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NRI Marriages in India

Indian women marrying an NRI has turned from expecting a glamorous lifestyle to a nightmare. Women abroad face abuse of several kinds and are abandoned because their purpose of fulfilling the desires of the groom has been served. India has started to face a new evil in the marriage sector.

The complaints and petitions filed against frauds committed in NRI Marriages have doubled over the past decade. There stands a need of constructing and amending laws prior to such notion to provide assistance to victims of such nastily conducted behavior and as well as strengthening the society in order to prevent such malaise.

Definition of NRI

The abbreviation stands for Non-Resident Indian. Even though an expressed definition is not provided under any statute, the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999 defines only a person resident in India as:
A person who has lived in India for a minimum of 182 ( one-hundred and eighty-two days ) in the last financial year and who comes or resides in India for any reason/purpose is a person resident in India.

The Act, furthermore, defined NRI as a person who is not resident in India. The person is an Indian citizen and holds an Indian passport but subsequently lives outside the territory of India.
Other kinds which are dealt with are, Person of Indian Origin which means a citizen of a foreign land who bears an Indian passport, or has/had grandparents who lived or still live in India, or has a spouse who is an Indian.

The term PIO was replaced by OCI which means, Overseas Citizen of India. OCI was statutorily defined in the Citizen Amendment Act of 2005.

Definition and Prospectus of NRI Marriages
There are certain kinds of pairs of individuals who are eligible to participate in an NRI Marriage.

The list is mentioned below:
  1. A male who is an NRI and a female who is Indian; or
  2. A female who is an NRI and a male who is an Indian; or
  3. Husband and wife of Indian nationality who after marriage migrate to a foreign land, they may or may not migrate together; or
  4. Spouses who are NRI marrying in compliance with Indian laws within the Indian territory or a foreign land; or
  5. A male or female of Indian nationality marrying a person who foreign nationality in compliance with Indian territory or a foreign land.
Major reasons that are considered as the prospectus of an NRI marriage include, the luxury to live outside India and bearing rights and freedoms provided in the foreign land, many migrate to pursue personal aspirations, and working in foreign land beings better opportunities in employment and wages, etc.

Concerns in NRI Marriages

The metamorphosis in the concerns arising from NRI Marriages has severely affected women of Indian nationality and their families across the globe. It is pertinent to note that women are likely to be subjected to lure in the fancy and abundant life in the foreign land.

The spiral of problems generally begins with the high demand for dowry and luxurious wedding expectations prompted by the groom and his family, in return for selling the dream of providing a better life for the bride in later stages of life.

Many times the husband reaches the foreign country earlier than the wife and promises to apply and provide for a visa. Such brides often end up staying in India for years in expectation of receiving a visa, often it is found that the husband never applied for a visa for the wife.

If the woman is able to reach the foreign country, the husband does not show up at the airport to pick her up, and or, abandoning her in the city itself. Studies have found that there have been instances where the men have concealed their existing marriages. Non-consummation of marriage stands a leading concern in such marriages.

For whatsoever reason it may be, a woman is often subjected to physical, mental, psychological, and emotional abuse from the husband or the family. Such criminal activity is never reported as at times the wife fears that the husband may increase the activity or abandon her. Brides in foreign land lack social, financial, and legal security.

Recent Developments in Legislation for Providing Support to the Spouse
The Indian diaspora is prevalent in almost every nation. It has been statically analyzed that over 3 million Indians are staying outside India often get involved in legal disputes. As there are no specific laws and procedures followed and providing justice to the aggrieved person stands dubious.

It is imperative to highlight that addressing marital issues and providing solutions has become a matter of great concern for society and the law fraternity of the country, especially when the discourse regarding NRI marriages comes up, due to the spineless legal framework upon this cause. It is pertinent to note that such marriages generally exist between an Indian woman residing in India and an Indian man residing outside/without the territory of India.

The number of NRI marriages taking place in the country is not officially recorded under any law. As the ambiguity arises, it is not clear whether the marriage takes place in India or outside India. It is hard to track whether the married couple at the present status of their current domicile. Such fractured, temporary, and migrating nature often develops into matrimonial contentions, which disrupts the peace in marriages.

A rapid growth rate has been recorded in the registration of complaints and petitions about the NRI Marital Grievances. This broadens the horizon for the introduction of new legislation for accurate and scrupulous registration of NRI Marriages.

