Where have our NRI husbands gone?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for NRIs everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

A loved one is gone. How can you cope with the pain? First comes denial, then anger. Then the depression descends like a dark cloud. It becomes hard to deal with even the smallest task. Will you survive? Is it possible for life to seem normal again?

Some of the estimated 15,000 abandoned wives in Punjab featured in Indian media

Runaway grooms from Canada are among thousands of Non-Resident Indians who have deserted their wives in Punjab.

As an endless stream of heart wrenching testimony sheds light on the social evil, the abandoned brides are asking…... Where have our husbands gone?

Ravinder Kaur spends her lonely days in a one-room outhouse on her brother‘s compound in Ludhiana, Punjab looking at the photos of her sons that are kept with their toys and pictures of her Gods.

Dejected but holding onto naive hope that her truant Canadian husband will return, Ravinder tells a reporter: “It is more than eight years since I saw my sons.“

That was in 1995 when the man who married her and had two children with her during his holidays in India, returned to make amends and take the family back with him to Canada.

At the New Delhi airport he asked her to wait while “I show the children around.“ After three hours of waiting, she made inquiries about the flight. It had taken off.

Ravinder opened the envelope her husband had given her. It was supposed to contain travel documents. There were only blank sheets of paper.

In 2000, the man who married Ravinder, a native of Hathur village returned to India and produced divorce papers. She went to the police.

“I did not know I was divorced.“

Ravinder was later offered 500,000 rupees (about C$14,000) by her in-laws if she agreed to a divorce under Indian law.

“Where can I go?“ she asked. “Can I be a burden on my brother? Who will marry me at this age? I have lost everything.“

Her husband has now remarried and lives in Canada with her sons.

Jagdeesh Kaur of Hari Nau, Punjab is another woman trying to figure out what happened to her promised life in Canada.

She loved the times when her husband would come from Canada and put her up in hotels at Bathinda and Moga. She is what they call a “holiday wife“

Last year during one the trips, he told her he was not coming back.

When she decided to go to court, her father-in-law taunted her that by the time the case was settled, she would be too old to remarry.

Amrita Kaur a fashion design student from New Delhi has a familiar refrain – “I never thought it could happen to me.“

Her Canadian husband spent 15 days with her after their marriage and left India.

She has not seen him since.

Tortured for dowry by her in-laws, Amrita has taken her case to the Crimes Against Women division of Indian police to hold her husband accountable.

Welcome to the tragic world of holiday wives, abandoned brides and runaway bridegrooms where an endless stream of heart wrenching testimony is shedding light on a social evil orchestrated by Indian men who have settled in Canada and elsewhere overseas.

In nearly every village in Punjab, there are examples of the abandoned and tattered lives of deserted wives, Indian media reports showed.

Some have had their husbands come down for a visit or two. But many have not seen a second time the men they marry.

The numbers are shocking.

The Punjab-based Lok Bhalai Party estimates that there are at least 15,000 cases of abandoned wives in the state alone saying the phenomenon has attained the specter of organized crime.

Over the last few years, the party has taken over 1,100 cases of abandoned wives to court.

“These deserted wives become unwanted dependents on their in-laws and parents and their misery is further compounded if they are pregnant or have children…The phenomenon has become so rampant that it is equivalent to organized crime,“ said Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, a former Indian Member of Parliament and a social activist.

Balwant Singh Ramoowalia who is leading the charge to stop marriage scams says there are about 15,000 women in Punjab whose husbands have deserted them. "The victims are the innocent women of Punjab."
“In fact, two or three girls in every village have such a tale to narrate,“ he said at an abandoned wives media conference in Chandigarh last December.

At the same conference, H.G.S. Dhaliwal, a police superintendent in charge of the Woman and Child Care Unit, said the city of Chandigarh had witnessed a 40 per cent increase in the number of cases involving marriage frauds perpetuated by Indians from overseas in the past three years. At least 2,000 cases had been registered with police, he said.

