DISPOSABLE WOMEN: ABUSE, VIOLENCE AND ABANDONMENT IN TRANSNATIONAL MARRIAGES

Abandonment of wives by non
resident Indian men in transnational marriages has become a
widespread
phenomenon. Abandonment
can
take three f
orms: (a)
a woman
,
migrating
after
marriage to her
Indian
origin
husband’s
country of residence
,
may be ousted or (less commonly)
flee after a period of abuse
;
(b) a woman who has migrated with her husband after marriage may
be deceived into
returning
to India for a vacation and abandoned there,
while
her
husband
returns and revo
ke
s her visa
;
(c) a woman may be left behind in India after marriage while her
husband goes back
with assurances that he will
sponsor her visa,
but the woman is
left
with
her
in
laws
and is eventually ousted
from their home
or leav
es because of domestic vi
olence.
This study was conducted between December 2013 and May 2015
with
abandoned
wives in the
second and third categories
in
Delhi,
Punjab and Gujarat
, states
in India which have
a long
history of out
migration
to
the
UK
and other countries in the West
.
Th
is
study e
xp
lore
s
the
nature and
patterns of
abuse and
abandonment in transnational marriages, and document
s
women’s
experience of
the legal and judicial app
aratus in
the
UK and India in their quest for
justice.
I
t is hoped
that the findings will
stimu
late
policy debates within and between the two
countries on abandonment as a form of gender
specific violence and on measures
to address
the
problem.
Twenty
eight
of the 57 women interviewed for this research had been married to men resident in
the UK, ei
ght
of the husbands
were from Italy, four each from Australia and USA, with smaller
numbers from other countries.
About two
fifth
of the women
we interviewed
had migrated
following
their
marriage
while
the remaining
women
remained in India
with
their
in
laws, while
they awaited a spousal visa
.
Most of t
he women reported that their
marriages
had been
hastily
arranged with the exchange of dowry and lavish celebrations, all paid for by the bride’s family.
The
majority of
the
women
reported
that they had
experience
d
phy
sical violence
perpetrated by
their husband, in
laws or both
. A
ll
the
women were subjected to
coercive control, isolation and
financial abuse
.
The
women
who
were left behind with
their in
laws
were mo
re likely to
experienc
e violence from female in
laws,
while a majority of the violence experienced by
marriage migrants was perpetrated by their husbands.
A third of the research participants disclosed sexual abuse perpetrated by their husband, while
just under
a quarter disc
losed
sexual abuse by
male in
laws. A fifth of the research participants
had been
coerced
in
to
undergoing
abortion(s). A
majority of the
women who
experienced
sexual abuse indicated that our interview was the first time they had disclosed this abuse.
All
the
women
interviewed
had sole responsibility for
domestic labour
in
the household
while a
minority of women who engaged in paid work experienced appropriation of their wages.
A
majority of women
also
suffered abuse and control in the context of
micro
mana
gement of their
domestic labour
and
about half of the women
were
denied food and
adequate lodgings
, and
subjected to degrading treatment
.
Ongoing
demands for dowry
,
and
escalating violence
where such demands could not be met
,
w
ere
si
gnificant
contexts for abuse for
the
majority of the
women
.
Inability to meet dowry
demands eventually triggered abandonment f
or
most
of
the
women left
with their in
laws
.
S
ocio
cultural norms against divorce
compelled women to remain in abusive relationships.
I
nsecure immigration status
prevented
marriage migrants
from seeking help
.
A majority of the
women
who had migrated following marriage
were deceptively
taken back
to
India
and
abandoned there. A small number of marriage migrants
eventually fled
their husban
d’s country
of residence
because of
the
escalating violence. Women left with in
laws were eventually cast
out of the affinal home, while a small minority left because of the violence.
Following abandonment,
e
x
parte divorce proceedings were initiated by
the husband, in a
context where the woman was ignorant of
the proceedings
or could not represent herself in legal
4
proceedings in another country
.
S
ome of the women did
initiate
legal action
in India
against
their husbands
and in
laws
,
however
most
complain
ts
ended
in
a
compromise
agreement
or
were
not
pursued
by
the
police
.
Very
few
of
the
women
received
financial settlement
of any kind
upon divorce,
and
none received any maintenance for their children or return of their dowry
.
The findings suggest that cultural practices like
dowry
, son preference, and dominant social
norms
which make for patriarchal control and devaluation of women played an important role in
the violence and abandonment that ensued in all marriages.
C
rucially
,
the
inadequacy of national
and transnational legal mechanisms served to create transnational brides as a particularly
vulnerable category of women who could be abused and exploited with impunity
. I
t was in this
context that
some Indian
origin men in the d
iaspora sought brides in India and treated them as
disposable women
, whose abuse was not a matter of concern
.
