The Standing Committee on External Affairs submitted its report about the NRI Marriage Registration bill. The committee approved the bill subject to the inclusion of certain recommendations made by the committee. Data in the committee report suggests that Punjab alone accounts for more than 14% of all NRI Marriage grievances.
India has the largest diaspora in the world. According to the UN’s data on international migration stock by origin, a total of 1.75 crore migrants have their country of origin as India. Overseas Indians not only include Indian citizens who have migrated to foreign countries seeking better employment and educational opportunities but also those who are born to Indian parents who migrated there.
According to the Standing Committee on External Affairs’ report in 2011, Indians settled abroad take Indian brides for their foreign-born sons with the hope to rejuvenate Indian culture and traditions in the foreign land and avoid infiltration of foreign brides. Alliances with Overseas Indians were seen as passages to greener pastures abroad not only for the bride/bridegroom but for their entire family. However, there are numerous victims to such attraction of the greener pasture.
‘Registration of Marriage of NRI Bill’ was introduced in parliament in 2019
Earlier, in March 2020, a parliamentary standing committee on External Affairs studied the Registration of Marriage of Non- Resident Indian Bill, 2019 and made a set of recommendations that need to be included. The bill’s objective is to offer greater protection to Indian citizens, especially women, married to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and thereby, act as a deterrent to NRIs against harassment of spouses. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2019 by the then External Affairs Minister, Late. Sushma Swaraj.
Source: Ministry of External Affairs, 2019
Indian brides fall prey to fraudulent NRI marriages
A few typical instances that have arrived out of NRI marriages according to MEA are –
- NRI spouse promises to arrange visa and ticket for his wife after marriage to join him in the foreign country where he resides. But he abandons her in India, never files for her visa and has any further contact with her.
- The wife in India has no idea about the whereabouts of her spouse. Lack of information inhibits the investigation by police though she files a complaint. In many cases, the NRI spouse deliberately does not register the marriage.
- Visa gets denied when the wife prepares a visa application since proof of marriage is unavailable as it is unregistered. The spouse may also have denied the occurrence of marriage.
- Upon joining spouse in the foreign country, the wife comes to know that her spouse is already married or has a partner outside marriage. The wife gets stranded when the spouse asks her to leave the household or abandon her.
- Mental and physical harassment in the foreign land by spouse and his relatives forcing her to leave the house or return to India.
- Spouse may have disclosed false information on his job, income, immigration status, etc.
- The wife’s dependent visa expires, and her spouse does not renew it. She is sent back to India and there is no further communication from spouse.
- Issues with respect to custody of children- either the spouse takes away their children forcibly or when she returns to India with children, he files complaint that she abducted them.
The deserted Women face many challenges in the Indian legal system as well as in foreign courts
Besides the marriage related issues mentioned earlier, aggrieved women also face challenges in the Indian legal system, like the lack of response to summons by spouse, for trial on criminal charges filed by the Indian woman for issues relating to dowry and matrimonial cruelty in India. Another issue is that, post-divorce, the Indian national is denied maintenance in India by spouse who is abroad since marriage has been dissolved. Those women who approach court in India for maintenance or divorce, may face issues of order enforcement or retaliatory legal action by spouse. Even lawyers are not keen in taking up such issues against NRIs due to slim chances of winning or demand high fees.
Likewise, women face multiple challenges in the foreign courts. When the spouse files complaint against wife in foreign country, it results in rejection of her visa application leaving her stranded in India, or he threatens to do so to render her helpless. The wife’s lack of knowledge about divorce proceedings or financial constraints to fight in the court is exploited. Privacy laws in foreign countries may abstain her from getting her spouse’s contact information. Lenient divorce grounds in foreign countries are taken advantage of by NRI spouses.
An average of three cases of NRI marital disputes got registered daily between 2015 and 2019
In the period from 1 January 2015 up to 31 October 2019, a total of 6094 cases of NRI Marriage grievances have been reported and addressed. The year wise total number of complaints reported was 796 in 2015, 1510 in 2016, 1498 in 2017, and 1299 in 2018. In 2019, up to 31 October 2019, a total of 991 cases were reported. Majority of the cases had come from English-speaking western countries like USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Punjab alone accounted for more than 14% of the cases reported between 2016 & 2019
Between 2016 & 2019, Punjab reported the maximum number of such complaints every year. Between 2016 and October 2019, 14.4% of the total number of cases reported in India were from Punjab. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra follow Punjab in the number of cases reported. The seven states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu account for more than 60% of the cases registered between 2016 & 2019.
MEA supports aggrieved women by providing legal and financial assistance
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) helps the distressed women through counselling, guidance and providing information about procedures, etc. Further, it also provides financial assistance up to USD 4000 and legal assistance to the women. Comprehensive FAQs, legal provisions in various countries, details of organisations, NGOs, registered lawyers, and other information with respect to issues faced by aggrieved Indian women are available on the MEA website.
The MADAD portal was launched in 2015 by MEA. The portal provides online consular services for all grievances of Indians including distressed brides. An inter-ministerial body, Integrated Nodal Agency (INA), which is headed by Ministry for Women and Child Development was constituted to address the issues pertaining to NRI Marital disputes.
In 2018, the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to explore the possibility of formulating a policy that deals with grievances of women who have been abandoned by their NRI husbands. Later in 2019, the Registration of Marriage of NRI Bill was introduced.
The Bill proposes to amend two legislations- the Passport Act and CrPC
The Bill proposes to make it mandatory to register the marriage with an NRI partner within a period of 30 days from the date of marriage. In case any NRI fails to register the marriage within the stipulated time, the passport authority has been bestowed with the authority to impound his passport, by amending the Passport Act, 1967. The Bill also proposed to add a provision to the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) such that courts can issue summons and warrants through a designated website of MEA. It also provides for attachment of both movable and immovable properties of the proclaimed offender.
The Standing Committee made certain recommendations
The standing committee expressed its discontent for not considering the 15th report of the standing committee and not conducting public consultation while drafting the Bill. Some of the key recommendations of the committee regarding this bill are the following.
- The committee found the definition of NRI ambiguous and stated that it could be misused to evade the law. They suggested the definition for NRI as ‘Non-Resident Indian means a citizen of India who resides outside India for any purpose whatsoever, save tourism.’
- The proforma for registration of NRI marriage should be made exhaustive to incorporate all apposite details related to the passport, visa or permanent resident card, and address proof of residence in foreign country.
- Ministry must ponder over making a provision of issuing show cause notice, hefty fine imposition, or issuing Look Out notice before impounding the NRI’s passport if they fail to register the marriage on time.
- Attachment of property and other punitive measures following issuance of summons and court orders should be decided by the Court on a case to case basis.
The standing committee approved this bill subject to the condition that the recommendations made by the committee are incorporated in the Bill.
Featured Image: NRI Marriage Grievances