By Nayanika Ruia
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Marriage is said to be a “union of two individuals of opposite sex.” Family relations like divorce, marriage, custody, maintenance and adoption are governed by different kinds of family laws around the world. Due to this, multiple problems in a marriage arise particularly in cases of NRI marriages. An NRI marriage as we all know is between an Indian and another Indian residing in a foreign country. In the past 30 years, most western countries have witnessed certain changes in the foundation of this family institution. This has brought along with it numerous societal and legislative problems, which we are not well equipped to address.
By and large, many Indians have started fancying the word ‘foreign’ as the epitome of happiness. In many Indian states and regions, marriage of a son or a daughter to a person living abroad is taken to be a status symbol. However, as it is said, all that glitters is not gold. At times, these foreign dreams come at a cost of innocent lives and the future of the spouses who travel to a foreign land along with these NRIs. Thence, the people who are settled abroad take advantage of the fact that they are outside the jurisdiction of the Indian Courts, which leaves the battered married women with lack of resources to fight back and bring the culprits to face the consequences of their wrong-doing.
As seen in a 1994 case of Dhanwanti Joshi v. Madhav Unde, where the NRI husband was already married to another woman and during the continuation of the first marriage, he married a second time i.e. to Dhanwanti Joshi. They had a son out of wedlock and when that child was just 35 days old, the petitioner left her husband and returned to India because she found out about his first wife. The Supreme Court held that the child shall stay under the custody of the mother subject to visitation rights of the father and that the loophole of this NRI marriage was marrying the second time without telling the second wife.
In 2010, a famous incident took place where Mrs. Rachna Shah was married to an NRI residing in Singapore. After reaching Singapore, she found that her husband was not an engineer, which he claimed earlier, but was employed in an insignificant temporary job. After a few months of their marriage, he got into the habit of beating and ill-treating her after getting drunk. After suffering a great deal at his hands, she was finally saved by the local police, taken to the Indian embassy and sent back to India. She filed for divorce and got married once again.
The major issues and challenges faced by women trapped in these deceptive NRI marriages are the unawareness about the possibility of being abandoned by their husband right after marriage, when refuses to take her along with him. Sometimes women are brutally abused, confined, ill-treated or assaulted both physically and mentally. In certain cases, children are forcibly taken away from their mothers, or the husband is already married to another woman. The worst scenario cases include where the husband gives false information about his status, property etc. in order to con women into paying large sums of dowry. Women mostly suffer when the husband takes advantage of lenient grounds for divorce in other legal systems, where the women have nowhere to go.
Over the years, the instances of Indian women being trapped in fraudulent marriages with overseas Indians are being increasingly reported. This has indeed underscored the pressing need to build safeguards in order to protect these suffering women from such situations, and make them aware of their rights and responsibilities regarding the various defenses at their disposal against this kind of treatment, as well as the safety nets that are available for assisting them.
Nayanika Ruia is a first year learner at Symbiosis Law School, Noida (Batch of 2013-2018). She has done her plus two from DPS Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. She is a member of the research and publication cell of the law school, as well as being a member of Symbiosis Moot Court Society. She did her first internship at HelpAge India (NGO) and her second internship under the Solicitor General of India (Sr. Adv. Ranjit Kumar). She has interest in writing articles, stories, poems etc. She has written for her school magazines. She also likes debate and public speaking.