At a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reaching out to the Indian diaspora, some NRIs are claiming they even dread the idea of visiting the country of their origin because of what many of them call "demonic matrimonial laws". From their passports being impounded to losing their jobs after being stuck in India, at the receiving end of the matrimonial laws, a host of Indian men from across Australia, Britain and the US, as also Europe have now started support groups to counsel each other on how to tackle the issue.
California-based techie Anindya Chatterjee, who runs one such online, has urged amendments in the statute.
"Once a case of 498A (of the Indian Penal Code relating to cruelty) is registered against an NRI, although just an accused, he is treated as a criminal by the police and society. Besides, the law enforcers look at NRIs as easy meat and resort to indiscriminate action like arrests, warrants, look-out notices or impounding passports, which often result in the guy losing his job," Chatterjee told IANS in an email from Los Angeles.
Recently acquitted in a dowry case by a Kolkata court, Chatterjee said his frequent visits to India to attend the proceedings cost him his job with a reputed company and he had to settle for a low-paying job. Faced with similar ordeals, over 100 men from across Britain have joined Chatterjee's "Justice2NRI.Org" to share their experiences and provide suggestions and advice to each other.
Similar is the plight of Londonbased IT professional Hardik Mehta, who is now stuck in Mumbai for nearly a year after his wife filed a dowry case.
"While the police are quick to take action even without verifying the veracity of the complaints, the courts, after taking a lifetime, often come to conclusion that the complaints are baseless. The complaint against me was filed in 2008 but the court is still in the process of verifying it. I have lost my job in London and because of the social stigma attached, I am finding it difficult to cope here," Mehta, who too runs a similar group, told IANS in an email.
Many of the NRIs claimed that a broad consensus was growing against marrying Indian women. "Besides a growing consensus against marrying Indian women, the dread of demonic Indian laws like the Domestic Violence Act or the Dowry Act can be judged from the fact that several embassies including those of the US, Germany and Canada have issued travel warnings," said Satish Babu, a member of the Marital Justice group of Britain-based NRIs.
"It's heartening to see Prime Minister Modi reaching out to the Indian diaspora but he needs to look into the laws that have rendered even the thought of visiting India a dread for us," said Melbourne- based CA Yogesh Gupta who had to shell out Rs.10 lakh as surety to secure bail after he was arrested under the anti-dowry law.
Citing the national conviction rate of a measly 15 percent in cases under section 498A, men's rights activist Amit Gupta said it was imperative to make the martial laws gender-neutral to prevent their misuse.
Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Centre for Social Research, however, was livid at the clamour over the "misuse" of anti dowry laws. "How can people talk about the misuse of the laws when we still continue to have thousands of dowry deaths every year? Aren't other laws misused? The Income Tax Act or the Companies Act are misused, have they been repealed?" asked Ranjana.
"There may be genuine victims, but so long as the social evil of dowry exists and innocent lives succumb to it, the laws will have to be there," she added.