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Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2007, 14:42 GMT
Scheme to aid duped Indian brides
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Indian women
The women will be entitled to financial assistance
The Indian government has launched a new scheme to help women who are married and then abandoned by men of Indian origin living in the West.

The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs says women who are divorced or deserted within two years of marriage will be entitled to legal and financial aid.

According to one estimate, up to 20,000 women have been abandoned by their non-resident Indian (NRI) husbands.

Mostly, the husbands disappear after pocketing fat dowries paid at weddings.

An official in the ministry, SS Rana, told the BBC that women who needed help could approach Indian missions abroad directly or through non-governmental organisation approved by them.

"The deserted women will be given financial assistance of $1,000 for seeking legal help and will also be offered counselling," he said.

Initially this facility will be given to women who have been married for two years or less.

Migrant populations

But Mr Rana said: "If we get a large number of such cases where women are abandoned after the two-year deadline, we will review the time limit."

Officials say most cases of NRIs duping their Indian brides are reported in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand - countries with substantial Indian migrant populations.

And most of the abandoned women come from the Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala - states which send out a large number of migrants to the West.

Indian protest against dowries
Dowries have been the subject of much debate in India

The deputy secretary in the National Commission for Women, Gurpreet Deo, says they have received several complaints where after marriage a woman goes abroad with her husband only to find that her husband is already married.

"In many cases, men claim they hold fantastic jobs abroad, but when the wife goes, she realises that he is either out of work or does some odd jobs," she says.

Then there are "holiday brides".

Ms Deo says: "In these cases, NRIs come to India for a holiday, get married, pocket the dowry, and then disappear without leaving a trace."

With their dreams shattered, the duped women have to grapple not just with emotional scars, but with the practicalities of being abandoned.

Sometimes they also have to deal with pregnancy and worry about bringing up children on their own.

Highly coveted

Because of social stigma, they are unable to remarry.

In India a financially well-established son-in-law living in the UK, US or Canada is highly coveted.

A Green Card holder in the US [which gives a foreigner right of residency and right to work] or one possessing a similar document in the UK or Canada or other Western countries is regarded as a "good catch".

Ms Deo says the reason why NRIs get away after duping their wives is "because in their greed to send their daughters abroad, most parents don't do enough verification. There is very little awareness about these problems".

Once dumped, there is little these women can do.

Ms Deo says: "Because there are extra-territorial boundaries involved, most women are left in the lurch when their NRI husbands run away. There is no legal way to get them back.

"The police are often reluctant to file a case. And even if they do, and the court issues a summons, how do you deliver the summons on foreign territory? The court can order confiscation of property, but what about those NRIs who do not own property in India?"

The National Commission for Women is now demanding tougher laws to deal with such cases.

The commission has also called on the Indian government to sign extradition treaties with foreign countries so that the runaway grooms can be brought back to India and tried in a court of law.

"Domestic violence or matrimonial offences at present are not extraditable offences. We need to address that," Ms Deo says.

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