Sunday, December 5

‘Live freely, I live in fear’: the plight of abandoned wives in India | Women’s rights and gender equality


Kamala Reddy *, 33, a software engineer from Andhra Pradesh, married Vijay Kumar * in a traditional Hindu wedding in 2012. Kumar, working in the UK, was chosen by the Reddy family. “But he didn’t take me to the UK after our marriage. He made excuses like visa problems, etc. ”Says Reddy.

In 2016, Reddy became pregnant. Under pressure from the family, Kumar brought her to England. Upon his arrival, he was shocked to discover Kumar’s secret. He had a British partner, two sons, and a stepson. Neither Kumar’s nor Reddy’s families knew of the other family. Kumar threatened to leave Reddy if he told anyone.

Reddy is one of thousands of women who have faced abandonment by their husbands abroad.

Every year thousands of men leave India to work abroad. The country has one of the largest diasporas, almost 32 million Indians or people of Indian origin.

Many return home to find a girlfriend, as there is pressure to marry within the community. Some women and their families consider it prestigious to marry a non-resident Indian (NRI), because they believe that they can provide opportunities for a better life abroad.

But for some, the dream of living happily ever after quickly turns into a nightmare.

“In some cases, the wives are abandoned in India: the man marries her, takes the dowry and never returns. In others, women are taken abroad, abused and abandoned, ”says Mamatha Raghuveer Achanta, lawyer and founder of the International Legal Activists Network (Nila). Based in Hyderabad, Nila has assisted many defected Indian women in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and throughout Europe and Middle Eastern countries.

The scale of abandonment abroad is unclear. But between 2015 and 2019, the Indian government says it dealt with more than 6,000 cases. Such was his concern that he published a orientation brochure in 2019 on marriages with Indians abroad, which has chapters on precautions for brides and legal rights. Last year, a bill was passed, which, if enacted, will oblige the registration of marriages in the NRIs. Currently, there is no central law requiring marriages to be registered outside of India, making it difficult to prove their validity.

The National Commission for Women says it received 2,846 complaints from women who had been abandoned between 2017 and 2021.

“Abandonment of the wife often goes hand in hand with domestic violence and dowry harassment,” says Swati Lakra, additional police director general for women’s safety in Telangana state. Telangana, which has high emigration rates, has a special NRI police unit that handles 208 cases. Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Kerala They also have police departments to address wife abandonment.

Rita Saini *, 33, was abandoned by her husband last year. Married in India, Rita had been living with her husband, Nilesh Saini *, in Ireland for several years and the couple had a son. Last year, Nilesh suggested a trip back to India to meet some of his relatives. Rita was not working, so she was financially dependent on her husband. After having been in India for a few weeks, her husband flew back to Ireland without her knowing. She and her son were left with their in-laws with no money and no way home.

From Ireland, Nilesh emailed him asking for a divorce. Rita has spent the last year trying to get help from different government departments in India and Ireland, but the pandemic has not helped and she does not have the financial means or legal support to pursue her case.

“I had read about these NRI marriage cases. I never thought it would happen to me. Is it so easy to commit such fraud? “

Dealing with abandonment cases is complex and time-consuming. Abandoned wives and their lawyers should contact local police departments, the Indian ministry of foreign affairs, and embassies and consulates around the world.

Activists say men rarely appear for court hearings in India, and subpoenas issued by Indian courts often miss the addressee, held up in Indian high commissions and embassies abroad.

“Without a proper divorce, women cannot remarry and live with the stigma. But the man continues to live without repercussions even though he has a criminal case against him in India, ”says Geetha Morla, founder of UK Women’s Empowerment Network (UKWen), a charity that helps abandoned wives.

“These men have no humanity. In many cases, they have left their wife and child without any alimony or maintenance. But no one can force them to return. I don’t know how this will be resolved, we have really struggled to address this. “

Activists say India’s high commissions and embassies must do more. The Indian government provides financial assistance to women stranded abroad, but there is no help with litigation, transfer of the accused to India, extradition or seizure of the defendant’s passport.

When Reddy discovered Kumar’s secret family, he imprisoned her in the house and cut off her access to finances. Unaware of her rights in the UK, she was afraid of being deported without her son. He didn’t have a social network to go to. Finally, she was able to contact her family, who helped her leave the country with her son.

Reddy was forced to obtain a restraining order against Kumar, who made death threats. She is now back in the UK seeking a divorce and child contact arrangements, which are progressing well. He is also suing Kumar in India for demanding money for his dowry. This case is caught in a judicial and bureaucratic limbo. Kumar has not appeared in court hearings in India.

“Live freely and I live in fear. Will he ever be punished for what he did to me? “

* Names changed

If you or someone you know has been affected by this, help and advice is available at United KingdomWen, National Commission for Women and Not even as well as Indian embassies and high commissions abroad


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