An investigative team travelling in India from The Calgary Herald reported that in the province of Punjab alone a conservative estimate suggests that over 30,000 young women, some as young as 16-18, have been defrauded and abandoned by fraudulent grooms from Canada. The exploitation is never a one-man operation; typically it involves a whole kinship network. The investigative team reported that abandoned brides now constitute an epidemic and concludes that they are victims of “organized crime"
While most immigrants from traditional societies to Western countries are hardworking and eager to contribute positively to their adoptive societies, many also bring with them ancient cultural practices that are repugnant to –not to mention illegal in– the host country such as the of female genital mutilation, honour killings, and forced marriages. Some in the ethnic communities also are repulsed by these hideous crimes; however; ethnic loyalties inhibit them from taking their concerns public.
In the West, it is presumed that young men and women marry on the basis of mutual attraction. While India has modernized in some aspects, and love-based marriages do happen, arranged marriages negotiated by extended family members are still the norm.
Profiting from their understanding of the shame attached to a failed marriage, it has now become a widespread and growing practice for men and their families from Canada’s South Asian communities to advertise in search of brides in Indian newspapers, targeting families who view the marriage of their daughter to a Canadian citizen as their ticket to whole-family migration to our shores. Fraudulent grooms make stringent demands of enormous dowries, proof of a woman’s youth and virginal status, and a swift passage from agreement to marriage. Then, shortly after the wedding ceremony and a brief honeymoon, the fraudulent grooms beat a hasty exit from India back to Canada, dowry in hand.
Once married, women “belong” to their husband’s family, and can never make further claims on their birth family.
In such patriarchical societies only sons inherit. The giving of a dowry to the bride, an ancient tradition, is therefore a woman’s only form of security in the event of her husband’s death or his family’s rejection of her. It naturally follows that the theft of a dowry is a very serious affair, with shame-stained consequences that ripple outward from the duped bride to her entire kinship and communal circle. At the least, the abandoned bride’s life is usually ruined. She is married, but not really married, so she is likely to remain a social anomaly forever, an albatross to her shamed family and a leper in the remarriage market, having lost her virginity she is now unsuitable for remarriage having no leverage at all.
Dowry demands from Canadian grooms can include significant amount of cash, real estate, jewellery or automobiles. Usually a dowry is negotiated and given before the wedding but in many case the demand continues after the marriage. Extra payments are extorted through threats to family members in the old country, bride’s passport taken away, refusal to sponsor her, husband’s family may threaten to (or actually) take the children away from her. Other gambits include threats of divorce and rumour-mongering in the old country about the woman’s fidelity. Some women have even been killed by their husband’s family when dowry demands remain unmet. Without oversight, fraudulent-groom syndrome has quietly evolved into a money-making strategy that remains unpenalized in law, and unchecked by public opprobrium
Abandoned brides in India have attracted the attention of the Indian government; however, there are no consequences for these bandits and their network in Canada. Both Canadian and Indian politicians are reluctant to deal with these issues because they depend on these communities for political support and have no wish to muddy cultural waters. Reports indicate that the Indian government has requested the Canadian government to put preventative measures in place; however, there has been little response on this issue from the Canadian government.
While such measures would be a welcome strategy for diminishing the frequency of this pernicious practice, it is not enough. We must also find ways to hold individual offenders and complicitous family members accountable for their crimes. Communities also bear some responsibility for dowry exploitation amongst Canadians of South Asian provenance is an open secret, and it is a rare individual in these communities who does not know somebody who has been touched by this troubling phenomenon. Community leaders must step up to the plate on this issue. So should the media. It is only by naming and shaming the perpetrators and their willing enablers that women in the South Asian community can be sure their rights and their property will be protected to the same extent as all other Canadian women.