Indian brides tricked into abandonment

An Indian Muslim bride adjusts her veil as she waits for the start of a mass wedding in Ahmedabad on March 21, 2010. Some 201 Muslim couples participated in a mass wedding organised by The Gujarat Sarvajanik Welfare Trust.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The Indian government has marriage on its mind. Not in any romantic sense, mind you.

It's trying to stop a growing problem: Families pairing their daughters off with Indian men who live abroad. These are often financial transactions, with fraud on the side.

Raymond Thibodeaux reports now from New Delhi.


Geet from Indian soap opera "Geet Hui Sabse Parayi" speaking

Raymond Thibodeaux: This popular Indian soap opera is about a young girl called Geet. She's excited to be marrying a young, successful Indian living in Canada. As is often the case in India, this is an arranged marriage. Indian families are usually keen to marry off their daughters to Indians living overseas, who are seen as having better prospects. But all does not go well.

After a lavish wedding and honeymoon, the groom abandons his bride. Thousands of brides like Geet every year are duped into marriage by unscrupulous grooms who swoop in from abroad.

Balwant Ramoowalia: They marry the girls, openly demanding a heavy amount of cash, dowry, gold and lavish spending on the marriage arrangements by the father of the bride. But afterwards, they abandon the girl.

Balwant Ramoowalia is a former government minister who's championed the cause of abandoned brides. He says although India banned dowries 50 years ago, they're still expected. And as India's grown wealthier, the gifts have grown more lavish. These rich pickings are attracting dishonest suitors, who often use matrimonial websites.

Ramoowalia: The phenomenon has become so rampant that it's equivalent to organized crime. There's no law to catch these guys.

No law that reaches across international borders, that is. Ramoowalia says in India the courts often order runaway grooms to pay alimony or face prison. But once the men leave the country, their abandoned brides have few legal options.

Karan Singh: Because the other party is overseas, it's very difficult to get the other party to comply with any court orders.

Karan Singh is director of social services at India's Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. As part of its "brides beware" campaign, the ministry is calling on families to do thorough background checks. Easier said than done, if the groom lives overseas.

Bhavna Paliwal is a private eye for the Tejas Detective Agency in New Delhi.

Bhavna Paliwal: We have to get in touch with private detectives where the groom lives to verify his job status, salary, property assets and whether he's already married. That gets expensive and many families can't afford it.

Closing music from "Geet Hui Sabse Parayi"

Like Geet in the soap opera, abandoned brides in India are often stigmatized. They lose face. They can't divorce without the consent of the fugitive groom, so they're stuck in a marital limbo during what should be the happiest years of their lives.

In New Delhi, I'm Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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