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Abandoned by their NRI husbands, the women fight back

By The Rediff News Bureau
Last updated on: March 05, 2020 19:08 IST
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The men promised a life abroad.

They demanded -- and got -- tens of thousands of dollars in dowry.

Then they left, abandoning their wives, and sometimes children, in India, as they settled in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.

But now those wives are fighting back.

In a pink-walled room of a government office in Punjab they spend their days cancelling the passports of runaway husbands.

They've created what the regional passport chief describes as a 'terror' in several foreign countries.

All photographs: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Women, who claim to have been abandoned by their NRI husbands, take part in a protest outside the regional passport office in Jalandhar. It all began when several women started approaching regional passport chief in Chandigarh, Sibash Kabiraj, with their pleas for help. Kabiraj knew that passports of men who've misled their wives can be suspended or cancelled, though it requires a lot of paperwork. So he explained passport law to the women, gave them a room with a computer, printer and fax machine, and told them if they would do the paperwork, he would sign it. In the past year-and-a-half, the women have managed to suspend more than 400 passports and revoke 67 others, says Kabiraj.

Amritpal Kaur, left, looks at Reena Mehla, right, while she cries remembering her husband, who she says abandoned her and left for the US after a few years of marriage. Kaur and Mehla work together at a desk in the regional passport office in Chandigarh. Mehla knows she’s defying traditions back home, where married women don’t leave the house without male relatives or have a separate identity. "Even our soul is not allowed, because a husband is everything. A husband is like God," she says.

Satwinder Kaur, whose husband abandoned her in 2015 and settled in Poland, speaks on the phone as she sits with her family in the courtyard of her house in the village of Toosa, south of Ludhiana. Kaur says her neighbours and even relatives call her banj, or 'rotten womb'. "In my own house, I was called that," she said.

Satwinder speaks to a woman who visited her to ask for advice on a personal issue. Every day, women with husband problems pile into Satwinder Kaur's family courtyard in a village surrounded by mustard fields.

Satwinder reacts during a court hearing after a judge postponed the trial, as her in-laws got a stay order over the warrant of possession of the house, in the lower court at Jagraon. She has filed 11 court cases against her husband.

Sarbjeet Kaur sews a garment at her house in Gurdaspur. In 2015, her husband Daler Singh who is in Canada asked for divorce. Daler went abroad when Sarbjeet was pregnant with her daughter. She sold her jewellery, borrowed money from her parents and pawned her cousins'. aunts' and friends' jewellery too to help him go to the US and then Canada. Initially, he did send some money back, but only for his parents. He also stopped sending the school fees of their daughter in 2016. Sarbjeet had to sell her furniture so that her daughter could finish a term at the school before she moved her to a new, cheaper one. Next year, she sold the gold earrings her parents had given to her daughter again, for her school fees. These days, Sarbjeet stitches salwar kameez and simple dresses on a pedal-operated machine beside her bed to earn money.

Sarbjeet Kaur's mother gives money to pay for her daughter Ekampreet's school fees at their house in Mukerian, Punjab.

Ekampreet, 10, laughs with her mother Sarbjeet at their house in Gurdaspur. Kaur and her daughter live at their in-laws house after the court granted permission for them to stay there.

Baljit Kaur, 43, who is a policewoman, sits next to her mother on a bed on the verandah at her mother's house in the village Khara, Punjab. Baljit married at the age of 39 in 2014 and her in-laws demanded a huge dowry. She also gave cash to her husband, who went to the US a month after the marriage. He even asked for money from there but Baljit refused and they've been locked in the legal battle ever since. "We are like dead bodies walking. We have no place in society. We cannot live and we cannot even die," said Baljit, an assistant sub inspector in the Punjab police. Kaur's mother passed away last year.

Palwinder Kaur, left, and Satwinder Kaur, right, speak to a woman who says she has been abandoned by her husband, in the village of Toosa.

Manjit Singh, the station house officer at the NRI police Station, and Sarabjeet wait for a victim who had come to lodge a complaint against her NRI husband, in Gurdaspur.

Neelam, a woman abandoned by her NRI husband, reacts during a protest in Jalandhar.

Abandoned women protest in Jalandhar. In all, more than 5,000 women have filed abandonment complaints with the ministry of external affairs.
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