Before you fly away with an NRI spouse...
The Hindu Business
NRI grooms are still a `prized' lot. But several
such weddings have ended on a bitter note. Pre-marital
counselling offers to change all that.
Some Indian cities have, over the last decade, become
not just IT centres, but also `bridegroom catchment
areas'. Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai... these
cities produce software engineers by the thousands
Many young men (and some women) have jobs with US-based
companies in their own cities, or are headed to the
US on an H1-B visa. These constitute the `cream' of
the marriage market. With salaries ranging between
$2,500 and $5,000, good career prospects and the chance
of settling down in the US, these young men are systematically
`wooed' by parents of young women. They usually have
dozens of prospective brides to choose from, and often
marriages are fixed soon after the first meeting.
Men who come from the US on a short, 20-day holiday,
are forced by parents as well as their own
circumstances to take a quick decision, marry,
put the paperwork in place, and return with the bride
to the US and resume work. The wives travel on H4
visas as dependents, without any individual status
or rights in the US immigration machinery.
In the past four to five years, this phenomenon has
begun to show serious cracks. Several such marriages
have ended in separation, divorce, allegations of
cruelty and deliberate isolation of the young women,
and much mental and emotional anguish all around.
Given that the wife is in an alien country and often
completely dependent financially as well as
legally on her husband, her situation is precarious
if things go wrong in such a marriage.
Till recently, families in which the daughter/daughter-in-law
had walked out on such a marriage (sometimes within
a few months) were reluctant to discuss or disclose
what had gone wrong.
However, things are changing. Many young people are
seeking premarital counselling either individually
or together with the person they intend marrying.
Parents too encourage them to visit counsellors to
clarify their objectives, hopes, anxiety over marriage,
and the prospect of living and working in another
For a small, but growing number of people, it is
not enough anymore to simply match photographs, horoscopes,
check bank balances and plot career graphs while selecting
a life partner. They are acquainting themselves with
the real issues involved in marital partnerships,
especially those moving out of the country. Over the
last few years, an increasing number of young men,
unable or unwilling to make a `clinical choice' during
their 20-day vacation, to the dismay of their parents
returned to the US without finalising their marriage.
Many seek premarital counselling on a subsequent trip
home or even via the Internet, with a counsellor in
India. Some who are employed in India, but headed
for the US in the next year or so, are anxious "to
get it right", as one 28-year-old put it, and
hence seek counselling.
Premarital counselling workshops organised in Mumbai
and Pune draw many newly engaged couples, and even
parents looking for a match for their children. Participants
frankly discuss core issues world view, money,
sex, intimacy, children, elders, careers, etc
that are of vital importance and usually forgotten
or ignored during match-making. It also entails some
amount of debunking unrealistic ideas about romance,
duty, sacrifice and the like. The need for healthy
emotional interdependence as opposed to complete dependence
or independence is also discussed.
Says Samira Sarkar (name changed), who was engaged
recently, "Attending such workshops, or just
a couple of counselling sessions, helps you air your
anxieties as well as validate some of the factors
you consider important in a marriage. Elders in the
house tend to ignore or scoff at these things when
they force you to make a quick choice based mainly
on the man's salary or his family background."
As one family counsellor puts it, "I think the
problems have to be understood from within. It is
no longer appropriate or adequate to see it as merely
a gender/exploitation issue. No boy coming to India
to marry starts out with the idea of marrying someone
to abuse and neglect her. It's really a matter of
wrong and misguided assumptions about marriage, the
work tensions, a sense of isolation in a foreign country,
and various other factors that contribute to a disaster."
What emerges is that many men and women have some
extremely unrealistic notions about marriage and living
and working in a western country. Some men have idealised
notions of a wife and `wifely duties'. Second, many
of these men live in social and emotional `bubbles'
in the US, barely interacting with local people, mistrusting
most other communities, limiting most of their relationships
to work, and sticking with other Indians or, if these
are not available, living fairly isolated lives. This,
too, seems to create problems when they marry; the
wife (usually a qualified woman of 25-28) is isolated
at home without a job, and instructed not to make
friends on her own across cultures.
The women, themselves fed on idealised notions of
marriage and of life in the US, are often unable to
conform or adjust to this new reality, have little
or no outlet for their skills or need for social contact,
and are often deeply frustrated. There is an increasing
need for parents, eligible women and men, as well
as counsellors to create an atmosphere of better understanding
and awareness. "With a more rounded perspective
on marriage, work and the immigrant experience, we
can hope to make more informed choices to build lasting
marital relationships," says Dr Minnu Bhonsale,
a psychotherapist and counsellor in Mumbai