THRISSUR/KOCHI: When her 46-year-old husband died due to covid-19 in Uganda in June last year, a Kerala woman moved the High Court here seeking legal aid from the Centre to pursue her claims for benefits entitled to him unaware that he had another family there.
This unfortunate development, according to legal experts, indicates not only the need for a system to help women in such situations, but also calls for caution when accepting proposals from those abroad.
The Thrissur-based woman is still unaware of her deceased husband's infidelity as her daughter, who does not wish to be named, has not disclosed the shocking information to her 41-year-old mother yet.
The couple were married for over 20 years with two college-going children - a boy and a girl - before the husband succumbed to coronavirus in June last year.
The information that the deceased had another wife and child in Uganda came to light when the Centre filed a statement in the High Court indicating the same in response to the woman's plea for legal aid.
The Centre, in its statement, has said the deceased man's family in Uganda was also laying claim to the amounts he was entitled to under the National Social Security Fund Benefits (NSSFB).
This is the reason for the delay from the Uganda NSSFB in releasing the amounts to the family in India, the Centre had told the High Court in May this year.
Now the family is no longer interested in pursuing the matter further which is also evident from the fact that the widow has not yet been informed about these developments, their lawyer - Jose Abraham - told PTI.
However, while the Thrissur-based family is in an unfortunate predicament, their situation brings forth an issue that even the National Commission for Women (NCW) is considering seriously -- how to ensure justice to such women whose husbands, NRIs and those working overseas, have another family abroad or have deserted them.
Abraham, also the global president of NGO Pravasi Legal Cell, said he comes across numerous such cases as part of the NGO activities and in the courts.
He contends that the only solution is for people to be more vigilant when they enter into a matrimonial alliance with someone settled or working abroad and not to hurry into the same just so they can go overseas.
Kerala Women Commission chairperson and advocate, P Satheedevi, said there is a need for a law or system in place to help women in such situations as the laws currently in existence have no primacy or relevance in foreign nations.
Abraham said that over the years more Indians were settling abroad and there is also a preference here for marriage proposals which come from such persons settled or working overseas.
However, in the haste to get married and move abroad, often the families here do not verify the credentials of the prospective groom with as much care and vigilance as they would do for a domestic proposal.
In an increasing number of cases, those settled abroad already have another family there and the same is not disclosed when they come with a marriage proposal here and these things come to light only when the newly married spouse reaches the other country or when there is some marital discord, Abraham said.
The authorities here, like the Kerala Women's Commission (KWC) or even the NCW, have limited powers in such cases, he said.
They can at best only request the Indian embassy abroad or the External Affairs Ministry here to provide legal aid to the affected person, he added.
The same was echoed by KWC chairperson Satheedevi, who told PTI that where NRIs are concerned there is not much the commission can do when it receives complaints regarding abandonment of wives or husbands having another family abroad.
However, where the other party is only working abroad and not settled there, they are asked to appear before the commission which talks to them and tries to get the issue resolved, she said.
She further stated the commission also tries to ensure legal aid for such women in the foreign country by speaking to the Indian embassies there.
But in cases like that of the Thrissur-based family, Indian laws of heir ship would not have any primacy in the foreign country and even providing legal aid may not help as that nation may not recognise the rights of the wife here, she said.
She further said that the family's predicament indicates the need for some law or system in place for the protection and aid of women in such situations.
The NCW in June organised a consultation to bring together all concerned stakeholders designated to provide relief to Indian women deserted by their NRI husbands on one platform and to deliberate upon the challenges and technical issues faced in dealing with NRI matrimonial cases.
Experts from the different organisations shared their views in the open house discussion and complainants from different states also shared their experiences, the Commission said.
Some of the important suggestions made during the discussions included conducting training programmes for agencies/police officers dealing with NRI cases, embassies to take up the matter of distressed women on priority, setting up a national helpline for victims and informing them about various schemes of MEA, etc, the NCW said in the release.
While the existing laws, that come to aid women in India in such cases, have no relevance abroad and with even the authorities here having limited powers in such situations, till some system is put in place, the only option appears to be the cautionary advice given by Abraham -- be more vigilant.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)