Home / Politics / Policy /  Spurt in cases of marriage fraud behind govt’s push for NRI bill

A quick word search in the Bharatiya Janata Party manifesto released on Monday shows the word “women" is mentioned at least 43 times in the document. There are many promises to empower women but strangely, the manifesto doesn’t seem to make any reference to a bill introduced in Parliament in February that makes it mandatory to register marriages between a non-resident Indian (NRI) and an Indian citizen.

Titled the Registration of Marriage or Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019, the bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj—prompted by increasing numbers of reports of Indian women being trapped in fraudulent marriages with NRIs.

According to lawyers and law enforcement officials, a large number of victims are from Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala. Within Punjab, a large number of cases have surfaced in the Doaba region—famous for its links with Canada, the US and the UK. Many people from this region had migrated in the 1950s, 1960s, and the 1970s. Nursing dreams of migrating overseas or marrying off their daughters and sons to families settled abroad come naturally to the families here—one of the main reasons giving rise to the phenomenon of “holiday brides" or “honeymoon brides"—as law enforcement authorities like to describe it.

“People here have big dreams of sending their children abroad or marrying their daughters into well-to-do families from the US, UK, Canada or Europe. A son-in-law settled abroad is a status symbol," said social worker Jagtar Kaur. “Matches are set up by relatives living in Punjab or matchmakers. In either case, no one really does any background checks. The girl is married off and then it comes to light that the boy is already married and has no intention of taking his Indian bride to the country he lives in."

The findings of Kaur, a resident of Banga town in Jalandhar, is similar to that of Sudhiksha Bhatia, 29, a research scholar at Panjab University’s Centre for Women Studies and Development.

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“The bride and her family wait in hope that she will be taken away by the groom but in most cases it does not happen. Once the groom leaves, there is no communication from him, no response to phone calls or emails," said Bhatia. “I know of cases where affected families do not want to talk about the marriages gone wrong because they see it as a loss of face in society. In many cases, the bride wants to register a complaint or talk about the problem, but the family does not let her, not wanting to jeopardize chances of a rapprochement."

The ministry of external affairs told Parliament that 4,307 complaints of Indian women being deserted by their NRI husbands were received and addressed between 2016 and 2018. In the “statement of objects and reason" of the bill, that only has four sections, Swaraj says that given the increasing number of cases of fraudulent marriages getting reported, “it is necessary that the marriage solemnized or otherwise in India or outside India shall be registered within a period of 30 days from the date of marriage".

According to a government official: “Registration of the marriage in India allows the affected person to seek justice under Indian laws."

The legislation calls for amending the Passports Act of 1967 to allow the cancellation of the citizenship and travel document of the NRI married to an Indian citizen or another NRI, if the marriage is not registered within 30 days. This could affect the residency status of the NRI husband, if he has applied for one. If the NRI husband is abroad on a travel document, it would affect his stay, two other government officials said, requesting anonymity.

The statement said: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this code or any other law in force—where a person summoned by a court under this code and the court is satisfied that the summons issued could not be served—the court may issue summons along with the substance of the information by uploading on the specially designated website of the ministry of external affairs of the government of India.

“If the person, who has been summoned, fails to appear before the court, an arrest warrant can be issued and posted on the website. If the NRI still doesn’t show up at the designated time and venue, the next step would be to upload the notice pronouncing him as a proclaimed offender," it added.

Under the new bill, the court can attach any property of the “proclaimed offender". Being named a “proclaimed offender" also affects the person’s record, especially if he is looking to apply for a citizenship of another country, the first official cited above said. “It is a far reaching piece of legislation and we are hopeful it will be passed soon."

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