A growing number of Indian American husbands claim to be victims of an Indian law against dowry that has them vulnerable to exploitation - both financial and emotional - by their wives and in-laws.
The complaint is also reflected in support groups and blogs - ‘Batteredhusband’ and ‘Indianbakra’ - in the US, meant for male victims of the Indian legislation.
The anti-dowry law is being misused, say some husbands, while others allege extortion or vindictiveness by wives and their families when it comes to child support or custody.
NRI men apparently get harassed when their estranged wives go to India, at times illegally with the children, and file criminal cases against their ex-husbands with police.
NRI men are vulnerable, agreed a social rights activist here. Not only do they face demands for thousands of dollars to withdraw harassment cases filed against them but are also coerced to give US visas to the wives’ families, he added.
According to activists, there has been a dramatic rise in misuse of the law, with cases reported from the US, Britain and Canada.
The number of cases against Indian Americans has been significant enough for the State Department to publish a travel warning: “A number of US citizen men who have come to India to marry Indian nationals have been arrested and charged with crimes related to dowry extraction. Many of the charges stem from the US citizens’ inability to provide an immigrant visa to prospective spouses to travel immediately to the US.
“The (Indian) courts sometime order the US citizen to pay large sums of money to his spouse in exchange for dismissal of the charges. The courts normally confiscate the American passport and he must remain in India until the case has been settled.”
A group of victims and their friends in the US set up www.498a.org last year. Satya, 30, a victim-turned-volunteer and software engineer in California - who gave only his first name - maintains the site. The number of hits, he said, is an indication of the extent of the problem.
“In July alone we had 100,000 hits,” he said. “About 80 people from the US have filled up a form on the site seeking advice. There are 20 Canadian residents seeking help. We have had about 200 requests for help from the Delhi-Noida-Ghaziabad belt (in India) alone.”
Another victim, Rajeev Mehta, is an associate director of neonatology and associate professor of pediatrics at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
In April 1994, when the New Jersey-based physician met his now ex-wife, Nalini Michelle Gupta, he was one of the highest paid academic neonatologists in the US.
“Soon after we started living together. We got married in October 1994 because she was pregnant. Soon after the marriage, I discovered that she had had numerous failed relationships. I filed for a divorce when I realised that she and her family were using me,” Mehta said.
“After more than three years of divorce litigation in the US and having proved my case before the Superior Court of New Jersey, I obtained a divorce. The court awarded me sole legal custody of my children and determined that Nalini had been cruel towards me, had destroyed my well-paid job in New York and had fabricated a story of domestic violence to counter my divorce petition,” he added.
“Knowing that she was in serious trouble with US courts, Nalini decided to run away to India. In order to carry out the abduction of the children (aged 12 and nine), she claimed that her father was on his deathbed in India and his last wish was to see his grandchildren,” he said.
“In India, my ex-wife filed a false dowry case. For filing this case, she lied and claimed that her parents had given us gifts worth $12,000. She conveniently concealed the fact that ours was not an arranged marriage and we had met and lived together in the US prior to (marrying) solely because she was pregnant,” Mehta said.
Following his ex-wife’s abduction of his children, the US government revoked Nalini’s passport. On July 12, Interpol issued an alert for her, Mehta said.
The delay in the Indian judicial system did not make it easier.
Mehta has written to US Congressmen and Indian politicians and spent several thousands of dollars in legal fees. But he does not see any “resolution in the near future".
Some victims are not even aware of the provisions of the law, activists say.
Californian resident Bhavani Ramamurthy said: “In 2005 my brother’s wife left Texas for India with their child following some disagreement. Later I went to Chennai to attend my mother-in-law’s funeral.
“One day the police came to our home and said my sister-in-law was at the police station and wanted a reconciliation. When my mother and I went to the station, we found my sister-in-law there.
“The police officer turned abusive and took me and my mother into judicial custody. Even though I told the police that neither my mother nor I had ever lived with my sister-in-law, it did not help. Both of us were taken into judicial custody for seven days. The police also took my passport away,” she said.
Bhavani said she and her relatives had to bribe the police to expedite the legal process.
“We paid a lot of money at every stage. For them, we (from the US) were like golden ducks. Till this happened, I did not even know that such a law existed. What amazed me was that the police did not question any of the statements my sister-in-law made.
“We had to spend our days with petty criminals. The woman who made false statements got away scot-free and was not even charged with perjury. Everyone makes money. It is a form of legal terrorism. I still get nightmares thinking of my experience.”
Daniel & Boaz