Former Punjab Governor, Lieut-Gen J. F. R. Jacob, who is calling for laws to deal with the “social evil“, said that he knows of 40 such cases from one village alone.

Jalandhar-based lawyer, Kamal Arora, who blames local parents of girls for forcing them into hurried marriages, was quoted as saying: “Almost 80 per cent of marriages to non-resident Indian men in Punjab are doomed and the husbands never return to take their wives.

Activists say that a large proportion of the abandoned wives end up as a statistic in India where a woman is molested every 26 minutes, raped every 34 minutes, sexually harassed every 42 minutes and kidnapped every 43 minutes.

Those who do not accept their fate and fight back take on the risk of becoming part of another deadly number in India — every six hours a young married women is burnt alive, beaten to death, or driven to commit suicide.

Hardly a day goes by without Goldy Bhatia having to deal with issues involving an abandoned bride from India.

“Sometimes I think Canada should simply ban these marriages that are arranged in India,“ wished the veteran counselor from the Surrey-Delta Immigrant Services Society in British Columbia.

Bhatia told the Asian Pacific Post that she has referred between 30 to 40 cases of marital fraud to Immigration Canada but has seen little in terms of enforcement action.

“It is not only women who are victims…there have also been cases where the men have been duped,“ said the front-line social worker of 14 years.

Bhatia said the cases of abandonment don‘t all relate to marital fraud because in many of instances it revolves around compatibility.

“It‘s devastating for a young woman or a man to arrive in Canada only to realize that the person they had married is already married and has children or that the life they had been promised is not there,“ she said.

In the worst case scenarios, Bhatia has dealt with Indian women arriving at the Vancouver International Airport only to realize that their husband is a no show.

“Everyone has a different scenario..in some cases the husbands become very manipulative leaving the woman to live in a hellish environment with in-laws.

“If mediation does not work, what we do here is help the women and in some cases men, get out of abusive situations, educate and empower them to make their own choices,“ said Bhatia.

Bhatia said there are cases where the men, who already have an attachment locally, are pressured by their families to marry someone in India.

“Then there are cases of women who will divorce their husbands here to enable them them to remarry a relative in India to get a visa to Canada…There was one case we had of a young woman who married a local guy in India…two weeks after she arrived, she left to be with a boyfriend,“ she said.

While the number of male victims of marital fraud is small, Immigration Canada this month took an Indian bride to court in Edmonton after she told her new husband she married him for his Canadian citizenship.

Karmjeet Jaswal, an elementary school teacher was sentenced to four months in jail in Edmonton for communicating false information, in what is believed to be Canada‘s first successful prosecution of a marriage of convenience.

The court was told that in April 2001, Satnam (Sam) Parmar, a 38-year-old drugstore supervisor, went to India to visit relatives. Family members there arranged for him to meet Karmjeet Jaswal, an elementary school teacher.

Their four-day courtship ended in a marriage proposal and a big wedding with 200 guests.

A year later, when her visa was finally processed, Parmar met Jaswal at the Edmonton International Airport with chocolates and a bouquet of flowers.

But at the luggage carousel, Jaswal told him her true reasons for marrying. She said she never loved him and she wouldn‘t consummate their marriage.

The next day, she told his aunt she‘d only married Parmar in India so she could come to Canada and later bring her mother and nephews.

After a lengthy investigation, Immigration Canada laid charges of communicating false information, a rarely used charge under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

At her trial, Jaswal said she left the marriage because her husband demanded money from her family as soon as she arrived in Edmonton.

But during sentencing the trial judge said he found her testimony full of inconsistencies.

Parmar and Jaswal divorced last December.

The Canada Border Services Agency must now determine if she should be deported.

Bhatia said cases like these are very rare with the norm being the wife abandoned, likely with kids, especially if they are not boys or the bride living a demeaning life because she is terrified of being stigmatized as a divorcee.

