CHANDIGARH: A quick engagement, followed by a massive wedding, a huge dowry and a honeymoon, after which the NRI husband flies out of India while the wife waits for her visa….. That’s how thousands of Punjabi women describe their plight. According to NGOs working in the Doaba region of Punjab, over 20,000 girls have not seen their husbands after their honeymoon.
“Eighty per cent of the marriages to NRI men in Punjab are doomed, as the husbands never return to take their brides,” says Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, the lone crusader for the helpless NRIwives.
The desire to go overseas gets manifested during the wedding season when parents force girls to marry a man whom she barely knows. If all goes well, the girl’s family feels proud of her Canada-based daughter, but if the marriage fails then the girl becomes a pariah in her own family.
These deserted wives become dependents on their parents and their misery is further compounded if they are pregnant or have children. Ravinder Kaur’s ten-year-old son has never seen his father. It is believed that he went back to Vancouver and remarried.
“We got married in 1995. He was here for four months and then he left promising me that he would send for me. I tried to contact him thereafter but all the addresses were wrong, the relatives were liars and today I am a helpless burden on my family. There is no law to help me or ensure that more women don’t get trapped,” she says, pleading to the girls of Punjab to stop dreaming about the US or Canada.
The phenomenon of runaway grooms and holiday wives has existed for over two decades and affected three generations — parents, daughters and the children. The Punjab-based Lok Bhalai Party estimates that the 20,000 cases of abandoned wives prove that the phenomenon has attained the spectre of organised crime. Over the last few years, the party has taken over 1,100 cases of abandoned wives to court.
Many girls, who go to the US or Canada hoping to live a happy life, realise that their husbands are already married or they end up being treated as domestic servants. “After waiting for my husband for over a year I decided to claim the life I was promised, so I went to his house in Toronto and I was devastated to find that he had two children. Despite the social stigma, I returned home, filed for divorce and started my life afresh because I was too young to stop living,” said a 29-year-old engineer, working in Amritsar.
“Although the alliance was proposed by a family friend, we checked every single detail of the boy and his family, then we arranged a court marriage, and after the formality of visa papers was done, we did the anand karaj (Sikh marriage),” says a retired army officer in Chandigarh whose 25-year-old daughter married an NRI from Canada last December. Baljinder Kaur, who runs Shadi Point, one of the oldest marriage bureaus in Ludhiana, says that due to the large number of NRI fraud marriages she had to double-check the identity of the groom and his family. “We keep a copy of the groom’s passport and residence proof but we always caution the girl’s family to cross-check his education, occupation and most importantly criminal record and marital status,” she adds.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal recently announced his decision to appoint an officer of the rank of ADGP to deal with such cases on top priority, adding that they would soon be settled within a time frame to ensure justice.
According to Chandigarh-based sociologist and women’s rights activist Jyoti Seth, the issue of bride abandonment is rooted in the false notions of wealth and well-being in an NRI life.