From the year 2016 till 2019, about 5298 complaints were filed against NRIs about disputes involving desertion, physical/sexual harassment, cruelty, bigamy, and violence by their spouses. The majority of complaints were filed against citizens residing in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are relatively fewer cases from the Gulf countries. These complaints seek requests for extradition, maintenance, divorce, or custody of the child. It has been observed that, generally, the complainants do not have enough legal and financial assistance to file for a divorce.

It has been recorded by the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Women & Child Development that the states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh marked the highest number of complaints. On a positive note, there were absolutely no such complaints arising from the North-Eastern states of Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland.

The Expert Committee led by Hon'ble Justice Mr. Arvind Kumar (Retd.) was set up in May of 2017 to identify the obstructions faced by Indian women married to NRIs. This committee later proposed a set of new laws and regulations, followed by amendments in existing laws and a framework for compulsory and procedural registration of such marriages. The recommendations cover different areas, such as sensitizing the society regarding the malaise, creating agencies in India and foreign countries to provide legal and financial assistance to aggrieved persons, deportation, impounding of passport, etc.

It is imperative to highlight that another request for protection of these women's fundamental rights was submitted through the 155th report of Rajya Sabha on petitions praying for the solutions for problems arising out of the marriage of Indian women with NRI. This report was submitted in December of 2018.

In recent years, many developments have taken places through legal mechanisms to assist these women, as mentioned below:

The Registration of Marriages of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019:

On February 11, 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs, introduced The Registration of Marriages of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019 in Rajya Sabha which was referred to the standing committee for further deliberations on February 19, 2019. The final report by the Standing Committee was published on March 13th, 2020. The bill highlights vital issues such as registration of marriages, amendments to the existing laws, and, issuance of summons, etc. According to this bill, if enacted:
  • The bill holds an objective to locate the NRI who was able to dupe or/and deserted the spouse.
  • The bill shall also amend the Code of Criminal Procedure Code by inserting a provision stating that if the summons could not be served to a person, the same shall be uploaded by the Ministry of External Affairs on a designated website redressal. Even if so the summoned person fails to produce itself in the court of law as expected, a warrant for arrest shall be issued and uploaded on the designated website as well. The court shall exercise its power to order attachment of the property of the proclaimed offender.
  • Every NRI who marries a citizen of India or another NRI would be required to register the marriage within 30 days of its occurrence. In case of failure to comply with this provision, the passport authority holds the capacity to impound the passport. This shall be done via an amendment proposed for the Passport Act, 1967.

Integrated Nodal Agency:

Under the Expert Committee's recommendations, an Integrated Nodal Agency (INA) has been formulated by the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Women and Child Development. This agency serves as a bridge to eradicate inter-ministry issues and is formed to discuss any and every matrimonial issue related to NRI Marriages periodically. The state and central ministries are expected to forward the accumulated complaints to the National Commission for Women, which is recommended to the Integrated Nodal Agency after scrutiny.

Financial and Legal Assistance:

The Indian Community Welfare Fund ( ICWF ) revised its guidelines in order to increase the amount of legal and financial assistance for the distressed persons from $3000 to $4000 in 2017 and plans to sanction unto $5000 and shall stand applicable to every overseas Indian Missions and Post. The ICWF also encourages the maintenance of panels of lawyers dedicated to assisting Indians residing abroad. Such panels are expected to have individuals who are well versed in the local language and laws, especially in gulf countries.

Mediation Cell for disputes regarding custody of children:

The Ministries have directed the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights ( NCPCR ) to constitute a dispute resolution cell to assist and resolve cases about custody of children trapped between the dispute between the spouses. The cell holds an approach to provide what stands in the best interest of children subjected to the dispute.

There is a need to understanding and formulating laws not only on the national but international levels to prevent this cause. It has been recommended to develop stronger and effective multi-lateral coordinating agencies in between countries and inter-ministerial agencies. Even though from the last couple of years, the government has proactively developed laws in order to solve this crisis, there is a long way to go.

  • Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999, (Act 42 of 1999), Section 2
  • Concept of Non-Resident Indian Marriages & Legal Issues - A Detailed Study:
  • https:www.prsindia.orgsitesdefaultfilesbill_filesSC%20Report_NRI%20Bill%2C%202019.pdf

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