Page last updated at 03:32 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

New Indian brides abandoned by British Asian husbands

By Poonam Taneja
BBC Asian Network

Getty images
Indian brides' families still pay dowries of up to 20,000 to some British men

Thousands of brides in India are being abandoned by their British Indian husbands after they are married.

Despite this, there is evidence to suggest that Indian women are continuing to fall for British suitors.

In a dusty village in the Jagraon district of Punjab, northern India, 35-year-old Suman (which is not her real name), lives with her widowed mother in a small room in a crumbling building.

Four years ago, the secondary school teacher married a British man in a wedding arranged by relatives.

Shortly after the ceremony, her husband, who is in his 50s, left for London with the promise he would send for her. At first all appeared to go well.

"He would visit two to three times a year.

"Whenever he came to India, we had a good time," she said.

However, on one visit he claimed her application for a spousal visa to the UK had been refused.

It was like being a prostitute you take along and have a good time with and then leave behind
'Suman', 35

"He told me he had applied for an appeal.

"But he has never shown me a copy of that appeal. He's never shown me any documents."

The visits and calls ended, and for the past six months Suman has had no contact with her husband.

"In hindsight, it was like being a prostitute you take along and have a good time with and then leave behind.

"When he returned to England, there would be no communication. A month before he was due to come back, he established contact again.

"Many a time I let that pass, thinking he might be busy, but now I get the feeling that I was being used all this time."

In the bustling city of Chandigarh, lawyer and women's rights activist Daljit Kaur has dealt with many similar women who have been deserted by their husbands who live in the UK, Canada and the US.

"There are 15,000 to 20,000 abandoned brides in India," she said.

Daljit Kaur
Daljit Kaurs thinks up to 6,500 British men may have left brides in India

In India these women are called "holiday brides" and Mrs Kaur believes British grooms account for a third of all such cases.

In the village of Rurka Kalan, in the Doaba region of Punjab, an area that has strong links to Britain's Indian community, I was taken to a local community centre, a bare single-storey concrete building.

There I was staggered to discover up to a dozen women huddled together, clutching their marriage documents and wedding photographs.

The youngest of these "holiday brides" were barely out of their teens.

A pretty girl dressed in a shalwar kameez (tunic and trousers) had married a man from Coventry, central England.

She said: "He did not give me any reason, why he did this.

"I came to know later through relatives that he did not want to stay married to a girl from such a poor background."

The eldest was a 41-year-old lady who was deserted by a Glaswegian man more than 20 years ago.

She handed me a scrap of paper with an address scrawled on it, urging me to trace him for her.

Not one of these women had re-married. They said their lives had been ruined in this socially conservative part of India, where divorce is frowned upon. Many are forced to depend on relatives for financial handouts.

But Indian women are still falling for British suitors.

Abandoned bride's wedding bracelets
After marriage, they physically and mentally tortured me
'Rani', 25

Jassi Khangura, a businessman from London and now a politician in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, says Indian families are obsessed with emigrating to the UK.

"People are desperate to migrate, because they don't think this land gives them the opportunities they need, particularly for girls," he said.

Rani (not her real name) is one such 25-year-old is hoping for a better life in the UK. She got married in January.

"When the marriage date was fixed he asked for around £12,000 so my parents sold our house, to give him the money," she said.

In India, paying and accepting a dowry - a centuries-old tradition where the bride's parents present gifts of cash, clothes and jewellery to the groom's family - has been illegal since 1961.

But the practice still thrives in rural areas, and a British Indian groom can command a dowry of up to £20,000 in Punjab.

After Rani's marriage, her in-laws demanded more cash, but her parents could not pay, and she was dumped.

"After marriage, they physically and mentally tortured me.

"He made me abort my baby, then they threw me out of their house."

Rani still wears her wedding bangles in the hope that she will one day be reunited with her husband in England.

I managed to trace Rani's husband in England. He claims to have left her after discovering she had a boyfriend who she continued to see after they were wed.

Balwant Ramoowalia
Balwant Ramoowalia said fraudulent husbands should be sent to India

Another "runaway groom" I located in England claimed he was duped by his Indian bride, who only married him for a British passport.

UK matrimonial expert Tahir Mahmood helps arrange marriages, and believes British men are the victims.

"Anyone from back home (India), they want British, British, British... the girls over there, don't care if someone has been married twice before, they don't care how he looks like or what his background is."

The British government's Forced Marriages Unit says it has been dealing with a rising number of forced marriage cases involving British men.

In India, legal action against missing British grooms is a complex and lengthy process.

Clampdown sought

Inspector General Gurpreet Deo, from the Punjab police force, said: "If the person is residing abroad, one has to seek recourse through the extradition treaty.

"The expertise and knowledge of the police officers themselves in this area is so restricted, I don't think any case would reach that level."

But politician Balwant Ramoowalia, of the Lok Bhalai party in Punjab, believes both India and Britain should clamp down.

He said: "If there is any misconduct, cheating or fraud, the husband should be sent back to India.

"There should be a provision that maintenance should be given to the girl till the case is final."

The Home Office in the UK says it has not received a single extradition request in relation to abandoned Indian brides.

Meanwhile the Indian government has set up a department to provide assistance to the thousands of women who live in hope of being reunited with their husbands.

You can hear more on Asian Network Reports at 1230 and 1800 GMT on the BBC Asian Network on DAB digital radio or online via BBC iplayer.



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SEE ALSO
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Opulent weddings and grinding poverty
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India looks abroad to fight bride-duping
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Scheme to aid duped Indian brides
23 Feb 07 |  South Asia
Call for tough laws on dowry fraud
31 Mar 06 |  South Asia
India's 'bride buying' country
05 Apr 06 |  South Asia

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