With a rise in cases of domestic violence and abandonment against women who had married non-resident Indians (NRI), the Centre is working on a bill that will allow the government to attach properties of NRI husbands and their families if they do not respond to court summons.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), along with women and child development, home and law ministries are involved in the exercise. Officials said the court summons would be published on the MEA portal and deemed served to such NRI husbands and their families.
In the recent past, the Maharashtra State Commission of Women has been increasingly seeking help from the MEA to issue lookout notices for NRI husbands.
It has been seven months since a 29-year-old woman from Nashik filed for divorce and a case of domestic violence against her NRI husband based in Sydney. After multiple court hearings, during which the husband did not appear before the court despite summons, the woman approached the MEA questioning how does one bring an NRI back to India.
The woman had got married in December 2016 to a Pune-based man. A week later, she migrated to Australia where her husband’s family lives. “I was not comfortable with my husband’s way of performing sex and approached a psychologist in Sydney. My in-laws knew everything,” she alleged, adding that she was also forced to perform all domestic chores.
In 2017, when she returned to India for her sister’s wedding, her husband cancelled her spouse visa in Australia. “I was in shock for months… My belongings, weighing about 200 kg, are still in Australia,” she said.
In January this year, she submitted a domestic violence complaint to Gangapur police and also filed for divorce. According to her complaint, three court summons have been issued to her husband. She had also approached the state women commission that conducted four hearings. Her in-laws had attended one of these, an official from the commission said.
Vijaya Rahatkar, chairperson of the women commission, said the body can only conduct hearings and give directions, which are not binding on anyone. “We have no power to call the husbands here… We receive a lot of complaints of abandonment. Often NRIs marry girls from here, assure they will send them visas and stop returning calls once they fly back,” Rahatkar said.
In another case, a 40-year-old woman in Kolhapur is fighting for the custody of her seven-year-old child who lives at Chandler, US, with her husband. “He had cut ties with me when I had come to India for my mother’s surgery. All my documents are in the US. My driving license and green card have expired,” she said. She had not met her daughter for two years.
In December 2017, the woman had filed a domestic violence complaint with the Kolhapur police. In February this year, she approached the National Commission for Women, which then approached the Consulate General in San Francisco. She has also approached the state women commission in May and recently reached out to the US Embassy.
Lawyer Victoria Gauri Chand, who handles 15 to 20 such cases a year, said the support system for women who wish to seek legal action against NRI husbands is poor. “Court keeps issuing summons and there is no response. There is also no awareness about who to approach.”
MEA Joint Secretary Manoj Mahapatra said the government is in the process of making it mandatory for each NRI to register their marriage with the ministry. “We have received 4,300 complaints related to NRIs in the last three years in foreign countries,” he said. The Centre provides $4,000 as legal and medical aid to Indian women stranded abroad due to labour or marriage issues, Mahapatra added.
Lata Wankhede, former chairperson of the National Commission for Women said that increasingly, NRI marriages are becoming a front to traffick women abroad for sex trade.