“I was shocked and didn’t know what to do."
Thousands of Indian brides are falling victim to a marriage scam, leaving them broke and abandoned.
According to a 2018 petition by eight victims, there are more than 40,000 women who have been deceived into marrying NRI men.
Between 2015 and 2019, the Indian government dealt with more than 6,000 grievances against NRI men.
One victim was Jagdeep Kaur, from the village of Akalgarh, Punjab.
Her family gave £6,700 in dowry to Sukhminder Singh and his family. Jagdeep’s family also gifted gold, expensive clothes and furniture, using a loan to pay for the items.
They hoped by marrying Sukhminder, a resident of Germany, Jagdeep would have a better life abroad.
But just a month later, Sukhminder returned to Germany, where he had a restaurant job.
He promised Jagdeep that he would get her paperwork done to bring her to Europe but that never happened.
She has only met Sukhminder a few times during his trips back to India.
Jagdeep is still married to Sukminder but in 2017, she learned that he had another wife in Germany and two children.
She said: “I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.”
Jagdeep has now filed cases at the Judicial Magistrate Court in Jagraon against Singh and his family members in the area for cruelty, fraud and cheating.
Many Indian families hope an NRI son-in-law would provide better for their daughters, prompting some to spend large amounts on dowries.
Mamatha Raghuveer Achanta, founder of the Network Of International Legal Activists (NILA), says:
“They neglect to verify the credentials of the groom, resulting in many Indian women being abandoned by their husbands.”
Reeta Kohli, a senior lawyer at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, says these women are virtually “bridal widows” and “do not live the life of a partner”.
She added that some even end up “working as maids at their in-laws’ homes while waiting for their husbands to return”.
These circumstances often lead to abuse or exploitation.
This is echoed by Vidya Ramachandran, a PhD candidate at Oxford University researching women who have been abandoned by NRI husbands.
The majority of those she has interviewed claim they have been abused by their in-laws and harassed for dowry.
Satwinder Kaur Satti has been at the forefront of the battle against NRI husbands who have scammed their wives, having been a victim of a sham marriage herself.
But others are not as lucky because, in addition to facing the stigma of being abandoned, they struggle to find new partners because they cannot remarry until a divorce is granted.
Scammed brides can file grievances under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which can carry up to three years in jail and a fine.
In abuse cases, women can also seek justice under the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, to secure compensation and the right to live in their matrimonial home.
According to Ms Kohli, some local courts have ordered abandoned brides to be paid monthly assistance from their husbands.
But actually receiving the payments is rare.
Ms Kohli told TIME:
“When it comes to getting maintenance, or any sort of justice in such cases, it becomes a herculean task.”
Experts have also called for the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indians Bill to be passed.
The bill would require all marriages involving NRIs to be registered with a local authority within 30 days and grant authorities the power to revoke passports if individuals fail to do so.
It would also facilitate the seizure of property for any “proclaimed offenders” who fail to appear in court.
In March 2020, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs approved the bill but called for amendments to make it “exhaustive” by registering more information from NRI men, including passport details and foreign addresses, among other measures.
But in the three years since, the bill has yet to become law.
Meanwhile, Jagdeep Kaur is still waiting for justice.
In February 2020, her husband was declared by the magisterial court in Jagraon a “proclaimed offender” for his failure to appear in court for almost two years.
Indian authorities also issued a lookout circular against him, meaning he can be arrested if he comes to India.
Jagdeep said his Indian passport has also been revoked.
However, she is yet to receive the £6,700 her family paid in dowry or any other compensation.
Sukhminder was ordered to pay his wife £97 per month but this has not happened.
Jagdeep’s lawyer is now pushing for Sukhminder’s family home in West Ludhiana to be seized.
Jadgeep now works as a children’s tutor and earns just £31 a month.
Her father, Jit Singh, a former Indian Air Force officer, provides her with considerable financial support, including the expenses of the court cases against her husband.
But old age and various elements leave him worried about Jagdeep’s future.
Jit said: “What will happen to my daughter after my death? This thought is killing me inside.”
Jagdeep shares this fear, adding: “I’ve lost faith in everything now.
“What I want is justice. I want him to pay me what I had given him and his family in dowry and compensation—so that I can live the rest of my life without being dependent on anyone.”