PUNJAB: The lure for ‘phoren’ lands and the greed to get there has made a victim of young brides in Punjab and Haryana. There are over 30,000 such ‘honeymoon brides’ who have been deserted by their NRI husbands within days or months of their marriage. Social pressures and an extreme sense of helplessness among the victims make such women very vulnerable.
There are exceptions, though. “I took my husband to Canada and he left me. I came back. Now after my husband’s passport is impounded, he has started responding to the police. Earlier he did not even bother to call us,’’ says Poonamjit Nagra. For many like her, hope knocked their doors when Sibash Kabiraj, a 1999 batch Haryana cadre IPS officer posted as Regional Passport Officer at Chandigarh, followed through these cases. In the last about three years since his posting, 452 passports of such NRIs have been impounded and 37 have been revoked.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has appreciated his work and told all RPOs to replicate it. “It required a lot of paperwork to act against such offenders. I, too, had to study the Passport Act,” says Kabiraj. To begin with, he explained the law to such deserted women and allotted a room in his office with a computer, printer, high-speed internet and a fax machine.
Then he asked the women employees in his office to volunteer to do the paperwork in a proper format. This enabled him to expedite the process of impounding or revoking the passpor ts of desert e r husbands. As the word spread about a prompt action, he has received around 2,000 inquires from such women in the past few months. “When I joined as the RPO in September, 2017, my first task was to bring down pendency by working on weekends.
A group of fifteen such women then met me in my office and told me that though they had approached the NRI Commissions and police, no help came,” recalls Kabiraj. The situation in many cases was pathetic. Some of these women found that when they reached their husbands in a foreign country, they found them already married, a legal formality facilitating citizenship.
In some cases, these women along with their children have been staying with their inlaws. And in case such husbands apply for and get an exparte divorce, these women are left to their fate. The police in some cases were able to get these men declared as ‘proclaimed offenders,’ but nothing else, as such men had already taken their parents abroad. “We found the supporting law in Section 10 of the Passport Act, which says a passport can be cancelled or revoked if the holder has a criminal case pending or against whom court summons or warrants have been issued,” says Kabiraj.
“We trained a group of women employees to help such victims and assist our officers. Our office, besides informing the embassies, would take direct action in case of police refusal to supply documents,” he said. The rigorous monitoring of cases and surveillance has resulted in many such husbands returning and trying to settle their cases through court of law.
“This has also led to out-ofcourt settlements and such wives getting substantial alimonies,’’ says Kabiraj. Satwinder Kaur Satti, president of the NGO Abandoned Brides by NRI Husbands, appreciates RPO’s initiative. “Now, if the passports of such husbands are impounded, they apply for refugee status in a foreign country. The government should vigorously pursue these cases so that these men return soon to face law.’’
Plight of Punjab’s ‘honeymoon brides’
An estimated 32,000 women in Punjab and Haryana have been deserted by their NRI husbands within days or months of their marriage. Known as ‘honeymoon brides’, most of them say the police hardly register cases and most of them have no recourse to legal action against their truant husbands.