Web posted at: 3/12/2006 1:46:50 Source ::: The Times
NEW DELHI: Hundreds of British Asian men have been accused of abandoning new brides in India after securing lucrative dowry payments.
Police in India are investigating more than a thousand allegations from young women who claim that they have been lured into arranged marriages with the promise of a new life in Britain. Once dowries of up to £9,000 have been paid, the men abandon them, it is claimed.
The men, in some instances, return to India to marry a number of times, but the women’s lives are left in ruins in a society where divorce is still frowned upon.
“It’s a common sight: young girls with their parents, clutching their marriage papers and weeping. We have thousands of abandoned wives,” Parminder Kaur, chairwoman of the National Commission for Women in the Punjab, said.
Poorva Sharma, 24, from the village of Surajpur, Punjab, believed that her parents had found her a perfect partner in Rakesh Gupta, 35, a businessman from Coventry. They married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in India in July 2002 and lived together in India for a fortnight before he returned to Britain.
According to Ms Sharma’s solicitor, her father paid £5,625 to Gupta as a dowry payment: the now illegal deal, still widely practised, whereby a groom is paid for entering a marriage. The family was later asked for more money, it was alleged.
Ms Sharma’s dreams were shattered when she applied for permission to join her husband in Coventry and the British High Commission refused, because it said that Gupta had already married other Indian women.
“They told me he had been married a number of times, and they were suspicious of why I would want to go out there. I felt like dying. My life had ended before it had begun,” Ms Sharma said.
It emerged that Gupta was unemployed and had previously married two other women in the Punjab, according to court documents. One of them, Vandana Gupta, allegedly married Mr Gupta in July 1995 in Ludhiana. She left him in January 1996 after her parents repeatedly received demands for a dowry payment, she said. After parting, she discovered that she was pregnant.
She said that her husband obtained an ex parte divorce without informing her and had failed to pay maintenance for their son.
Following a complaint from Sharma, Gupta was arrested in March 2003 for dowry harassment but left India before the case came to court. Police documents show that he is now a “proclaimed offender” in India after skipping bail.
Rajinder Singh Rathi, Deputy Superintendent of Police in the Punjab, said: “We hope to get him through Interpol.”
The Times tracked down Mr Gupta to a terraced house that he owns in Coventry. He said that he had married only once in India — to Ms Sharma — and that he had been subjected to threats and blackmail from her family. “She was not a good wife,” he said. He added that he had never married Ms Gupta.
Gupta appears to have failed to tell his solicitors that he was wanted by Indian police. When The Times sent the law firm Heer Manak a police document proving this, the senior partner, Kulwant Manak, said that he was surprised to see it.
Social workers who help the Punjab’s abandoned women said that grooms exploited the overpowering desire of some Indians to go abroad. Britain, Canada and America still hold an allure for some in India as countries where jobs and good salaries are guaranteed.
Punjab police said that there had been a 40 per cent rise in the number of fraudulent marriages in the past three years. The authorities have issued a booklet warning parents to check the background of prospective grooms abroad.
In some cases software engineers have turned out to be welders, while doctors were waiters, social workers said.
Satnam Chana, a social worker in Jalandhar, Punjab, said that parents were often too eager to marry off their daughters quickly. “We tell parents that we can ask people in the UK to check a groom’s background but we’ve had only two requests in two years. They just hope blindly that it will be all right,” she said.
The motivations of British Asian men vary. Most, according to the authorities, are hoping for dowry payments. Others, however, are second-generation British Asians forced into marriages in India by their parents.
Many of the rejected women, convinced that their lives are over, become suicidal. Left in limbo, in a society obsessed with marriage, they are neither married in the real sense nor free to remarry.
Legal action against missing British grooms is difficult. An Indian family court can send a summons to a British Asian man but it can easily be ignored.
The extradition treaty between Britain and India does not cover matrimonial crimes, according to legal experts. The British High Commission in Delhi said that officials were examining ways of closing this legal loophole. There is, at least, a growing awareness of the problem in India. Ms Sharma said that her sister married last month — to a local man. “I didn’t want her to suffer the way I have. I’m rotting here, with no future. I just want my husband to rot in jail too,” she said.