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ISSUES OF ABANDONED NRI WIVES, STEPS AND LEGAL MEASURES TO CURB THE MISERY

Introduction

‘Honeymoon Wives,’ a term used to cover up the agony and severity of ‘the abandoned NRI wives. In this, young brides fall victim to false marriages even before their henna colour fades. Due to the attraction of a well-established NRI, the bride’s family ends up getting defrauded by losing a large sum of money, while the bride is left abandoned after the bridegroom goes.[1] NRI weddings are characterised as unions between an Indian female and a male who resides in another nation as an NRI [“Non-Resident Indian”], with the identity of an Indian citizen or as a citizen of that other country as a PIO [“Person of Indian Origin”]. Marriages of this kind are seen as a profitable way to enter a foreign nation and live well. For this, the idea of considering the whole world a village is a primary reason. It has distorted the whole concept of marriage. In many Indian states such as Haryana and Punjab, the marriage of a son or daughter abroad is seen as a status signal for their socio-economic progress if he/she is living abroad.[2] In response to one of the questions, the Minister of External Affairs informed the Parliament that between 2016 and 2019, 4,698 complaints from Indian girls who have been abandoned by their NRI spouses were registered and resolved by the Ministry[3].

Patterns of NRI wives abandonment
  1. A lady who has got herself landed in a foreign country with her NRI partner soon realises that her husband has gone mysteriously vanished, leaving her alone in that new land.
  2. A woman who lives overseas with her husband is duped and/or coerced into returning to India, where she is left without a passport, visa, or money, and thus in absence of any way or accessibility for reuniting with her spouse; and
  3. A woman who marries prior to her spouse leaving to a foreign nation but never manages to get a visa to accompany him there is often referred to as a “holiday bride” by society.
Common issues pertaining to Overseas Marriages
  1. Indian women who are victims of domestic violence, primarily in the nature of hostility, cruelty, emotional and physical abuse, are often compelled to flee or are pressured to return to India.
  2. Without the woman’s information, the NRI’s spouse is already wedded, so subjecting to bigamy.
  3. The persistent demand for dowry from the girl’s parents by NRI spouses, both before and then after the marriage.
  4. The lady travelled to her husband’s home country and counted her days at the international airport when her spouse failed to come.
  5. The spouse lied about his work, residence status, earnings, property, marital status, and other facts.
  6. The husband fraudulently obtains an express divorce decision overseas by using a more forgiving basis of dissolution in foreign judicial systems.
  7. A lady is refused assistance in India due to the annulment of her marriage by a court of a foreign jurisdiction.
  8. The lady has applied to a court in India or another country for alimony or divorce but has continually run into procedural legal complications relating to the court’s jurisdiction, while the husband begins vindictive legal actions in another nation simultaneously.
Proposed Legislation to curb the exploitation of abandoned NRI wives

The Non-Resident Indian Marriage Registration Bill, 2019 was tabled in Parliament to increase the integrity and traceability of NRI husbands and to safeguard women who are married to them from different sorts of exploitation and abuse[4]. This was done with the following objectives:

  • Marriage Registration: If an NRI marries an Indian citizen, the marriage must be registered in India within thirty days.
  • A 1967 modification to the Passport Act provides for the confiscation of passports that do not adhere to the aforementioned conditions.
  • Serve summonses, warrants, or subpoenas on the NRI spouse who is now living overseas.
  • Authorizes the court to direct the forfeiture or attachment of an offender’s property.

Various Judicial Determinations

NRI marriage is solemnized in India and the bride is then taken by her husband abroad. Assuming at this juncture, an ex-parte divorce decree is acquired through the NRI husband in an overseas court. Here, the Indian spouse is left helpless, facing matrimonial litigation in a  foreign court, where she has no means or ability to invoke which often results in despair, disgust, and frustration.[5] The Supreme court in the well-known case of Y. Narasimha Rao[6] has observed that only courts recognised by the Act or legislation in which the parties are wedded would be considered as a court of competent jurisdiction to adjudicate the marital dispute. Any other court shall be deemed to lack competence unless both parties willingly and absolutely submit to that court’s jurisdiction[7]. Thus, the court ruled that a decision must be acquired with the permission of both parties in order to be legal and that the court may reject it outrightly in order to enforce judgements rendered by other nations.

