HOSHIARPUR: They were called the ‘holiday brides’, but they never had anywhere to go. Now, even their children have nowhere to go as entire generations grow fatherless. At 32, Balwinder Kaur of Sherpur Pucca village is a bitter woman. Not many men have been welcomed to her house after she got into a ‘holiday marriage’ with US NRI Mahender Badwal. The moment she was pregnant and asked him when he would take her to America, the land of her dreams, he abandoned her. "These days, I just live for my son," says Balwinder, the years of futile struggle showing on her face like creases.Balwinder is one of the thousands of hapless victims who were used by NRIs to have a good time while on a holiday in India
The promises were fake, so were the addresses. Often, the person was a fake. News had reached foreign shores that farmers in Punjab were desperate to get their daughters married to NRI grooms and get a green card in the land they saw as paradise. From there on, it was easy to trap families and use the gullible women as little more than escorts. Narrating her harrowing experience, Balwinder explains how her parents found her an NRI husband and spent all their hard-earned money on the marriage and dowry. "Mahender spent a month with me in 1990 and went back. He did return in 1992, got me pregnant and left. He came to India in 1999 and got married to someone else," she say There are countless others like her. In nearby Dhade village, Fateh Singh says he doesn’t want his daughter’s name to be published.
"My daughter was discarded by an NRI groom from England. Dowry and more dowry was what they wanted. I just wanted my daughter to be happy," he cries. Parents, though, are not without fault. "Parents have at times used NRI grooms for reasons of social mobility. Of course, they have paid a price too heavy for their mistake," says Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, former MP and chief of the Lok Bhalai Party He is one of the few politicians championing the cause of such victims, many of them from Doaba region. "I’m appalled at how 117 legislators and 13 MPs have been napping over a phenomenon that has ruined the lives of 15,000-20,000 Punjabi girls," Ramoowalia fumes, holding politicians and religious leaders accountable for the mess.
The police, which has shown little enterprise in dealing with such cases, has tried registering cases of rape to act as a deterrent, but without success. Extradition is a problem, says a senior cop. He doesn’t explain how an NRI with a criminal case against him is able to fly in and out of the country at will. "We don’t trust the police," says another Balwinder, this time from Bullowal. Her hopes of a happy married life with Roop Lal were shattered when she discovered that he already had a Belgian bride. She gave birth to Roop Lal’s daughter in 1999, but has no idea where he is. Her father Nirmal Singh has filed a case in court. He is unsure what will come of it. Confesses Gurpreet Deo, former SSP at Hoshiarpur and now deputy secretary, National Commission for Women, New Delhi, "Immediate steps need to be formulated that enable families here to know the immigration status of grooms in a particular country." "They also need to get easy access and counselling at the concerned embassies. Moreover, quick deportation of those involved in the fraud should be facilitated." Till that happens, brides across Punjab will continue to wait for their husbands who never return for them.