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On the Rights of Women in ‘NRI’ Marriages

an Indian bride

‘NRI’ marriage is described as a marriage between a person of Indian origin who resides in a foreign country, and marries an Indian citizen, residing in India. These marriages are an emerging concern on the horizon of Indian matrimonial law. Most NRI marriages involve men who are citizens of foreign countries and Indian women who may have never left India as they were abandoned soon after marriage, who may have migrated after their marriage or who have returned to India due to desertion or cruelty meted out to them by their husbands in a foreign country.

Often these marriages are performed in great haste as the groom comes to India for a short holiday. In their enthusiasm to clinch, what appears to be a highly desirable marriage alliance, which will open up new opportunities, exposure and happiness to their daughter, the parents may throw caution to the wind and seal the match.

There are situations, where, after marriage, the groom returns to the country of his residence, leaving the bride behind in India to await the legal documents to facilitate her passage to the ‘promised land’, which may never come. When the wife goes to the foreign country it involves change in the legal status and domicile. There are added problems such as language barrier, lifestyle conflicts and cultural clashes, which may cumulatively lead to her complete dependency upon the husband- emotional, economic, social and legal. Further, the legal status does not allow women to work, hence economically they become totally dependent upon their husbands. The husband not only acquires total emotional and financial control but also holds the key to the women’s legal status of residing in the country of migration.

The aggravated factor in such marriages is the isolation and helplessness a woman experiences, distanced from her immediate family and support system. In such a situation, even the problems of daily living, which are referred to in legal parlance, as ‘normal wear and tear of the marriage’ may become heightened leading to anxiety, depression, and nervous breakdown, as the women feels trapped in a situation where she lacks control over her life. This often results in marital discord and domestic violence. The women may be ignorant about her legal rights, support services available to her, access to the local police, the criminal justice system or legal aid. Even returning back to the parental home may seem like a formidable task due to lack of knowledge, exposure and financial constraints. This makes them particularly susceptible to dowry harassment, physical, verbal, mental and sexual abuse.

Issues of custody of children and enforcing maintenance orders have also been extremely problematic. This forces the wife to return to India, leaving the children in the custody of the husband. Later in divorce proceedings, it is easy for the husband to obtain legal custody of children and the wife has no recourse to fight for the custody of her children, she is deprived of her basic right of even visiting her children.

Women whom are married to men who are residing in a foreign country are placed in a vulnerable situation as marriages registered in India can be dissolved by a court in the country where the husband resides without the wife ever having submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the court in that country. This places women at a disadvantage as they are unable to contest a divorce in a foreign land, even when the petition is served upon them. In their absence such cases are decided ex parte in favor of the husband due to inability of the women to attend court hearings abroad and defend themselves.

If the wife returns to India, the husband may initiate the divorce proceedings, which the wife will not be able to defend due to financial and legal constraints, thus paving the way for an ex-pate divorce, resulting in economic loss, as well as loss of other crucial rights such as right to matrimonial property, child custody and right of residence in the foreign country. The wife may return to her parental home in India and seek legal remedies. The question would arise as to remedies available under different legal regimes, the regime most appropriate to decide the issue, the appropriate or convenient forum to adjudication, if there are conflicting verdicts from two different courts in two different countries, over the same issue, which one will prevail, etc.

Further, there are problems of executing decrees of an Indian court against a person who is living under the jurisdiction of a foreign court. There may also be situations where children born in a foreign country become citizens of that country, while the mother remains an Indian citizen. These concerns posed grave challenges to the domain of the matrimonial law in India. These are generally discussed under the legal category known as ‘Conflict of Laws’ or ‘Private International Laws’.

This book is an attempt to prepare women who are entering into such marriages or for those who are exploring legal options to protect their rights. It provides realistic expectations and general advice on how to deal with situations. It provides precautions and legal strategies which can be adopted when confronted with an eventuality. The book also has compilation of leading cases on the issues that arise during the course of litigation concerning such marriages, from the perspective of women’s rights.


This article is excerpted from Majlis’ publication ‘Rights of Women in ‘NRI’ Marriages’. To order copies of this publication, email or call +91 22 26661252 / 26662394.

Cover image from Wikipedia