The proposed Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019, has been designed to act as a legal weapon for Indian women who were married to NRI husbands, but were subsequently deserted. The wives, so far, had no legal method in the Indian judicial system to book their absconding NRI husbands and bring them to justice.

In view of this, the government of India, nominated the ministry of external affairs as its nodal ministry for this bill, to add teeth to the existing legal system to nab, book and punish absconding NRI husbands and to provide justice, including adequate financial support, to victims (deserted brides).

In the absence of an appropriate law under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to deal with such cases—given the NRI status of the husbands, exact legal action against them depended upon the wishes of countries of their residence—the perpetrators were booked under section 498A of IPC and the Dowry Act. Also, the requests for the husband’s deportation have been rejected by the foreign countries in many cases.

Additionally, the National Commission for Women and state commissions for women have very limited or negligible powers to take any strict police actions against such NRI husbands. This law needs to give power to support systems, such as government departments, which seek to protect women’s rights. Additionally, a compliance law should be in place (repatriation), which is an agreement between the country of the victim’s residence and India (where she belongs).

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Brides deserted by their NRI husbands have to face multiple problems on account of their marital status, financial difficulty and maintenance, upbringing of children, property ownership, legal inheritance, mental and physical well-being among others. Reporting of crimes cannot solely depend on the victim’s will to complain. Apart from the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), (that is applicable in India) and the Dowry Act, the victim should be protected by the government welfare department in the country where she lives. Every woman of Indian origin who lives in any part of the world should be under the protection of the Indian PWDVA.

As per an estimate, India has more than 50,000 registered cases against NRI husbands and many deserted brides are not even aware how to initiate action against their NRI husbands.

Now, the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019, proposes: 1) Compulsory registration of marriage by an NRI within 30 days from the date of marriage. It also seeks to amend the Passport Act, 1967, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; 2) Empower the passport authority to impound or revoke a passport or travel document of an NRI, if it is brought to his/her notice that the NRI has not registered his marriage within a period of 30 days from the date of marriage; 3) Empower the courts for issuance of summons, warrants through the specifically designated website of the external affairs ministry; and 4) Attachment of properties, both movable and immovable, belonging to a proclaimed offender.

This initiative was the need of the hour, considering the magnitude of hardship faced by thousands of women. Most NRI husbands, who desert their wives and abscond, enjoy their lives undeterred, but after this bill getting converted into an Act, the scene will change. Under the influence of legal safeguards for wives, and the fear of the passport being impounded/confiscated and property attached, many NRIs will dare not commit such crimes, or if they dare to do, they will face the heat. Women of Indian origin should have the protection of Indian laws regardless of the country she lives in and the embassy of the host country should take all measures to send her back to India and deport her husband.

Ranjana Kumari is director, Centre for Social Research.

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