Marriage between citizens of India and people of Indian origin in foreign countries, loosely known as NRIs or Non-Resident Indians, has long been an issue fraught with social, legal and economic complexities. NRI marriages, especially where one of the partners is living in an industrialized country of North-America, Europe country or Southern Hemisphere is often used for unlawful purposes. This not only leads to a victimization of one of the partners, most often the woman, but creates social problems with widespread consequences.
Fraudulent NRI marriages are broadly of two types. The first where the NRI groom ostensibly comes bride-hunting to India while the actual aim is to make money and the second where an NRI marriage is used as a way to get a visa for the partner residing in India.
It is the first type which has particularly heart-rending social and economic consequences for the India-based bride and her family. The prospective overseas groom holds out the lure of a better quality of life and enhanced social prestige to the bride’s family. The latter falls only too willingly into the trap and is even ready to spend enormous amounts of money to sponsor the wedding and other dowry demands of the groom and his family. It is only after the marriage that the real picture begins to unfold. One of the consequences of such fraudulent marriages is that the new bride is left behind in India after her husband leaves with the spoils of marriage and a promise to arrange for a spouse visa. The bride and her family keep waiting for the visa which never arrives and only later realization dawns that the whole show was a sham with the sole intention of extracting money from the bride’s family. The worst part of the situation is that very often the bride’s family incur huge loans at exorbitant rates of interest or sell precious assets like land in order to meet the expenses of the wedding and dowry demands of the groom’s family. Eventually the bride and her family are left socially, economically and psychologically devastated by the whole experience.
Yet another consequence of such fraudulent NRI marriages may unfold in a foreign land for which the Indian bride leaves after her wedding. Far away from her parents, relatives and any support structure, she finds that the man who married her did so only to obtain a domestic drudge and who may even have a partner tucked away in some part of the city. The newly-married girl agrees to keep her mouth shut and continues to endure any extent of emotional and physical abuse simply because she does not know where to seek help in a foreign land. The abuse may extend across continents with the parents of the bride being blackmailed to shell out more money if they want their daughter to be happy or just alive.
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While such instances of exploitive NRI marriages have mostly been reported from the north Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, many families from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat too have been victims of the practice1.
The second type of fraudulent NRI marriage is carried out to obtain a visa for the India-based partner who is desperate to emigrate at any cost. Such marriages take place between the NRI who already possesses a working or student visa and an Indian partner who then gains an entry to the foreign country on the basis of a spousal visa. The unscrupulous immigration agents who run the entire immigration racket make full use of the desperation of some Indians to emigrate to foreign countries and the greed of NRIs who are willing to enter into a sham marriage to make money. The trend was recently reported in the Indian media2 which revealed a huge increase in the number of matrimonial advertisements in local newspapers of Ludhiana and Jalandhar, two cities of Punjab which have traditionally been the major centers of migration to countries like USA, UK, Canada and Australia. In these, advertisers blatantly solicited matrimonial alliances from holders of student visas in foreign countries with offers of meeting all travel expenses of the partners. However most of these advertisements insisted on “court marriage” which is a euphemism for a mere on-paper marriage which will enable the advertiser to emigrate as the spouse of the visa-holder. So obvious was the malafide nature of these matrimonial advertisements that UK was forced to place a temporary freeze on visa applications from various centers in north India3.
A blind cultural bias in favor of an expatriate lifestyle is at the root for many of these NRI marriages. The two-hundred year long colonial exploitation of India left the country economically crippled and many communities, especially Punjabis, left for foreign lands in search of better economic opportunities. Likewise intellectuals from other parts of India like the southern states found more opportunities in academic institutions of foreign countries. They came back with wondrous tales of wealth and limitless scope for people willing to work hard. Immigration thus came synonymous with higher social prestige and better quality of life. This led to a desperation to emigrate at any cost, either by being married off to an NRI groom or being hitched to anyone with a visa.
Financial greed has always been a compelling factor in the fraudulent NRI marriage industry. NRI grooms extort huge amounts of money from families of Indian brides and a social system where dowry is already a legitimate demand is only too eager to comply. Likewise the illegal immigration agents charge sky high rates for fixing up sham NRI marriages, often to the material advantage of the visa-holder and aspiring migrants are often willing to risk land and other assets to go ‘abroad’.
In recent years, media coverage of Indian women, married and deserted by NRI husbands as well as that of fake marriages based on the lure of spousal visa has prompted the Indian government and legal system to take several corrective and preventive measures. Among the measures taken by government agencies like The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and the National Commission of Women are creating awareness in the population especially in rural and semi-urban areas of the risks of an overseas marriage without proper checking on the NRI partner’s background. The Indian legal system is in favor of compulsory registration of marriages which will go some way in tracking and providing relief in cases of fraudulent NRI marriages. There have also been efforts to increase co-operation between the embassies as well as voluntary organizations of India and foreign countries in cases where the NRI husband is absconding or where the bride has been deserted on foreign soil.
In absence of definite laws relating to NRI marriage in the Indian legal system and the difficulty of enforcing those which already exist, preventive measures are the best bet for partners seeking marriage with a Non-Resident Indian. The National Commission of Women website has a useful page4 on the dos and don’ts for women looking forward to marry NRI men. Similarly those entering into fraudulent NRI marriages with the sole intention of obtaining entry into a foreign country should remember that increasingly tight immigration laws in those countries could land them in jail or at least leave them at the mercy of strict law enforcement agencies.