Endless Wait! The saga of holiday wives; 30,000 and still counting
There is a saying in Punjab, if you wish to get your donkey married, spread the word that he is an NRI. This saying brings forth the ugly but true fact of how desperate the parents of girls have become in Punjab to get their daughters married off to non-resident Indians, with chances of their turning into yet another “holiday wife”.
“Holiday wives” is the term coined to describe those girls, married and deserted by their NRI husbands either returning for short holiday trip or not at all. According to a survey conducted jointly by the National Commission for Women and Ministry of Women and Child Development, there are almost 30,000 cases of women deserted by NRI husbands. Of these, 15,000 cases alone are from Punjab’s prosperous Doaba region, considered to be the NRI belt, including Kapurthala, Nawanshahar, Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar districts. While these are only the reported cases, many go unreported fearing social stigma.
Charmed with the lifestyle abroad, the multiplying wealth of the fellow residents has lured the urge of going abroad. Till some time back, it was only the young boys or men who dreamt of settling abroad, by hook or by crook, but with each passing generation, the urge has become so much worse that parents are marrying their daughters to unknown strangers merely carrying the tag of being an NRI. Often these marriages take place in a jiffy, giving less or no time to check the credentials of the boy in question.
Recently, a show on Colors TV, based on the plight of these holiday wives, has touched the painful chord of aplenty that have been married to NRI grooms and virtually dumped by their husbands often coming back only for an occasional holiday.
Waiting for their husbands has become a life-long ordeal for many girls, who, fearing the social stigma of being a divorcee, have simply refused to move ahead in their lives. Often left pregnant by the NRI grooms, termed as parvasi panchhi (migratory birds) by the locals, these girls are forced either to undergo an abortion or to bear the burden of bringing up a child all alone.
I first encountered the concept of “holiday wife” while sitting in the office of SSP Jalandhar, I met Sadhu Singh and his two daughters, Satbir Kaur and Rajbir Kaur. With tears in his eyes, the 68-year-old described how five years he had got his two daughters married to NRI grooms from Australia and Canada only to ensure their bright and prosperous lives in foreign lands.
But, these five years had become an ordeal for the farmer, who had leased out his land to finance the pompous marriage, as demanded by the NRI grooms and their families. While the Canada-based husband of Satbir, arrived twice for a 15-day short holiday, Rajbir’s Australia-based husband has not returned after the marriage. The story of these two sisters is just one among those thousands of abandoned daughters of Punjab, who though married are left only with photographs or videos being the testimony of their marriage. Clutching the piece of papers bearing the addresses and phone numbers, mostly fake, these women have nothing left but an empty wait for their husbands to come.
In yet another case, involving a well-educated working woman, well aware of the harrowing lives of “holiday wives”, Satinder Kaur, a school teacher, decided to get married to a California-based taxi driver Rajwinder Singh, through a matrimonial advertisement. The only reason for her to get married to an NRI was to help sponsor her unemployed brothers to the foreign lands. With two abortions resulting from the conception taken place during the short trips by her husband, Satinder refused to accept the reality of being deserted. After several unanswered phone calls and emails Satinder was finally told by her husband of six years that he was not returning to India and he had got nothing to do with her either. The six-year-old relationship was ended over a phone call.
Like Satinder many girls are being used by their NRI husbands when and if at all they come to India for their leisurely trip. While some decided to move up further in life, others waste their youth in raising the children, who have not seen their fathers.
Often these marriages take place with a huge fanfare and lot of dowry being given to grooms’ family. In some cases, these NRIs have even taken away the jewellery of their wives saying that it would be risky carrying it once she arrives abroad.
In yet another cases, some of these wives, if taken along, are rendered to marital abuse and beatings. As most of them are uneducated and jobless, they have no option but to suffer, all in the name of staying married. For some others, instead of visa, divorce papers come.
To tackle the menace and saving the daughters of Punjab from becoming “holiday wives”, the Punjab government drafted a bill few months ago, according to which, registration of marriages with NRIs’ has to be made mandatory, with total legal support to NRIs deserted wives and district-wise census of NRIs’ deserted-wives.
Also, a round-the-clock helpline has been launched to help these women. Making use of Section 10 (3) of the Passport Act, which states that the regional passport officer or the issuing authority can suspend or impound the passports of such offenders in public interest after issuing a show cause notice, the Regional Passport Office at Jalandhar has seized the passports of at least 100 NRIs, who have deserted their brides in India. Once the passport is seized, it won’t be possible for the NRI to go back.
While these steps can only ensure the security of “holiday wives”, steps have to be taken from preventing further birth of these abandoned wives.
(The names used in the story have been changed to protect the identity of the victims)
By Parwinder Sandhu from Chandigarh