, and furniture, even resorting to a loan to cover the expenses. Their aspiration was for Jagdeep to lead a better life abroad through her marriage to Sukhminder, a resident of Germany.
However, merely a month after their wedding, Sukhminder returned to Germany to resume his restaurant job, leaving Jagdeep behind. He assured her that he would arrange the necessary paperwork for her to join him in Europe, but this promise remained unfulfilled.
Over the years, Sukhminder made infrequent visits to India, during which Jagdeep had limited opportunities to meet him. Despite the circumstances, Jagdeep remains legally married to Sukhminder. However, in 2017, she discovered that he had another wife in Germany and was the father of two children.
Shocked and at a loss, Jagdeep expressed her feelings, stating, “I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.” In response to her ordeal, Jagdeep has taken legal action by filing cases against Singh and his family members in the area’s Judicial Magistrate Court, charging them with cruelty, fraud, and cheating.
The desire for a better future for their daughters often leads many Indian families to place high hopes in NRI sons-in-law, leading them to spend substantial amounts on dowries. However, Mamatha Raghuveer Achanta, the founder of the Network Of International Legal Activists (NILA), points out that families often fail to verify the groom’s credentials, resulting in numerous Indian women being abandoned by their husbands.
Reeta Kohli, a senior lawyer at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, describes these women as virtual “bridal widows” who do not experience the life of a partner. Some even find themselves working as domestic helpers at their in-laws’ homes while awaiting their husbands’ return. Unfortunately, such circumstances often lead to abuse and exploitation.
Vidya Ramachandran, a PhD candidate at Oxford University studying women abandoned by NRI husbands, echoes this sentiment. She has interviewed many women who claim to have suffered abuse and dowry harassment from their in-laws.
Satwinder Kaur Satti, a prominent figure in the fight against NRI husbands who deceive their wives, shares her personal experience as a victim of a fraudulent marriage. However, not all women are as fortunate. Apart from facing the stigma of abandonment, they struggle to find new partners as they cannot remarry until they obtain a divorce.
Scammed brides have the option to file grievances under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which can result in a jail term of up to three years and a fine. In cases of abuse, women can seek justice under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, aiming to secure compensation and the right to reside in their matrimonial home.
According to Reeta Kohli, some local courts have ordered husbands to provide monthly assistance to abandoned brides. However, it is rare for these payments to be received by the women in question.
Ms. Kohli, in an interview with TIME, expressed the arduous nature of obtaining maintenance and justice in such cases, stating, “When it comes to getting maintenance, or any sort of justice in such cases, it becomes a Herculean task.”
Experts have also emphasised the need for the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indians Bill to be enacted. This proposed bill would require all marriages involving NRIs to be registered with a local authority within 30 days, granting authorities the power to revoke passports if individuals fail to comply. Furthermore, it would enable the seizure of property for “proclaimed offenders” who do not appear in court.
In March 2020, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs approved the bill but recommended amendments to make it more comprehensive, including registering additional information from NRI men, such as passport details and foreign addresses, among other measures. However, despite the committee’s approval, the bill has yet to become law after three years.
Meanwhile, Jagdeep Kaur continues to await justice. In February 2020, her husband was declared a “proclaimed offender” by the magisterial court in Jagraon due to his failure to appear in court for nearly two years. Indian authorities have also issued a lookout circular against him, which means he can be arrested if he returns to India. Additionally, his Indian passport has been revoked. However, Jagdeep has not received the $8,500 (approx. 12830 AUD) dowry her family paid, nor any other compensation.
Although Sukhminder was ordered to pay $123 (approx. 185 AUD) per month to his wife, he has not fulfilled this obligation. Jagdeep’s lawyer is now pursuing the seizure of Sukhminder’s family home in West Ludhiana. Presently, Jagdeep works as a children’s tutor and earns a mere $40 (approx. 60 AUD) per month. Her father, Jit Singh, a former Indian Air Force officer, provides significant financial support, including covering the expenses of the court cases against her husband. However, Jit’s concerns for Jagdeep’s future increase due to his old age and various factors.
Jit expressed his worries, stating, “What will happen to my daughter after my death? This thought is killing me inside.” Jagdeep shares these concerns and adds, “I’ve lost faith in everything now. What I want is justice. I want him to pay me what I had given him and his family in dowry and compensation so that I can live the rest of my life without being dependent on anyone.”