Recommendations
for the UK
Immigration
policy and practice:
W
omen who once resided in the UK (no matter how briefly) should be entitled to claim
under the Domestic Violence Rule (DV Rule) and the Destitution and Domestic Violence
(DDV) Concession and be treated in all respects as domestic violence victims.
Transnationally abandoned women should be issued with temporary visas to avail the DV
Rule an
d initiate or engage in criminal and family or civil court proceedings.
Victims of domestic v
iolence need full right
of appeal
under
the
Immigration Act
2014
.
At the point of
their visa application
, British embassies abroad should give women a leaflet
set
ting out their rights and entitlements under the UK immigration and family law.
Divorce and Family Matters
:
Greater awareness and procedural checks and safeguards are necessary in d
ivorce and family
law processes in order
to ensure that women who have bee
n abandoned abroad have the
opportunity to participate in family law proceedings on an equal footing.
The
UK government should consider reciprocal arrangements
that allow for the enforcement
of legal decisions concerning divorce, support, maintenance, res
idency and contact with
children in contexts of overlapping jurisdictions.
There is a need for
a training programme for the judiciary to understand better the social
realities of South Asian women who live abroad for whom divorce carries severe stigma and
adverse financial, mental health
and
welfare consequences.
There needs to be better judicial
understanding of the practices of
s
tridhan
(gift
s
voluntarily
given to the bride from her parents
)
and dowry in divorce, maintenance and other financial
settlements so that women are not left destitute and dependent on their own families.
Recommendations
for India
The provisions of the Punjab Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act 2012
which
records the passport number and details of non
resident spouses at
the
tim
e of
the
registration of marriage
needs to be extended to other states.
Alongside
the
registration of marriage,
the
registration of dowry/
stridhan
given to the bride
should also be made compulsory.
The process for selection of organisations under the Indian
MOIA’s Scheme for giving legal
/ financial assistance to Indian women deserted by th
eir overseas husbands (2011)
needs to
be transparent, and the effectiveness of the scheme needs to evaluated.
There is a need for a mechanism
(e
.
g.
bilateral agreements) for
the enforcement of legal
decisions concerning divorce, support and maintenance in
contexts of split jurisdiction
.
An ex
parte decree of divorce awarded to an Indian
woman
by a foreign court should be a
basis on which she can seek a divorce
i
n India.
There is a need for raising awareness and prov
iding information on this issue
.
5
1.
Introduc
tion
Media reports
in India
,
corroborated by non
governmental organisations and government
institutions,
suggest a growing problem of the abandonment of wives by
Indian
origin
men who
are
residents
of another country
.
Based on
her
experiences
,
Pragna
Patel
,
who is
the Director of
Southall Black Sisters
(SBS)
,
1
deli
neates
three main forms
that such abandonment takes:
i)
A
woman migrates upon marriage to join her husband in
another country
and is
subjected to a period of neg
lect, abuse and exploitation, fo
llowing which she is thrown out of
the marital home or less commonly,
flees
to escape the violence;
ii)
F
ollowing marriage migration and abuse, the woman is taken back to her country of
origin either coercively or is deceived into returning on false pretences
(e.g., holiday) and
abandoned there while the husband returns and revokes her visa;
iii)
A resident of another country
comes to India to marry
and
leaves shortly afterwards with
assurances that he will
sponsor his wife
’s spouse visa
,
but fails to do so
the wo
man is
left
with
her in
laws
in India and is eventually thrown out or leaves because of domestic violence
.
Women in the first category
now have access to
limited
support in
the UK in
the form of
housing and welfare benefits. Before 2002,
marriage
migrants abandoned following domestic
violence
were
routinely deported to their country of origin, often to face further abuse from their
families for not ‘making the marriage work’.
The
Labour government passed the Domestic
Violence Rule in
2002 in
respon
se to campaigns from women’s
organisations. These changes
made it possible for a woman to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK
if she
could prove that her marriage had broken down because of domestic violence
.
However,
women with insecure i
mmigration status were prohibited from access
ing public funds
,
which
meant that
they could not be accommodated in
women’s refuges. This rule left women destitute
while they were expected to apply for ILR
(Anitha
,
2011
)
.
SBS
and allied organisations
campaig
ned
to change this, resulting in the Des
titute Domestic Violence (DDV) C
oncession of
2010
, which gives women limited access to benefits
while they apply for ILR
.
T
his report presents the findings of a study on
abandoned
wives in India who fall into the
s
econd and third categories.
W
omen abandoned in their country of origin
are
often
left at risk of
poverty and destitution, social stigma,
and
domestic abuse from natal family
. Due to
inadequate
transnational legal mechanisms, they are also left
unable to access their legal rights
to a
financial
settlement
, child support payments, and access to their children
upon divorce.
