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Law Commission may enact law to protect spouses married to NRI men

Severe punishment may now be in store for NRIs who abandon their wives. Law Commission sources say that it is mulling over bringing in a new law against this practice, which is most frequently observed in newly-wed couples from Punjab. The state goes to polls on February 4.

A draft of this proposed special law, exclusively accessed by DNA, show the law will not only protect married Indian women but also women in live-in relationships with NRIs or foreign nationals.

At present, abandoned wives can only initiate criminal proceeding against their husbands under Section 498A (husband cruelty) – the offence which is punishable with a maximum imprisonment of three years. But the proposed law titled ‘Protection of Women from foreign residents Act’ prescribes punishment ranging from one year to life imprisonment depending on the gravity of torture. It will also make it easier for women to file cases against husbands.

This stringent law was proposed by advocate Abhay Bharadwaj, who is a part-time member of the Law Commission. Bharadwaj explained that under present laws, the police can proceed against NRIs or foreign nationals accused of committing an offence only after obtaining sanction from the Central government, which is a long process.

If the proposed law comes into being, there will be no need for obtaining this sanction. Speaking to DNA, Bharadwaj said: “I have made a proposal for formulating a stringent law for ensuring protection of Indian women who are abandoned by their NRI (non-resident Indian) husbands or foreign partners.”

A 2017 study by Punjab University found that around 25,000 wives of NRIs were deserted in the state that year. Punjab reportedly has the ignominy of having maximum number of abandoned wives but other states like Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are not far behind. According to a paper published by New Jersey-based NGO, Manavi, there were 12,000 women living in Gujarat in 2004, abandoned by their husbands.

Experts classify cases of such abandonment into broadly three categories. One frequent complaint is about instances in which an NRI marries in India for dowry and then returns abroad, after which the bride never sees him again. In other cases, the bride does go abroad but finds the groom already married, or she is harassed and in some cases becomes a victim of trafficking. In the third kind of fraud, it’s the bride who marries an NRI only for a visa and annuls the marriage once abroad.

The number of Indian women being abruptly deserted by NRIs has been a cause of concern for some time now. In July last year, the government constituted a committee constituting senior officials from the Ministries of External Affairs (MEA), Home, Law and Women & Child Development to formulate guidelines for providing safeguards to a growing number of victims left to fend for themselves

After July, the MEA recently uploaded guidelines on its website on “Legal provisions in foreign countries on Indian women heated/abandoned/abused by Overseas Indian Spouses” and “How to address problems associated with marriages with PIOs and NRIs (Fraudulent Marriage/Cheating by NRI Spouse)”. These guidelines aim to create awareness among Indian women about their rights in various different countries if they face such an unfortunate situation.

In July last year, a parliamentary panel had also recommended measures such as a special cell in the external affairs ministry to look into complaints, and international treaties to bring NRI spouses back to India so that they can be tried under Indian laws.