‘Any NRI who abandons his wife should be punished with his property in India being confiscated’.

 

As many as 200 Indian women abandoned by Non-Resident Indians (NRI) have appealed to the government to introduce time-bound prosecution of men who abandon their wives and leave the country. After being abandoned by her NRI husband, advocate Zubi Zaidi, a 30-year-old woman, has been at the forefront of the battle being fought by 200 odd women who have gone through similar injustice at the hands of NRI men who left after marrying Indian women.

Under the banner of Soch Foundation, Zaidi has constituted a data bank of 200 such cases where Indian women were betrayed by their NRI husbands. Zaidi told The Sunday Guardian: “These young girls are from different states and communities. Their stories have a similar outline and yet every case is different. They were married to men who seemed genuine, were settled in some other country and their families were looking for brides in India. All of them were told they will go and live abroad with their husbands. While for some it never happened, for others, going abroad did not end so well.”

Busting stereotypes around such cases, Zaidi said, “These girls do not come from poor families whose parents married them off to NRI men because they were after money or status. Most of these women had careers and hail from good families. In our database, we have details of everything that went down with them, evidence and FIRs.” Zaidi herself worked in an MNC and hails from a Lucknow-based land-owning family. She started studying law only after her husband sent her a divorce notice when he left India in 2014 and never came back.

Narrating her tale, Zaidi said, “My uncle had assured my parents of the credentials of this man and his family. So my family had no reasons to be sceptical. They trusted him and married me off. I did go and live in the United Arab Emirates, where my husband’s parents lived, for a few months, only to be physically harassed. It was after I was abandoned back home in India that I got to know that my husband married me because he needed money and his parents had denied him help. He also had an American wife who lived in the US. He married me, took all the gifts and money, stayed with me in UAE for a few months and when we came back to India, he vanished, leaving a divorce notice behind.”

Now, fighting for time-bound prosecution in such cases, Zaidi, along with the 200 women whom she represents, has sent letters and sought a meeting with the Home Minister. “We were given an appointment, but the Home Minister had to postpone the meeting because former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was admitted to hospital; so I am waiting for a second appointment now,” Zaidi said.

Explaining what kind of help they seek from the government, Zaidi said, “First and foremost, we need to put a time frame within which such cases must be concluded because the delay makes it convenient for defected men to continuously escape prosecution. Second, any NRI who abandons his wife should be punished with his property in India being confiscated.”

In February this year, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had announced that changes would be made in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) allowing confiscation of the property of NRI men for deserting their wives and for not responding to repeated notices issued to them. The proposal also allowed that if three such notices had been served and the person did not appear, it would be assumed that he was evading summons and would be treated as an absconder. The enforcement agencies will be authorised to attach the property of such persons and their families.

After several inter-ministerial deliberations between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) along with the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), some progress was made earlier this month when the MEA revoked the passports of five men who had failed to respond to Look Out Circulars (LoCs) that were released on the ministry’s website following complaints from abandoned wives. WCD minister Maneka Gandhi has also proposed to make it mandatory for NRI men to register their marriage within 24 hours of their wedding with an Indian woman.

Commenting on these initiatives, Zaidi said, “This gives us much hope. In my case, there has been no progress beyond registration of FIR. There are many such women. But now, we have seen MEA revoke passports of a few men. We hope more defected men are brought before the law. As far as registration of marriage is concerned, the registration should not be limited to just a marriage certificate, but proper details of the man, his family in India and his whereabouts abroad should be duly recorded so that the men know that they can be tracked if they choose to defect.”

The government has also announced to start a dedicated portal for Indian women across the world to report distress online, conveniently. As per data available with the government, 275 complaints of fraudulent marriage were received at 12 Indian missions abroad from 2011-12 to 2014-15. According to a paper published by the New Jersey based-NGO Manavi, there were 12,000 abandoned women living in Gujarat in 2004, while a 2007 study estimated 25,000 wives of NRIs being deserted in Punjab. The Regional Passport Office in Punjab suspended the passports of seven NRI men.

However, observers have pointed out that suspending passports does affect lives of the absconding men abroad, but due to zero cases of prosecution, the challenges to bring the NRI defected men to justice continue.