The parents of a girl are forced to shell out a handsome amount for a suitable boy. Even after the marriage the extortion continues, on one pretext or the other. The husband and in-laws inflict physical violence on the bride. She is beaten, forced to do menial chores and sometimes even denied food. Often the girl ends her life when pushed to the edge. When the girl or her parents garner enough courage to complain, they are accused of filing complaints with the motive of personal vendetta. The courts, instead of being sympathetic, callously observe that by misuse of the law on cruelty to married women, a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The experience is even more harrowing when the coveted NRI catch, after consummating the marriage, flees overseas, abandoning his wife to her fate.
Can India remain a mute witness to its daughters getting trapped in fraudulent “honeymoon" marriages, which are deviously planned by unscrupulous men armed with a passport, and green card or foreign work permit? It was against this very backdrop that the government introduced the “The Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019" in Rajya Sabha. If an NRI fails to register his marriage within 30 days, his passport can be impounded or revoked.
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There is no denying that the bill has an altruistic aim: To create more accountability and offer greater protection against exploitation of Indian women by their NRI spouses. The bill envisages registration of marriages by NRIs, amendment of the Passports Act 1967, and amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973.
However, the biggest challenge in legal proceedings is serving summons and notices, without which the case cannot proceed. On the one hand, the bride in India has no information about her husband’s overseas address, residence or workplace. On the other, frequent changes in employment and residence by the man, further entangle the issue. The bill, by using advancements in technology and service of summons through a website has abridged this lengthy process of tracing out address particulars. The bill also empowers courts to attach movable and immovable properties of “proclaimed offenders", usually the husband who despite warrants, fails to appear before courts. My experience as member NCW (National Commission for Women) has shown that properties are owned in the name of the parents of the “NRI". All they need to do is make a publication in the newspaper disowning their son, while maintaining communication with him.
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Undoubtedly, the bill empowers the passport authorities. However, what we overlook is the fact that the authorities will need details of his passport, about which the honeymoon wife is usually totally unaware. The intent is noble, but without proper implementation the bill will remain simply a piece of paper, like the many other laws legislated for the protection of women.
Charu Wali Khanna is a lawyer and a former member of the National Commission for Women.