Reciprocal Territories, as defined in Section 44A of the CPC, constitute an exception to this rule. For this, India recognises the following nations as reciprocating territories: UAE, UK, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, Trinidad & Tobago, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Bangladesh, and Papua & New Guinea. Thus, if a woman marries an NRI whose permanent residency is in any of the following countries, the decisions of the courts in these mentioned countries are valid in India and are analogous to those of an Indian court. In another decision[8], the Apex Court stated that to establish irrevocable dissolution of marriage, a mutual agreement must be included as a reason for divorce in all circumstances. While dealing with the issues of Private International Law’s weakness, it was enunciated that while it is a major concern with Private International Law that is not easily resolved, the Union of India may accept for implementation of laws enacted by the Englishmen in light of changing social structures and the upsurge of NRI weddings.[9] In one of the most recent cases addressing this subject, the Court said that whenever the parties’ marriage was solemnised as well as recognized under the terms of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the procedure for divorce of the marriage would be guided by the same Act.[10]

Suggestions/ Remedies to Curb fraudulent NRI Marriages
  • Breakdown as an additional ground for divorce – The breakdown of marriage should be an extra basis for divorce. It should be made available when at least one of the parties is an NRI to ensure that the marriage is protected by law. This may be accomplished by amending the Hindu Marriage Act, of 1955, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
  • Ex-parte divorce by foreign courts must be barred – There are various instances where fraudulent NRI men secure a divorce, most often ex-parte, without notifying the wife or her family in the overseas/foreign nation. Thus, the marriage should be dissolved only in accordance with the legislation under which it was solemnised or the basic law of the state. In case a marriage is cancelled in a foreign jurisdiction, it should be declared null and invalid in its entirety, and the divorce decision has no legal effect under Indian law.
  • Bilateral treaties and international conventions – Marriages solemnised in India must be terminated under Indian law. The inter-country situation must be settled by pacts or international treaties that safeguard such marriages in countries with a sizable Indian Diaspora.
  • Legal and Financial assistance provided to affected women – The programs to give welfare measures to disadvantaged women of Indian heritage must be implemented in full swing. This can be ensured by mobilisation of the local Indian community in the foreign so that they may seek and get financial aid from the government 

Conclusion

Marriage is an institution that ought to be honoured with the greatest purity. Numerous physical and cultural infractions, as well as unsuccessful NRI marriages, need government involvement and various social awareness campaigns. Specialized cells should be established at both the national and state levels. The National / State Woman Commission’s cooperation is critical in facilitating legal help. Numerous criteria need to be introduced for verifying the personal details of N.R.I., grooms claiming to live abroad. Additionally, the groom’s N.R.I. documentation, such as his passport, visa, voter registration card, and social security number, must be authenticated.

Author(s) Name: Rishika Singh (Amity Law School, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh)

References:

[1] DU Beat, ‘Who are these ‘Honeymoon’ NRI Brides?’ (DU BEAT, 21 September 2020) <https://dubeat.com/2020/09/who-are-these-honeymoon-nri-brides/> accessed 19 January 2022

[2] Sri V.V. Srinivasa Murthy, ‘N.R.I., MARRIAGES – ISSUES AND CHALLENGES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO CUSTODY OF CHILDREN’ (2017) <https://districts.ecourts.gov.in/sites/default/files/4-NRI%20Marriages%20-by%20Sri%20VVS%20Murthy.pdf> accessed  20 January 2022

[3] Ananya Krishnan, ‘The NRI Wives: The Plight of Abandoned Brides’ (Feminism in India, 18 August 2020) <https://feminisminindia.com/2020/08/18/the-nri-wives-the-plight-of-abandoned-brides/> accessed 19 January 2022

[4] Ibid

[5] Rajinder Kour Chhohka, ‘NRI marriages: Problems, Causes and Remedies’, (2013) <http://pd.cpim.org/2006/0730/07302006_problem%20relating%20to%20nri%20marriage.htm> accessed 20 January 2022

[6] Y. Narasimha Rao & Ors.  v Y. Venkata Lakshmi and Anr. (1991) 3 SCC 451

[7] Supra Note 3

[8] Jorden Diengdeh v S.S. Chopra (1985) 3 SCC 62

[9] Smt. Neeraja Saraph v Jayant V. Saraph & Anr. (1994) 6 SCC 461

[10] Sheenam Raheja v Amit Wadhwa 2012 SCC OnLine Del 4731

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