The rising trend in marital frauds involving Indo-Canadians has also prompted a Vancouver law firm — Singh, Abrahams and Joomrartty — to set up shop in Punjab and offer free initial legal advice.

Abandoned wives in Punjab featured in the Indian media. The Punjab government is now looking at new laws to curb the growing number of cases.
“This is a social evil and a stigma on the reputation of Canada and the Canadians in general“, said Amandeep Singh, one of the partners of legal firm told The Tribune newspaper during the official opening of their office in Chandigarh last month.

“I have come across nearly two dozen cases of marital fraud in which the husband or the wife have vanished on reaching Canada on the strength of purported marriage with the Canadian citizen“ Singh was quoted as saying.

He said that in many cases they are already married in India and are using their second marriage to immigrate to Canada.

In other cases, they come to India to stay with their spouse for a short while before going their separate ways.

In such cases, Singh said, the courts are very reluctant to take action because they feel that couples could have separated because of incompatibility.

“We are inviting the victims of such marital frauds here to contact us. We will offer them free initial legal advice and if need be, we will fight their cases in Canadian courts

The law suits will be fought for a contingency fee constituting a certain percentage of the damages claimed from the other party,“ Singh told Indian media in Chandigarh.

From Canada, the United States, Australia and Britain, the young men locals call NRI or Non-Resident Indians, come by the thousands every year to look for women in their homeland.

One of the most fertile hunting grounds is Punjab‘s Doaba region in northwest India from which an estimated seven million Indian immigrants have dispersed globally.

Here, the manic desire to go overseas is manifested during the wedding season where daughters are dangled as bait to hook the dream life abroad.

While activists are quick to point out that many of the arranged marriages in Doaba work, they admit that an increasing number are ending up in the woman being abandoned.

For these women their odyssey of despair is orchestrated in a matter of weeks.

A quick engagement is followed by a massive wedding after which the husband flies home while the wife waits for her visa.

Soon the letters stop. The phone rings through to an answering machine and even that stops after a while.

In some cases the men had married the women while holidaying in their native villages and had no intention of living with them. There are stories of women who have been married for over 20 years but have only been with their husbands for no more than a week or two.

In other cases, the NRI‘s were after dowry money.

The most tragic of stories perhaps are of the women who keep on waiting year after year for their husbands to return.

“Fifty per cent of these brides get taken for a ride,“ said Pravin Bhandari, who runs a marriage bureau and heads Shadiram Jagannath Travel Agents in the city of Phillaur.

Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, president of the Lok Bhalai Party said that every village in the Doaba region has three or four abandoned wives.

According to Ramoowalia, who is leading the charge to stop the marriage scourge there are about 15,000 women in Punjab whose husbands have deserted them.

“The victims are the innocent women of Punjab,” he said.

Ramoowalia said the culprits get away because of loopholes in the system and procedures of law that differ from country to country.

His efforts to bring the issue of India‘s abandoned wives to the forefront has now got the Punjab government looking at new laws to book NRI bridegrooms who commit fraud with Indian brides.

The proposals before the Punjab government to tame NRI grooms include:

  • Allowing new brides to lodge police reports and initiate investigations, if the NRI husband does not send immigration papers within 90 days of marriage
  • Attaching a duly attested photograph of the married couple on the groom‘s passport
  • Aeclaring the bride the owner of all property owned by the groom in India within seven days of marriage
  • Stopping NRIs without certified divorce papers from a previous wife from re-marrying in India
  • Declaring runaway grooms as proclaimed offenders which allows for their arrest in India and possible extradition
  • Ramoowalia is also pushing for fast track courts that can issue Look Out Circulars for fleeing grooms within 12 hours of an Indian bride lodging a police report.

The former MP admits that the laws may not be the answer to this growing social menace but it will go a long way to curb the numbers.

Otherwise he said there will be more and more Indian brides asking where have all their husbands gone.