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The Price of Marriage and Divorce

SBS Punjabi's Special Investigation into prevalence of dowry in Australia: The price of marriage and divorce Source: pixabay

Are men and women both victims of dowry? While the cultural practice is linked to domestic violence against women in the Australian Indian community, SBS Punjabi has uncovered a number of false cases of dowry abuse lodged against Indian men living in Australia as a Senate inquiry investigates the need for a federal anti-dowry law.

SBS Punjabi's special investigation into the prevalence of dowry abuse in Australia and misuse of Indian anti-dowry laws has been named the winner of 'Best Audio Feature' at New South Wales Premier's Multicultural Communications Award 2019.

Hear the full audio feature by clicking the link below:

The Dowry Trap: the untold story of male victims
00:00 00:00

*FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Family violence is a serious issue in Australia, which cuts across all age groups, ethnicities and social backgrounds. In the Indian context, however, some believe it is intrinsically linked with dowry abuse. The state of Victoria has already passed an anti-dowry legislation which comes into effect this month and a Senate Inquiry is currently investigating whether a similar legislation is required federally as well. 

SBS Punjabi has spoken to a range of victims in Australia about dowry abuse. Whilst women allege it is the price they are forced to pay at the time of marriage, men claim it is the price extorted from them during divorce.

Ritu*, a victim of dowry abuse- At the time of marriage it was decided that we will pay them Rs 20 lakh (AUD $40,000) but immediately after everything had been fixed up, even the (marriage) date had been fixed, they increased their demand to Rs 30 lakh (AUD $60,000) and afterwards when I got married and went back to his house they started torturing me.

Hindu Wedding Rituals
IS dowry an Australian 'problem'?
Moment Open

Sunny*, a victim of dowry abuse-It was revenge from her side that I was taking a divorce or separation and wanted to teach me and my parents a lesson. What they are saying is they want- this may sound like a joke but this is true -- they want something like $ 200,000 from us and then they will take those (false) cases back. Otherwise, they will continue to harass us.

Ritu and Sunny both say they have suffered dowry abuse in their respective marriages. Ritu claims that even though her family paid a dowry of 3 million rupees which is the equivalent of $60,000 AUD at the time of marriage, the demands continued after she came to Australia as well.

Sunny, on the other hand, says that his wife put a price on their divorce, and lodged multiple cases against him, which he says are completely false.

Sunny and Ritu are not alone in claiming that they are victims of dowry abuse.

Women of Indian background living in Australia have described the personal and psychological trauma they’ve faced due to continuous monetary demands.

Priya*-They would scold me all the time, they would abuse me and call me names, saying ‘she’s an animal, she’s an evil witch who is ugly and dumb. She can’t even eat food properly. At first, I reacted verbally, because no one had ever spoken to me like this before and it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that this was happening in today’s modern society. But then my parents came over and apologised profusely on my behalf, trying to assure them that I’m intelligent and mature.

The thing is, in our culture, we only ever get married once and getting a divorce is really a big deal-Priya*.

On the other hand, Indian men living in Australia also describe, what they call deeply traumatic experiences when faced with harassment by their former partners.

Manpreet Singh Sabharwal and his younger brother Pawandeep - both Australian citizens - were detained in the United Arab Emirates for ten months as a result of dowry-related cases.

The Sabharwal brothers of Melbourne were arrested at Dubai International Airport in February last year whilst they went there on a holiday. The arrest was made based on an Interpol red corner notice over a case filed against them in India by Mr Manpreet Singh Sabharwal’s former wife, Divya.

Brothers Manpreet and Pawandeep Singh Sabharwal
Brothers Manpreet and Pawandeep Singh Sabharwal
Supplied

They are facing charges of dowry harassment and attempted murder which Mr Sabharwal vehemently refutes. In fact, the family court of Australia found his ex-wife’s allegations frivolous, yet the harassment from India continues.

Manpreet Singh Sabharwal-After one year of my separation, I filed for divorce where she tried to contest the divorce from India by sending all these dowry case documents to the court but the court was not satisfied. They said all these allegations are malicious; they are false and fabricated, as there is no evidence to support or prosecute the case. The allegations, in short, are that when we got married, the demand of dowry was made for Rs 15 lakhs. And she was being physically and mentally tortured for the last 6-7 years. She has also said in the FIR that when I visited India in 2011, I and my mother tried to kill her with electric wire while she was sleeping. And I had no knowledge about what was going behind my back so in 2017 when I and my brother went for a holiday to Dubai we got detained. Were kept in custody for 6 days. After interrogation, they found that the case was fake, all allegations were malicious because no evidence was sent from India. But they kept us on hold for 10 months.