In a context where
m
arriage remains the primary marker of social status and identity for women
,
abandoned
women have limited
means of living independently
or
undertaking paid wor
k, particularly in
rural areas.
In
2008, the Indian government nominated the National Commission for Woman (NCW)
to
respond to
issues pertaining to Non
Resident Indian (NRI)
2
marriages.
T
he NCW estimate
s
that
th
is
problem
a
ffects
approximately 25,000 women
in total
,
suggesting that
two
out of
ten
transnational marriages end
in abandonment (NCW
,
undated). What is evident from media
reports and anecdotal accounts from women’s organisations in the West (
Das
gupta and Rudra
,
2009) and in India
(
Jabbi
,
2005)
is that this is a growing problem.
However,
little is known
about the nature of this problem and women’s experiences during and following the process of
abandonment, as there has been
scant
research on this
subject
, especially one which brings forth
the
voices and
perspective
s
of abandoned women
.
1
SBS is a UK
based women’s organisation which provides services for black and minority ethnic women and
campaigns to end violence against women and girls.
2
A
Non
Resident Indian
(
NRI
) is a
citizen of India
who holds an Indian
passport
and has temporarily
emigrated to
another country.
However, i
n popular parlance, NRI denotes any person of Indian orig
in who lives in another
country, which is how this term is used in this report, reflecting the voices of the women and the practitioners
interviewed for this s
tudy.
6
2.
D
omestic violence in India and among the Indian diaspora
There is now a wide range of evidence that
highlight
s the worldwide scope and magnitude of
domestic
violence
(Heise et al., 2002; Watts and Zimmerman, 2002).
Research indicates
the
common origins and explanations for such violence
patriarchal
cultures which manifest
themselves in
particular ways in different social and historical contexts (Hunnicutt, 2
009; Ogle
and Batton, 2009)
and social constructs of gender which devalue
women
and relegate
them
to
the private sphere (Purkayastha
et
al.
,
2003)
. However,
it is
equally
important to understand the
specific
forms
that
violence
against women takes in parti
cular contexts
, not least in order to
develop effective responses to it.
There is extensive evidence
to show that
violence against wives
perpetrated by husbands and
their relatives is widespread
in India and in the
Indian
dia
s
pora
(Ahmed
Ghosh
,
2004; Dave and
Solanki
,
2000; Panchanadeswaran and Kovero
la
,
2005)
. This research
also documents
that
the
laws to
protect women
against such violence
and
to punish the perpetrators have been
largely
ineffective
(Gangoli and Rew
,
2011; Kapur and Cossman
,
1
996). Violence against wives takes
place in a context where marriage entails
relocation
into a male
headed household
in which
the
new bride occupies
a subordinate status
, whil
st
also bringing
benefits to the husband (and his
family)
that
include domestic
labour
and materia
l advantages from any paid work
(Kandiyoti
,
1988)
. The subordination of women
is reinforced through coercive control and domestic
violence for perceived violations
of gender
norm
s
(Purkayastha
et
al
.
,
2003).
Dowry is widely regarded as o
ne of the main structures through which domestic violence is
perpet
rated (Ahmed
Ghosh
,
2004; Rastogi and Therly
,
2006), both among affluent families
where
dowry expectations
are
high
(Bloch and Rao
,
2002) and for women from poorer families
unable to fulfil
dowry demands (Srinivasan and Bedi
,
2007). Other particular contexts for such
violence include the birth of
a
female child and policing constraints on
women’s sexuality
(Sudha and Irudaya
,
1999
; Gill
,
2004
). Women’s multiple strategies to cope with the abuse
include minimising the abuse, placating the abuser, answering back, avoidance
behaviour
and
active help
seeking (Chaudhuri et al.
,
2014; Pancha
na
deswaran and Kove
rola
,
2005).
Research
on the problem of
domestic violence faced by Sou
th Asian
marriage migrants
in the
diaspora
highlight
s their added vulnerability to abuse
,
in the context of barriers such
as
and
stereotyped service responses that draw on notions of commonness and even acceptance of
a
buse in certain social groups (Batsleer et al., 2002
;
Rai & Thiara, 1997
)
,
lack of adequate
support in the form of welfare services, public housi
ng, health services
and language barriers in
the absence of adequate translation services
(Anitha
,
201
1
; Raj and Silverman, 2002; Sokoloff
and Dupont
,
2005).
However,
little
is known
about
the experiences of women who are resident
s
in the departure countries following a transnational marriage
, that is,
those who migrated and
returned
,
and
those
for whom the
opportunity to migrate never came to be real