Marriages to Non Resident Indians (NRIs) – A Wake Up Call – Legal Views

Sometimes these foreign dreams come at a cost of innocent lives and the future of the spouses who travel to a foreign land along with these NRIs. In some cases they do not even have to travel abroad to get harassed as their dreams get shattered while they are still in India.

Marriages to Overseas Indians: A Wake Up Call
In many of the Indian states and regions marriage of a son or a daughter abroad is taken to be a status symbol. Sometimes such marriages are taken as an easy way out to enter a foreign country for a comfortable life and lucrative future. But as it is said, all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes these foreign dreams come at a cost of innocent lives and the future of the spouses who travel to a foreign land along with these NRIs. In some cases they do not even have to travel abroad to get harassed as their dreams get shattered while they are still in India. In the eagerness of not to let go of such lucrative marriage offer, the families totally ignore even the common cautions that are observed in traditional matchmaking. A number of problems are emerging with the NRI marriages. The problem is not just due to opportunistic NRIs, but also because of the parents who trust someone whom they hardly know.

NRI marriages’, as generally understood, are between an Indian woman from India and an Indian man residing in another country (thus NRI – non-resident Indian), either as Indian citizen (when he would legally be an ‘NRI’) or as citizen of that other country (when he would legally be a PIO – person of Indian origin). The problem is especially related to Indian women who get trapped in deceptive matrimony with overseas Indians. They also ignore that in case of things going wrong in an NRI marriage, the woman’s recourse to justice is greatly constrained and complex. The aggravated risk in such marriage is the woman is being ‘isolated’ far away from home in an alien land, facing language constraints, communication problems, lack of proper information about the local criminal justice, police and legal system. The problem is manifold and it incorporates issues like dowry and various other types of harassment of married women in foreign countries, marriages of convenience, concealment of earlier existing marriage by the husband before marrying an Indian woman. Another very important issue which needs attention is lack of social security faced by an Indian woman in a foreign country when the marriage is not working. The situation is worsened by lack of support network of friends and family and monetary constraints which leaves the deserted wife completely helpless and stranded.

Here is the list of some of the typical instances of the issues that could arise in NRI marriages:

  • Woman married to an NRI who is abandoned even before being taken by her husband to the foreign country of his residence.
  • Woman brutally battered, assaulted, abused both mentally and physically, malnourished, confined and ill treated and forced to flee or was forcibly sent back.
  • 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.
  • The menace of ‘honeymoon brides’ is a big problem to deal with as over 20,000 brides have not seen their husbands after their honeymoon.
  • Woman who reached the foreign country of her husband’s residence and waited at the international airport there only to find that her husband would not turn up at all.
  • NRI husband was already married in the other country to another woman.
  • Husband had given false information on any or all of the following: his job, immigration status, earning, property, marital status and other material particulars, to con her into the marriage.
  • Woman who approached the court, either in India or in the other country, for maintenance or divorce but repeatedly encountered technical legal obstacles related to jurisdiction of courts, service of notices or orders, or enforcement of orders or learnt of the husband commencing simultaneous retaliatory legal proceeding in the other country.

These problems have emphasized the requirement of provisions to protect these women and very importantly making them aware of their rights and social security means that are available for them.

There is a need to provide for the following provisions for the welfare of the victims:

  • Simplification of procedure for quick issuance of visa by foreign Missions in India to deserted women to enable them to contest the proceedings filed by NRI / PIO husband in a foreign land.
  • Introduction of a system of cross check / consent, when a NRI/PIO husband wants to cancel sponsorship of his spouse’s visa. Cancellation should not be permitted as long as dependency of the aggrieved women continues as per Indian law so as to enable her to continue to stay and contest proceedings in the foreign land without being deported and thus deprived of the opportunity to contest the case.
  • Grant of ex-parte divorce by foreign courts be barred in the case of marriages solemnized in India as per Indian law.
  • Procedural delay/low priority to issue LOC/RCN against accused NRI/PIO husband in cases of marital discord needs to be addressed.
  • Cases of domestic discord to be included in the scope of extradition treaties. (219th Report of the Law Commission recommends inclusion of cases of domestic discord within their scope).
  • Difficulty and consequent delay in serving judicial processes issued by Indian courts through the Indian Missions abroad to be addressed.
  • Simplification of procedure to facilitate extradition/deportation of errant husband and cancellation of passport to face civil/criminal trial in India especially if judicial processes of Indian courts are not responded to.
  • Need to develop mechanisms to enable quick tracking of NRIs/PIOs in case of desertion. Funds may also need to be allocated for location of such persons through agencies available for the purposes.
  • Recognition of NCW as an authorized body to directly make applications before foreign courts and foreign missions on behalf of aggrieved women where so required.
  • Building awareness.
  • Designating nodal officers/department for dealing with NRI issues.
  • Sensitization of police and authorities for registration of FIR & other NRI issues.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) has proposed that women who marry Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) should be issued a second passport, which will remain with the woman’s parents so that they can help her to return in case her first passport is snatched by an abusive husband.
A copy of this second passport — which will be a “combined” document containing details of both the woman and her NRI husband, and will also serve as “proof” of their marriage — will be deposited with the Indian mission in the country where the woman goes to live, WCD Minister Krishna Tirath told The Indian Express.  The second passport, the minister said, will allow “the parents to intervene and help their girl. A copy (of this passport) should remain with the Indian embassies abroad so that they have a record, and are able to help the women in need”.  “Since we started NRI Cell in 2009, we have been able to solve 110 cases through positive intervention. We are focusing on three states – Gujarat, Kerala and Punjab – where cases of women deserted by NRI husbands are more,” said Khanna.

Khanna said that many women are not aware that most Indian missions or embassies have help desks to assist them. There is also a scheme for legal and financial assistance to Indian women deserted by their overseas Indian spouses,” said Khanna, who opined that National Domestic Violence Helpline in the US is one of the best help-lines as it also provides assistance to women in local languages of the immigrants.
Once the missions get information about a woman in distress, “they will also be directed to keep an eye on these families”, Tirath added.

Here it would be relevant to mention that the Ministry of External Affairs in January, 2007 released a guidance booklet- Marriage to Overseas Indians. The booklet serves as a guide for avoiding unfavourable circumstances in overseas marriage and also enumerates the precautions that shall be taken by the bride and the Indian Laws relating to registration of such marriages.
Though matrimonial disputes are already intricate areas for legal system, and what is making the situation even more complex is that there is absence of uniform civil laws in India as the personal laws of different religions are different and  inter-religious marriages make it all the more difficult to deal with. So, in this existing difficult state of affairs, the legal complications get amplified when in a marriage a foreign country and its legal system get involved. These marriages have to then enter the sphere of private international law where there is conflict of laws of different countries, which makes the issues therein a lot more complex. Solutions to these problems need to be looked into.

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