Marry and abscond: The NRI game plays on in absence of strong laws

Christina George
The latest NRI amendment bill 2019 that remains to be passed allows compulsory registration of marriage within 30 days in India or abroad. (File)

Indore s Kiran Parwani and her family were joyous when they got a request on a matrimonial site from Kabir Jagwani, a second-generation migrant teaching at London s Cumberland School. It was an ideal match for Kiran, a double Masters in Computers and Business, or so her Sindhi family believed.

Kabir and Kiran began talking, and sometime later Kabir asked Kiran to come to London for registration of their marriage — without her parents — with Kabir s mother saying they would arrange fake parents for her. It was an unusual request because usually, registration happens after the wedding, said 34-year-old Kiran who nonetheless went to London.

Kiran said while returning to India, Kabir s family clearly said the wedding expenses should be entirely borne by the girl s family. In December 2017, a week before the wedding was scheduled, Kabir texted me asking how many suitcases should they bring to take back the gifts they would receive during the wedding..

Kabir Jagwani and Kiran Parwani at their wedding reception in Indore . (Source: Kiran)

"We got married in Indore, after which we went to Goa the next day for a three-day honeymoon on Kabir s insistence as he was to leave for London at the earliest. Soon, my visa was approved and I was to fly three months later. Kabir and his family had by then left with gifts and cash worth Rs 20 lakh, said Kiran.

On March 18, 2018, when Kiran was readying to board the London flight, she got a call from Kabir asking her not to fly. "He asked me not to fly and threatened that the London immigration will arrest me at arrival if I tried to reach him," said Kiran, adding she has that WhatsApp conversation saved. Her father also got a call from Kabir s mother demanding a dowry of Rs 1 crore, said Kiran.

A shattered Kiran tried to call back Kabir only to find that she had been blocked by him. Her parents were also blocked.

It s 2019 and Kiran continues to fight for justice. It took me two months to even register a formal complaint at a police station. Most officials were avoiding filing one calling it a marital dispute. Her cases are pending in family court and a district court in Indore, and, she said, no court has even issued summons or a lookout circular to Kabir.

Cynthia and Raphael at their wedding reception held in Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district. (Source: Cynthia)

Likewise, Chennai s Cynthia, 35, was abandoned by her NRI husband, Raphael, a resident of Singapore in 2013, just after 40 days of marriage. When Cynthia noticed only a few people at the wedding reception at Raphael’s hometown Dindigul, she was told it was because she belonged to a lower caste.

Cynthia said Rapahel, who approached her through a matrimonial website, married her to pay off his debts in Singapore as he had house loans and other loans to pay off. Raphael took Rs 5 lakh as dowry and demanded more money after the wedding. When he was refused for the second time, he physically abused Cynthia and kept her hostage in a room in Singapore. A month later, when Raphael realised that she was pregnant, he sent her back saying he has got a job in Indonesia.

The moment I reached India, Raphael cut me off completely. His parents said they were unaware of his whereabouts. Later, I went to Chennai and found out that he was engaged to another woman without giving me a porce, said Cynthia.

The numbers

Kiran and Cynthia are among the many cases of NRI abandoned wives, also referred to as "honeymoon brides" and "holiday brides", that abound in India.

A protest held by NRI abandoned wives in Punjab. (Source: Cynthia)

According to the National Council of Women (NCW) Chairperson Rekha Sharma, they have recorded at least 2,490 complaints from women against their NRI husbands in the past several years. The number of complaints is increasing every year. There were 425 complaints in 2014, 422 in 2015, 468 in 2016, 528 in 2017 and 445 in 2018, said Sharma.

In Punjab alone, which is termed as the NRI belt of the country, a total of 80 cases have been registered in 2019, said Hardawinder Singh of NRI Wing, Punjab.

What are the laws

According to Sharma, as of now, desertion of wives by NRI men do not amount to a criminal offence and only gives ground for the filing of porce or restitution of conjugal rights. Desertion, however, may come within the ambit of cruelty as stated under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

The latest NRI amendment bill 2019 that remains to be passed allows compulsory registration of marriage within 30 days in India or abroad. Similarly, the Amendment to the Passport Act would empower the passport authority to impound or revoke the passport of an NRI if it is brought to notice that he has not registered the marriage. The Amendments to CrPC, 1973 empowers the courts for issuance of summons and warrants through the specially designated website of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The legal loopholes

After losing hope in India, Kiran had approached the London police that assured her to investigate if the Indian authorities inform them. She also wrote to Kabir s school principal whom she had met while in London for the marriage registration. Soon after, Kabir s father, however, threatened to put Kiran in jail if she tried to reach out to anyone in London.

Kiran with Kabir and his parents after their registered marriage in London. (Source: Kiran)

A year and a half later, on July 9, a porce decree was sent by Kabir on the ground of her inappropriate behaviour."

Merely a case of Section 498A, which covers cruelty by husband or his relative is not enough. A case of 420 of the IPC should also be added, so that the police can reach out to other countries and the process of passport impounding and issuance of lookout notice (LOC) can begin, Kiran added.

Cynthia, whose child is now five, said awareness at the state level is very poor. The police don t understand cases like these and don t file a chargesheet or gather proper documents to submit to the court.

After fighting for justice for five years now, an FIR was registered in February 2019 with the help of NCW but no chargesheet has been filed yet by the police, said Cynthia.

What needs to be done

Sharma, who has been looking at such cases since the formation of an NRI cell at the NCW in 2009, said it is easier to get a porce in foreign countries where you need not necessarily consult the wife In India, she said, We need a law that does not allow the absconding husband to get an easy porce should be implemented in coordination with foreign countries. .

She also said that along with the registration of the marriage, desertion within a certain period without a porce or any communication should be made a criminal offence.

Women protesting for a stronger NRI bill in Punjab. (Source: Cynthia)

As cases of NRI fraud is handled collectively by Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Women s Ministry, and NCW, many a time the process of justice is delayed and lost in transit. We are looking into making the process simpler for the victims, added Sharma.

President of Team Still Alive, an NGO that fights for women abandoned by NRI men, Amarjeet Singh said, Some level of scrutiny should be exercised by matrimonial websites as well because it all begins there.

Amarjeet added that the accused should also be charged under IPC Section 375 (rape). A separate court should be allotted for NRI cases to fastrack pending cases.