Around 3,500 cases of distressed women being deserted by their NRI (Non-Resident Indian) husbands were received by various Indian missions abroad between 2015 and 2017. It was this that led to the promulgation of a law recently by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), according to which all NRI marriages solemnised in India have to be registered in India within 48 hours.

Sources in the ministry said that the worrying numbers coming from various Indian missions led the ministry to bring in a stringent law that would protect the rights of Indian women abroad.

A senior official at the ministry said: “Various complaints of women being deserted by their NRI husbands had been flooding the ministry. Sometimes, the husband does not come back to take his wife with him and she is left to fend for herself here in India. In fact, we have received complaints where even the in-laws refuse to keep them. These women were promised during the marriage that they would even be taken by their husbands to the country they were settled in. On several occasions, complaints of ill-treatment and harassment by their husbands abroad have also come in.”

“Following such complaints, Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development, decided to bring in a law that would compel all NRI marriages solemnised in India to be registered within 48 hours of the marriage or else, a penalty of Rs 5 per day would be applied,” the official said.

Even complaints of dowry-related cases have been received in NRI marriages where the wife was ill-treated or harassed by the husband and his family because the girl’s family could not fulfil the dowry demands. According to information provided by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to the Lok Sabha, in 2015, it received 796 complaints of harassment, ill-treatment and dowry-related complaints. This increased in 2016 to around 1,500 complaints, and in 2017, the number of complaints for such cases was 1,186.

Earlier this week, Maneka Gandhi had said, “All NRI marriages have to be registered within 48 hours of the marriage solemnised in India or else their visas and passport would not be issued. We are also working towards creating a central database of all marriages to track down offenders with ease for which orders are being issued to all registrars.”

Senior advocate and women’s right activist Abha Singh told The Sunday Guardian, “It is a very lengthy process to get a marriage registered in India. It takes two months to get things done. Let her (Maneka Gandhi) streamline these processes first and then talk about registration of a marriage in 48 hours. On the other hand, any person marrying an NRI should get their marriages registered anyway since it helps them to get benefits. As lawyers, we have been handling several cases where women are ill-treated and deserted by their husbands and justice needs to be given to these distressed women.”

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had earlier constituted the Integrated Nodal Agency (INA) with representations from Ministries of Home Affairs, External Affairs and Law and Justice. The INA provides for a timely, single-window solution to the problems of affected women and monitoring of the welfare measures being undertaken in this regard. The amount of legal and financial assistance to distressed Indian women has also been increased to US$4,000 per case.