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The Rising Trend of Marital Abandonment: A Look into Husbands leaving their Wives in India

In many cases across India, there has been an increasing trend where tens of thousands of women have been abandoned by their husbands who are working overseas. As a result, many women are forced to retreat to their in-laws’ homes and are left with defrauded money based on dowry. Left behind with empty promises, these women are faced with deceit, with many feeling overwhelmed with visa payments and other marital expenses that were used. What is even more difficult about the matter is that original laws put in place to help them accompany their husbands makes it significantly harder to do so.


It is important to focus on the area surrounding this issue, and the considerable factors that are put in place that perpetuate this marital distress even more. Punjab, which is the only state in India with a majority Sikh population, is known for its fertile agricultural land, but it has faced persistent challenges related to unemployment and drug abuse. The prevalence of billboards advertising English-language training centers and visa consulting firms indicates a significant trend of people leaving the state for opportunities abroad. It is common for younger men to compel their older relatives to sell their land in order to finance their emigration plans. However, obvious other problems have occurred per personal anecdotes of farmers in Kotil, a village surrounded by rice and sugar cane fields, detailing the problems the farmers face: high debt, less income and suicide among its residents.


Activists in this region therefore recognized some sort of pattern that is played out with these failed marriages, often indicating a similar formula affecting each woman who has been through something like this in India. As per reports, the scenario typically unfolds in the following manner: Parents make arrangements for their daughter to marry a returning Indian. Despite being prohibited, the practice of dowry payment still persists, and the parents pay it. A grand wedding ensues, filled with several days of feasting, alcohol, and lively Punjabi music. Subsequently, the couple embarks on a honeymoon, funded by the bride's family. Afterward, the husband departs while the wife remains with her in-laws, awaiting her visa. However, the in-laws demand money to facilitate the visa process, which never materializes. The wife, often lacking literacy, is subjected to constant surveillance, leading to psychological harm as her freedom and autonomy are offended.


Turning our heads economically as well, in several instances, men have been found to utilize the dowry funds to engage immigration agents and migrate to prosperous nations like Canada, where Sikhs constitute approximately 2 percent of the population. According to Mr. Garg, the former judge, the men arrive, take advantage of the situation, and depart with the dowry money. Subsequently, they proceed to enter into new marriages in foreign countries as a means to obtain citizenship. This deceptive behavior is characterized by Mr. Garg as an act of betrayal or treachery. It was as stated by Mamatha Raghuveer Achanta, lawyer and founder of the Network of International Legal Activists (Nila), recently mentioned in a interview that “In some cases, wives are abandoned in India: the man marries her, takes the dowry, and never returns. In others, the woman is taken overseas, abused and deserted.”


Operating from Hyderabad, Nila has provided assistance to numerous Indian women who have been abandoned in various locations such as the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, as well as across Europe and the Middle East. Although the exact scale of the abandonment isn’t clear, The Standing Committee on External Affairs released an official report, in which they reported about the NRI Marriage Registration bill. The committee approved the bill subject to the inclusion of certain recommendations made by the committee. Data in the committee report suggests that Punjab alone accounts for more than 14% of all NRI Marriage grievances. This report stated that Between January 1, 2015, and October 31, 2019, a total of 6,094 cases pertaining to grievances in NRI (Non-Resident Indian) marriages were reported and dealt with. The number of complaints varied each year, with 796 reported in 2015, 1,510 in 2016, 1,498 in 2017, and 1,299 in 2018. By October 2019, a total of 991 cases had been reported. The majority of these cases originated from English-speaking western countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. These incidents were so present in India that a guidance booklet titled “ Marriages to Overseas Indians” that was directly published by the country’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Government of India has a variety of chapters and outlines on the legality of these marriages and precautions for the brides.


Along with this, the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019, has received approval from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs in India. Once enacted, this bill will grant Indian passport authorities the authority to impound or revoke passports or travel documents of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who fail to register their marriage within 30 days of getting married, whether the marriage took place in India or abroad. The bill will be applicable to all NRIs who marry either an Indian citizen or another NRI. It does not allow for late registration beyond the initial 30-day period. In cases where the marriage occurs outside India, it must be registered with a designated Marriage Officer, who will be selected from among diplomatic officers in foreign countries. Furthermore, it states that “All Indian states have passed laws making it mandatory to register marriages that occur within the state. However, so far, there is no central law requiring registration of marriages of NRIs solemnized outside India.


The bill aims to fix the problems faced by Indian wives who are deserted by their NRI husbands.” This then showcases a strong improvement into apprehended males who end up leaving the country per their visa motives, which tends to affect their desertion methods. In revolving around this case, activists pushed the Indian government to do more. However, other milestones were made with actions presented by the government of India such as an increase of financial assistance.


Nevertheless, danger still persists these women even when actions are still taking place against their husbands' leave in the family. For example, according to Rakesh Kumar Garg, the former judge who previously led the state commission on the matter, additional risks can exist in these situations. Some women express grievances regarding "being sexually victimized by other relatives of their husbands," as they feel trapped with nowhere else to seek assistance. This is because wives of these estranged marriages end up living with their in-laws house, which leaves them trapped, as Garg stated previously, in a cycle of violence.


Unfortunately, the plight of abandoned Indian women in marriages with overseas Indians continues to be a pressing issue in the country. These women often face not only emotional and psychological distress but also financial exploitation, sexual victimization, and limited avenues for seeking help. The prevalence of such cases, particularly in Punjab, highlights the challenges of unemployment and drug abuse faced by the region. While efforts have been made by activists and the Indian government to address these issues through financial assistance and proposed legislation, further action is needed to protect and empower these vulnerable women. By raising awareness, strengthening legal frameworks, and providing comprehensive support services, steps can be taken to prevent the treacherous exploitation of marriages and ensure the well-being of those affected by abandonment in NRI unions.


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