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Introduction to NRI Cell of Commission

The persisting division of 'private' versus 'public' spaces which views the entry of law in homes as "bull in the china shop" has been largely responsible for keeping the homes considerably insulated from the legal system, notwithstanding the fact that some of the grossest rights' violations happen within the 'sacrosanct' four-walls of the homes. This dilemma, coupled with the sensitive and delicate nature of matrimonial relationships per se, are largely responsible for making the entire gamut of matrimonial disputes one of the most challenging and complex areas for legal intervention within any system. What makes it further complex particularly in the Indian context is the fact that in the absence of uniform civil laws, the personal laws of each religious community continue to be different in this country, thus making the matrimonial disputes, especially in inter-religious marriages, even more difficult to deal with.

In this already complex scenario where matrimonial disputes are placed, the legal complications get multiplied manifold when a marriage steps out of the borders of a country and therefore the boundaries of the country's legal system, in a phenomenon that has come to be known as the "NRI marriages". These marriages have to then enter the domain - often called the 'maze' - of private international law that deals with the interplay and conflict of laws of different countries, which makes the issues therein that much more complex as will be explained later hereunder.

Even though this is a gender-neutral term, typically the "NRI marriages", as generally understood, are between an Indian woman from India and an Indian man residing in another country (thus NRI - non-resident Indian), either as Indian citizen (when he would legally be an 'NRI') or as citizen of that other country (when he would legally be a PIO - person of Indian origin). With the characteristic Indians' penchant for migration to foreign countries, such alliances are seen as the most coveted ones in Indian society, promising greener pastures for not just the woman but her entire family.

In the eagerness not to let go of such lucrative association proposal, the families totally ignore even the common cautions that are observed in traditional matchmaking. They also ignore that in case of things going awry in an NRI marriage, the woman's recourse to justice is greatly constrained by the reason that such marriage are not governed any more by only the Indian legal system but by the far more complex private international laws involving the legal system of the other country too. They even ignore the plain and simple fact that just logistically for a woman to negotiate her way to justice across thousands of miles would be a thoroughly exasperating experience. The aggravated risks in such marriages, the woman being isolated far away from home in an alien land, inevitably facing constraints of language, communication, lack of knowledge of local criminal justice, police and legal system, lack of support network of friends and family to turn to, lack of immediate and readily available monetary support and a place to take shelter in, are issues that no one likes to talk or hear about at the time of marriage. It is therefore hardly surprising that there is growing evidence today that even as the number of NRI marriages is escalating by thousands every year, with the increasing Indian Diaspora, the number of matrimonial and related disputes in the NRI marriages have also risen proportionately, infact at most places much more than proportionately.

Issues that arise in NRI marriages:- 

  1. Woman married to NRI who was abandoned even before being taken by her husband to the foreign country of his residence - after a short honeymoon he had gone back, promising to soon send her ticket that never came. In many instances the woman would already have been pregnant when he left and so both she and the child (who was born later) were abandoned. The husband never called or wrote and never came back again. The in-laws who could still be in India would either plead helplessness or flatly refuse to help. 
  2. Woman who went to her husband's home in the other country only to be brutally battered, assaulted, abused both mentally and physically, malnourished, confined and ill treated by him in several other ways. She was therefore either forced to flee or was forcibly sent back. It could also be that she was not allowed to bring back her children along. In many cases, the children were abducted or forcibly taken away from the woman.
  3. Woman who was herself or whose parents were held to ransom for payment of huge sums of money as dowry, both before and after the marriage, her continued stay and safety in her husband's country of residence depending on that.
  4. Woman who reached the foreign country of her husband's residence and waited at the international airport there only to find that her husband would not turn up at all. 
  5. Woman who was abandoned in the foreign country with absolutely no support or means of sustenance or escape and without even the legal permission to stay on in that country.
  6. Woman who learnt on reaching the country of her NRI husband's residence that he was already married in the other country to another woman, whom he continued to live with. He may have married her due to pressure from his parents and to please them or sometimes even to use her like a domestic help. 
  7. Woman who later learnt that her NRI husband had given false information on any or all of the following: his job, immigration status, earning, property, marital status and other material particulars, to con her into the marriage. 
  8. Woman whose husband, taking advantage of more lenient divorce grounds in other legal systems, obtained ex-parte decree of divorce in the foreign country through fraudulent representations and/ or behind her back, without her knowledge, after she was sent back or forced to go back to India or even while she was still there. 
  9. Woman who was denied maintenance in India on the pretext that the marriage had already been dissolved by the court in another country. 
  10. Woman who approached the court, either in India or in the other country, for maintenance or divorce but repeatedly encountered technical legal obstacles related to jurisdiction of courts, service of notices or orders, or enforcement of orders or learnt of the husband commencing simultaneous retaliatory legal proceeding in the other country to make her legal action. 
  11. Woman who sought to use criminal law to punish her husband and in- laws for dowry demands and/ or, or matrimonial cruelty and found that the trial could not proceed as the husband would not come to India and submit to the trial or respond in any way to summons, or even warrant of arrest.
  12. Woman who was coaxed to travel to the foreign country of the man's residence and get married in that country, who later discovered that Indian courts have even more limited jurisdiction in such cases. 
  13. Woman who had to fight nasty legal battles for custody of her children and for child support, and to bring them back with her after she was divorced or forced to leave, sometimes even facing charges of illegally abducting her own children. 
  14. Many women have also approached the Commission seeking redressal of their grievances having been deserted by their NRI Spouses.