India - "Holiday Brides" Abandoned by Husbands in UK, US, Canada

Khan/Getty: "Holiday brides" in India have been deserted by husbands from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

"Holiday brides" in India have been deserted by husbands from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

By Soraya Roberts
November 23, 2009

There’s a new trend in the U.K.: British men are marrying Indian women, treating them like "prostitutes" and abandoning them.

"There are 15,000 to 20,000 abandoned brides in India," lawyer and women's rights activist Daljit Kaur told the BBC.

Christened "holiday brides" in India, these women have been deserted by husbands from the U.S., Canada and the U.K., Kaur says.

But she believes that British men account for a third of these cases.

Four years ago, a 35-year-old secondary-school teacher from Punjab married a Brit in an arranged marriage.

Her husband returned to London after the ceremony and promised to bring her over later.

"He would visit two to three times a year," Suman told the BBC. "Whenever he came to India, we had a good time."

On one visit, her bridegroom said Suman's U.K application for a spousal visa had been refused.

“It was like being a prostitute you take along and have a good time with and then leave behind," Suman said. "He told me he had applied for an appeal. But he has never shown me a copy of that appeal. He's never shown me any documents."

Suman has not heard from her husband for the past six months.

Though cases like Suman's are common, Indian families will still take the chance of marrying their daughters off to foreign men.

"People are desperate to migrate, because they don't think this land gives them the opportunities they need, particularly for girls," said Jassi Khangura, a London businessman and politician in the Punjab Legislative Assembly.

And it's not only the bride who benefits from the match.

Though dowries have been illegal in India since 1961, the practice still takes place in rural areas of the country. A British Indian groom, for example, can offer a dowry of up to $33,000 in Punjab.

Tahir Mahmood helps arrange marriages and thinks British men are the ones being victimized.

"Anyone from back home [India], they want British, British, British," he said. "The girls over there don't care if someone has been married twice before, they don't care how he looks like or what his background is."

But the Forced Marriages Unit of the British government confirms it has seen a rising number of forced marriages involving British men. For the unwilling brides, seeking recourse is complicated.

"If the person is residing abroad, one has to seek recourse through the extradition treaty," said Inspector General Gurpreet Deo from the Punjab police force. "The expertise and knowledge of the police officers themselves in this area is so restricted, I don't think any case would reach that level."

The U.K.'s Home Office confirms that it has not received any extradition requests regarding abandoned Indian brides.

In India, however, the government has established a department to assist brides who want to reunite with their errant husbands.

Though abandoned wives have the option of divorcing their missing husbands, many of them do not remarry. Divorce is stigmatized in socially conservative Punjab, and women are forced to rely on their families for financial help.