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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March 2008, 13:11 GMT
India looks abroad to fight bride-duping
By Hasit Shah
BBC News, Kotkapur, Punjab

Sukhjeet Kaur and her eight-year-old son
Sukhjeet Kaur says she and her son have suffered greatly

Kotkapur is a typical, somewhat non-descript town in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

But behind its ordinariness, a heart-rending story can be heard.

I have come to meet Sukhjeet Kaur, who is sitting next to her eight-year-old son.

She is married to a British Indian but has not seen him since he took all her savings and jewellery from her, soon after the wedding.

Campaigners here say that up to 15,000 women have been "conned" in similar ways by men from Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States.

'Bigger crime'

The men get married to vulnerable and unsuspecting Indian women - but shortly after the formalities have been completed, they return to the countries where they hold citizenship, often never to return.

Needless to say, they take huge dowries with them - often up to $60,000 - and renege on promises to begin the immigration process that would enable their wives to join them.

To make matters worse, many of the men who do this are already married.

Sukhjeet's story is typical - she married a non-resident Indian (NRI) from the UK who vanished along with her dowry.

"My son has never seen his father - what can be a bigger crime than this?" she asked.

Indian wedding marquee
The fraud begins as soon as the glitz of the weeding is over

"My life has gone and my son's childhood has gone. If this man is put in jail, he still won't suffer as much as me."

Politicians in Punjab, where many of these cases are taking place, say it's now time for the British and other foreign governments to do something about it.

They want men from abroad who are intending to get married to supply official documentation that proves they are single.

They also argue that financial and employment details should be provided so that they can prove their status.

The more money a man has and the better his job, the higher the dowry he can claim.

Sukhpal Khera is a local MP and one of those demanding action.

"For these matrimonial offences they must be extradited and punished by the law here... a lot of the guys coming here are either living in relationships over there or they're already married."

The senior Punjab police officer whose job it is to deal with many of these cases, KGS Pannu, says that this is all about dowries, which are illegal but still prevalent.

"The non-resident Indian husband goes abroad and from there he demands a dowry. If he gets the money, he files the immigration papers. Otherwise he files for divorce."

Horror story

Talk to people here and they will tell you that the problem is worsening. It is not just NRI men taking advantage of Indian women. Men here in India are targeting NRI women too.

Twenty-five-year-old Monica Bhardwaj is a British citizen, raised in west London.

She now lives in Chandigarh and is filing a court case against her husband's family.

She says he is a doctor and Indian citizen who was working in the UK.

She had a picture of him in her hands as she told me about her horror story.

Indian wedding clothes
Weddings are huge events in Indian culture

"I think he married me for visa status and money. When he decided he no longer needed me, he did not want anything to do with me. I was in a terrible situation and I was left on my own."

Ms Bhardwaj said that she was also subjected to physical violence.

"He was very aggressive towards me and beat me several times. He was always demanding money and he told me he's a doctor and that his wife should be earning as much money as him. He told me not to expect him to feed me."

Monica and Sukhjeet's stories are by no means out of the ordinary.

Parents in Punjab are now beginning to question whether marrying their daughters to men abroad is a good idea.

But huge dowries are still being paid out and although they are illegal, there is often little the authorities can do about it.

A large proportion of Indian migrants in countries like Britain and the US originate from Punjab.

Many have become very successful overseas and their foreign-born children and grandchildren are often encouraged to marry someone born and raised in India, a country that is often still seen as the homeland.

Amarjit Thind is a senior correspondent for the Tribune newspaper in Jalandhar, a city that is the source of the largest percentage of overseas Punjabis.

He explains that it is the success of these NRIs that provides a huge incentive for families here to send their daughters abroad.

"You can see it around you. There is a lot of foreign money in this city. The NRIs have been coming back and building huge houses and flaunting their success. The locals see this and want a better life for their daughters, but when the husband is unscrupulous, the women's lives are ruined."

For too many women what was supposed to be the happiest day of their life is becoming their worst nightmare.



SEE ALSO
Scheme to aid duped Indian brides
23 Feb 07 |  South Asia
Call for tough laws on dowry fraud
31 Mar 06 |  South Asia
Jail crisis for dowry crimes
01 Jun 00 |  South Asia
India's 'bride buying' country
05 Apr 06 |  South Asia

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