A nine-member high-powered committee headed by a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court appointed by the Centre is considering amendments in marriage laws, including Indian Divorce Act, 1869, and the Foreign Marriages Act, 1869, the latter with an aim to help women married to NRIs, many of whom are later abandoned. The committee headed by Justice Arvind Kumar Goyal, who had previously served as chairman of the Punjab’s State Commission for NRIs, has already held two meetings after the Centre set up the panel on May 31. Now, the panel, which also includes chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) Lalitha Kumaramangalam, is going to meet in New Delhi on July 11.
The last few decades have witnessed a steep rise in NRI marriages in India in which typically the groom is an NRI and the bride a resident of India. The officials engaged in dealing with NRI marriages have observed an “alarming” number of fraudulent or marriages for dowry. The need for amendment in existing laws is felt because in case of break-up in marriages in a foreign country after a few months or years, the wife is ofen forced to return to India while the husband proceeds in foreign courts to get ex parte decrees of divorce and possibly custody orders for their children.
It is felt that the break-up of NRI marriages in a large number of cases adversely impacts the woman because they find it difficult to even locate her husband to serve him with initial court notices or summons and to enforce orders of the court regarding maintenance or custody.
According to the May 31 notification issued by MS Kanyal, Director, Ministry of External Affairs (Overseas Indian Affairs-II Division), the expert committee has a term of three months. The panel also includes chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women Swati Maliwal, activist Prof Pam Rajput and former Union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, who has been in the forefront of addressing the issue.
The panel will suggest amendments in Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Special Marriage Act, 1954, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956, Guardians and Wards Act 1890, Domestic Violence Act 2005, Code of Civil Procedure 1908, Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 and Indian Passport Act 1967.
Stressing the need for a special law to handle such cases, the Punjab NRI commission headed by Goyal while hearing a complaint of a Amritsar woman had observed, “In the recent past, one issue which has held the centre stage is the matrimonial dispute in relation to the NRIs. Women married to NRIs are abandoned even before being taken by her husband to the foreign country of his residence. Women trapped in such fraudulent marriages are being increasingly reported. This is a menace and needs to be curbed with stern hands. Since there is no comprehensive and special laws to govern such aspects and also in view of jurisdictional issues involved in such matrimonial cases, women are being deprived of Justice. To curb this menace, effective legislation, awareness programmes, special legal cells are the need of the hour.”