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Parents often choose NRI grooms for their daughters in the hope of a good life abroad. For many, domestic violence and abuse become the bitter truth, as Instagram posts by ‘Navya’ actor Somya Seth show.
I’d just posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook, after a recent holiday trip. In just a few minutes I received a message from a friend –a younger woman who I care about.
“Wow! You have such a great life abroad!”
What followed was an hour of me explaining to her that while a life in the US could be exciting and full of opportunities, it wasn’t a bed of roses. And that I was one of the lucky ones. For many NRI wives, a life abroad is a harrowing experience.
In India’s marriage obsessed society, the highest prize is a “NRI groom.” Parents often believe that a daughter settled abroad will have an easy, comfortable life. As the recent case of Somya Seth shows, however, things often aren’t hunky dory.
The actress, who achieved fame through the television show Navya, wrote in an emotional but cryptic post last month about the difficult times that she has had to face. Somya married her longtime boyfriend Arun Kapoor in January 2017 and settled in the US thereafter. Soon after that, she gave birth to her son Ayden in August 2017.
In her post, she wrote, “I have grown up – I have seen violence, I have seen illicit drugs (including coccaine), I have seen hate, I have seen jealously, I have seen injustice, emotional manipulation’s and physical abuse! I have seen Beautiful Faces with ugly hearts. People who look well but are sick in heart and mind.”
“8 years after doing Navya I believe- Prince Charming is the most trashy concept as of today,” she went on to add.
Soon after this post, she wrote another, in which she references being in a safe house and in which she advises people to “trust but verify.”
“I’d like to see everyone safe hence I’d like you to know that there are resources you should use before you trust anyone. When I was at safe house I learnt about these websites that offer info about people who live in the county and the crimes they have committed in the past. One such website is findpeoplesearch.com. Because of this I know exactly the kind of people I am dealing with. It’s easy inexpensive and 100% worth it. I wish I knew about this before I left India for the first time,” she wrote in a post accompanied by a screenshot of the website that she refers to in the post.
Domestic violence and abuse poison the lives of many NRI wives. The Amazon series Made in Heaven, has an episode that showcases this very issue. Statistics released by the Ministry of External Affairs show that on average one NRI woman calls home every eight hours, asking for help to return home, because her husband has deserted her and/or is abusing her.
As this piece points out, the situation for NRI women is complex, because for them “happy memories are built over the same period as the abuse.” With children and joint bank accounts, lives become intertwined, making it difficult to leave. Not to mention that often abusive husbands restrict the wives’ access to their own passports and visa documents. In many cases the wives are dependent on the husbands completely because of visa rules. Calling the police on an abusive husband can affect his immigration status and job.
If the woman’s children are born in the US, they are US citizens. So if a woman who is in the US wants to escape her abusive husband and move back to India, she may be forced to leave her children behind.
On top of all these reasons that can make leaving difficult, is the cultural shame associated with talking about domestic violence or walking out of marriages. Women are often blamed for everything that goes wrong in a marriage. NRI women who do manage to escape to India may have to deal with harassment from her husband’s Indian relatives, who blame her for ruining his family and career.
Laws are being put into place to help NRI women. On the whole however, prevention is better than cure. Parents should encourage girls to seek success and a comfortable life on their own, rather than seeing marriage to an NRI groom as a stepping stool. Following Somya’s advice to “trust but verify,” can also go a long way.
Most importantly, give women the assurance that if they are in a bad situation, they can always come back home. That they need not “adjust”. That they will always find the support and love they need.
If you are an NRI woman who is dealing with domestic violence/abuse or if you know anyone else who is, then encourage them to contact MADAD, the Ministry of External Affairs grievance redressal portal for help. MADAD provides financial and legal aid to NRI wives in trouble.
Victims can also file a complaint at any Indian Mission and Post abroad or at the MEA’s Branch Secretariats in Chennai, Guwahati, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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