"NRIs Abandoned Brides - A Challenge to Meet"

                 I am glad to inaugurate the seminar "NRIs Abandoned Brides -A Challenge to Meet" organised by the Department of Laws of Panjab University, Chandigarh. The active interest taken by Shri Anil Malhotra in organising this seminar pertaining to a burning issue, which is faced by the brides from Punjab, will focus the attention of lawyers, academicians and legislators to seriously ponder over the issue and make suggestions and recommendations to tackle the expanding problems in this regard. 

                    Out of 25 millions of Indians, who are residing abroad, Punjab alone counts for nine millions. I have been told that there are about 25,000 reported cases of NRIs abandoned brides. But these are known cases. How many cases which are not known or have not come to the notice is yet to be ascertained. On the one hand, Punjab with its rich cultural heritage and traditions is the front running State of India. On the other hand, it suffers from the vice of  issues like  "female infanticide and foeticide" and girls, who are abandoned by NRIs, all this bring a bad name to  glorious traditions and cultural heritage of the Punjabi people. As you will be discussing in the Seminar, the solutions for this malaise. First  and foremost solution would be to create a social consciousness and awareness in the rural areas from where most of the unfortunate girls come and make their parents aware of the risk they are taking  by entering into foreign matrimonial alliances  without  proper verification of the antecedents of the NRI grooms.

                    As a matter of fact, NRI grooms holding Indian passports, make use of the laws of the foreign countries where taking  divorce is not that difficult. The sensitivities involved are not known to the Judges who form the backdrop of decision making process in those countries. Clause like "no fault divorce" is easily manipulated to get divorce and once a divorce is granted by foreign courts and decree of divorce is obtained,   question of maintenance or alimony no longer survives and this  is done at the back of NRI bride, who is a abandoned wife   after landing at the Airport or abandoned after  a couple of weeks and has no option except to return to India, if she was fortunate enough to do so.

                    As a matter of fact, I have come across a few cases where under the said "no fault clause" divorce is obtained by an NRI in Canada. The abandoned bride had filed  a suit for maintenance in the Courts in India. The Indian Courts had granted certain maintenance and litigation expenses. Appeal had been preferred against the said order to the Division Bench of the High Court and when the High Court had dismissed the appeal of the NRI citizen, the said NRI citizen had filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. That appeal was also dismissed by the Supreme Court.

                    Against the maintenance granted by the Single Judge of the High Court,  NRI abandoned girl filed an appeal before the Division Bench. The process was issued for service of the NRI citizen, i.e., the husband. The service is not effected because he does not want to take summons. The Division Bench ordered for service through the  First Secretary of the High Commission of India in Canada and thereafter, the Division Bench enhanced the maintenance as well as the litigation expenses.

                    What I am trying to tell is that on the one hand, the NRI husband is conscious of the proceedings pending in the Courts in India, he takes the advantage of the procedural laws of India, files an appeal against the order passed by the Single Judge of the High Court,  not only in the High Court but in the Supreme Court. On the other hand, he does not take the summons of the Division Bench of the High Court in the matter of appeal filed by the wife.  In this regard, a bilateral agreement with the countries, which have got most of the NRIs from India settled, is the need of hour,  by the Government of India.  We must not loose sight of the fact that  even during the colonial era, when Britishers were the masters in this country, the English Judges in the Privy Council applied the customary Indian law in  cases of maintenance,  adoption marriages etc. Therefore, it is the Indian law which should be made applicable to NRIs settled abroad holding Indian passports. The situation is grim when an NRI is a foreign citizen. Once a person acquires citizenship of USA or Canada, then he cannot be compelled to be governed by the Indian laws and for that  comprehensive bilateral treaties or a cross border dialogue with countries with substantial Indian diaspora is the need of the hour. The marriages solemnised in India must be dissolved in accordance with Indian laws. Inter-country arrangement must be resolved by bilateral agreement for protection of such marriages. In this regard, there has to be an amendment of existing legislation pertaining to marriages, passports, Criminal Procedure Code, Indian Penal Code, Extradition Act and the Citizenship Act, to include matrimonial offences or matrimonial frauds. The Ministry of Overseas Affairs, which has been set up in recent years, can take upon the task of sensitizing the personnel of Indian High Commissions and Indian Embassies, as part of their councillor obligation, who can supply relevant information regarding offending NRI husbands. Normally, it depends from officer to officer in such position as to how sensitive he is to the problem of this nature. They do provide some assistance to the abandoned wives or their parents. Some shrug their shoulders by feeling that it is a private matrimonial dispute. I am sure that all the distinguished speakers and eminent personalities,  who are participating in these deliberations will give concrete suggestions, if not to completely eradicate this menace, but to provide  some solace  to the unfortunate victims of NRIs.

                    Thank you very much for giving me  this opportunity in sharing  my  thoughts.