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Transnational Abandonment Of South Asian Women

Priyanka Bhattacharya

A child cries out, not in pain or hunger, but because she has not seen her parent for just a few minutes. A simple touch of a hand, a familiar voice and warmth of the embrace of a loved one make her calm down and feel secure again. We develop our sense of companionship and abandonment as mere infants. While growing up, this child is taught to be a good person – because good things happen to good people. Our child grows up to be a person who is truly beautiful on the inside. She obeys her parents when they ask her to marry this “nice boy” who is from the U.S. and who would ensure that she has a secure and loving married life. All she has to do is to adjust to her changing surroundings, love and obey her husband, and be a good wife.

Then one day, this man abandons her for reasons that are not very clear to her. She is left alone in a foreign country (or in her own country) with no resources – financial or legal. She had been a good wife and – Good Things Happen to Good People.

Transnational abandonment is emerging as the new face of violence and abuse against women. By a 2007 estimate, over 25,000 women were abandoned in one state in India alone.

Transnational abandonment takes two distinct forms:

(1) Abandonment by husbands who migrate after marriage, leaving their wives in their home country without any prospect of reunification; and

(2) Abandonment of married women who live abroad before they are deceptively or forcibly taken back to their home country and deserted.

In most cases, initial abandonment is followed by the husband securing an ex parte divorce since women abandoned in their home country are usually unable to appear in courts abroad. Children in these cases often are used as tools for blackmailing the woman into submission, and become innocent victims of abuse and violence.

Harpreet Kaur, of Gurdaspur, married Manjit Singh on April 26, 2000. After staying with his bride for just two months, he left for California and never returned. He has since remarried and lives in the U.S. under a new name. Harpreet has been abandoned by her in-laws.

Over recent years, due to the unrelenting efforts of many non-governmental organizations such as Saheli, women are being helped and informed about their rights in cases of transnational abandonment and other abuse in the U.S. Efforts are being made to increase cooperation between the courts of the two countries involved so that the law is fair and equal and reflects a better understanding of the social and economic aspects of these ex parte divorces.

In response to the rising number of abandoned Indian women, the Government of India (GOI) convened several workshops and in 2006, the National Commission for Women released a report on the problem of abandonment by NRI husbands. The concern for women left by NRI men ultimately led the GOI to create a fund that provides up to $3,000 in legal and counseling services for “needy women in distress who have been deserted by their overseas India spouses.” The total amount of assistance is intended for the initial cost of filing and documentation fees. The services must be provided with the help of women’s organizations or NGOs empaneled with the Indian Missions in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Gulf countries. Last month, Saheli applied for empanelment.  Currently the organization is awaiting approval by the Indian Mission in New York.

The eligibility criteria for this assistance include:

1. The woman must be an Indian passport holder,

2. The marriage was held, solemnized, and registered in India,

3. The woman was deserted in India or within five years of reaching the host country,

4. The divorce proceedings were initiated within five years of marriage,

5. Ex parte divorce has been obtained within ten years of marriage and a case of alimony and maintenance is to be filed, and

6. There are no criminal charges pending against the person receiving services.

To read more about the Ministry of External Affairs’ Scheme for providing legal / financial assistance

to Indian women deserted by their overseas Indian/foreigner husbands, click here.

In addition to the assistance fund, the GOI has sought to institute a uniform registration process to record marriages solemnized in India. The registration process is to track overseas grooms who desert their wives and initiate legal proceedings against them.

One method of advocacy is to alert women about their legal rights in a new country and inform them where to seek help in an emergency. To this end, various agencies in Germany, USA, and India have published self-help books such as the Guidebook on Legal Rights for Female Foreign Nationals, A Little Book of Tips and Tricks and Know Your Rights. Although there are many such brief manuals available, dissemination is limited and lacking where it is most needed, to women newly married to immigrant men.

In conclusion, we all need to recognize this emerging threat against us and our sisters. Recognize that there is a lot of work that still has to be done to increase awareness about South Asia’s “disposable women.” Women need to stand next to each other in support and help empower our sisters who are not in a position to defend themselves.

If you would like to learn more about Saheli’s efforts to assist South Asian women and families in New England who have experienced transnational abandonment, please visit www.saheliboston.org. If you or someone you know might be eligible for legal or counseling services as a result of transnational abandonment, contact Saheli at info@saheliboston.org or 1-866-4SAHELI. 

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