City courts go global with dowry cases: Madhuri Sharma
MUMBAI: Just nine months into her marriage, Devanshi Bhartdwaj (22) returned to India from her matrimonial home in the UK, with tales of abuse and neglect. It took her three more months to muster the courage to lodge a complaint with the Borivli police against her non-resident Indian (NRI) husband.
Mumbai seems to have gone global with dowry harassment cases. With the premium attached to NRI alliances, it doesn't come as a surprise that when the marriage breaks, criminal cases follow. In the last few months, the Bombay high court has seen a steady stream of dowry or marital torture cases, in which the abusive husbands are mostly settled abroad. The complaints range from physical and mental abuse to incidents of forcing the wife to eat pork and uploading her "objectionable'' photographs on websites.
"Indians have a fascination for NRI boys. After a lavish wedding at some five-star hotel and spectacular dowry being given away, it's only when the girl lands in the foreign country does the reality hits her. Her dreams are soon shattered,'' said family court lawyer Madhuri Sharma, who has handled a dozen such cases in the last one year. "There have been instances where the wives are treated like bonded slaves. They are left with little alternative but to flee back to India.''
Many of the abused wives are now returning to take the help of the Indian law. According to Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code, a woman can file a case against her husband and in-laws for subjecting her to cruelty. "The law was settled recently when the Supreme Court held that the incident of cruelty should have taken place where the woman resides, in normal circumstances, her matrimonial home,'' said former public prosecutor Satish Borulkar. "So a local police station in India can take cognisance of such complaints even if the cruelty has taken place in a foreign land.'' According to Borulkar, the Criminal Procedure Code also has a provision (Section 188) that provides for prosecution of Indian citizens, even if the offence has been committed abroad.
International dowry cases bring in its own set of problems, ranging from gathering evidence to getting the NRI spouse to face criminal action in India. "Many a times, we have taken the aid of the High Commissions of UK, the US and Australia, to execute the orders passed by the local courts here,'' said Sharma. "In extreme cases, Interpol red corner notices have been issued to bring the abusive husband to book.''
In Devanshi's case, her matrimonial life lasted barely for nine months. She married Parag Bhartdwaj in March 2008 in the city. NRI Parag left for the UK soon after, with no promises of when she should join him. Devanshi's family subsequently made arrangements so that she could join her husband in Edinburgh in Scotland. According to her complaint, when she landed in Scotland, she was not welcomed at all. Instead, she claimed, she faced neglect and physical as well as mental cruelty at the hands of Parag and his family. Finally, Devanshi alleged, her husband drove her out of their house and put her on a flight to India in December 2008. She waited for a few months before lodging a complaint under 498 A of the IPC at the Borivli police station in March 2009.
She later moved the Bombay high court, claiming police inaction. When the case came up for hearing on Monday, additional public prosecutor Aruna Pai told the HC that the police had issued notices to airports in the country with Parag's photographs and his passport number. A notice had also been sent to the Scotland police.
A division bench of Justice J N Patel and Justice Amjad Sayed, however, said it might not be enough and asked Devanshi's lawyers to include the Union ministry of external affairs as a party in the case. "The MEA has wide powers and can initiate action, including revoking his passport,'' said the judges