Although the Sabharwal brothers were in custody in Dubai for only six days, they had to remain there at their own expense for 10 months. They returned to Australia in December 2017 after the UAE authorities finally dismissed the case and handed them their passports back. Apart from enduring mental turmoil, the Sabharwal brothers say they “have lost over $300,000 during this ordeal.”

Despite being granted custody of his only son by the Australian family court in December 2011, Mr Sabharwal has not been able to see or meet his child for many years now. His wife Divya flew to India with their son seven years ago and Mr Sabharwal is unable to enter India whilst the ‘fake’ cases there are pending. An Australian court also issued a request to repatriate Divya from India to Australia in March 2012, but the matter has not progressed so far.

Manpreet Sabharwal
Snapshot of Australian Family Court's order
Supplied

Furthermore, the cases in India include Mr Sabharwal’s parents as alleged perpetrators, because of which there are travel restrictions on them. Mr Sabharwal says his elderly mother has a serious health issue, but because of the ‘malicious cases in India’, in he can’t even meet her.

Many other male victims have also shared the feelings of utter despair and depression, saying their entire families are being dragged into the ensuing court battles by their ex-wives, and their nightmare never seems to end. SBS Punjabi has interviewed at least dozen such men and is aware of hundreds of other cases in which Australian males claim to be victims.

Shaan*, who runs his own business in a major Australian city, says things became so unbearable that he even contemplated about ending his life.

Shaan-I would say that it’s not right to commit suicide but what would you do in a situation when so many cases are slapped on you. In my particular case, besides the four cases slapped in India, I was arrested and then a Facebook campaign was carried out here to defame my practice and then a complaint was lodged to two bodies that I have embezzled funds worth $15 million and naturally the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) got worried and they investigated me in detail. So I became totally stressed out. But fortunately for me, I have got some very good friends who took control of my life and it didn’t happen. But I would say that if somebody does it, it's not because he wants to do it, but because he has been into such a situation that he’s made to do this.

Many people have described the Indian wedding market as something where everything commands a price. They say, just like the marriage comes with a price tag, so does divorce.

Immigration parent visa
Departure stamp on the inside page of a passport.
Getty Images

SBS Punjabi listener, Kushal Preet Kaur-Indian males who are Australian citizens command a hefty price. They are actually auctioned off with the bid starting at 4 million rupees ($80,000 AUD). It depends on how keen the bride’s family is and to what extent they are willing to go. 

While women say the threat of divorce is used to make their families comply with further monetary demands, men say that divorce is used as a bargaining tool to extort money.

As in the case of Gurpreet*, whose wife didn’t tell him that she was a Canadian resident at the time of marriage and refused to stay on with him in Australia.

Gurpreet-She said I’ll go to India, will speak to my parents and see how it goes. But then you'll end up paying us money. I said what's the money for? She said that's how it goes. If you want independence, you'll have to buy your independence. She even told me the market rate - this is how much the market rate and this is what you'll have to pay.

Shaan describes how his life was turned upside down after he filed for divorce. Although he was married to his wife for several years, he moved to Australia in search of a better life in 2006.

His wife stayed with him in the new country for less than a year, after which he filed for divorce. He told SBS Punjabi that his life has been a roller-coaster ever since, with dozens of court appearances at the expense of almost $100,000 AUD.

Shaan-Till 2011, when we got divorced, there was absolutely no police complaint, there was no medical or physiatrist’s report. There were no neighbours who would complain or anything happening. Suddenly after six months of divorce, she filed four different cases in the Indian courts. One was for the restoration of marital rights in which she asked the courts to order me to take her back. The second was for nullification of Australian divorce knowing very well that I am an Australian citizen and it’s not possible. Third, was for maintenance in which she stated that I earn a lot of money and must give her $600,000 a month. And fourth was in which she slapped section 498A on not only me but my brother, his wife and my elderly mum. This was the most damaging one because she collided with the police officers and as it happens in India, it becomes a blackmailing tool to extort money from husbands. So for the next three and a half years, investigations kept happening, I was communicating from here, plus I had my power of attorney, my nominee who was representing me from India, along with my lawyers. Altogether I had 48 sittings for this particular case and 132 sittings altogether. If I look into the legal expenses altogether, it came to Rs 48 Lakh ($96,000 AUD) I have spent on this case alone. How can you believe some of these women activists who create this dowry angle which is not existing at all? Like in our case, we were together for seven years before marriage. And even the marriage costs were borne half and half between both of us. But still, my wife slapped hundreds of cases and legal allegations on me saying that I told her to bring this much of money - which never happened.

Dr Yogesh Gupta
Snapshot of a District Court in Delhi's judgement in Shaan's favour.
Supplied

Shaan is referring to a law termed 498A in India. This is the section of the Indian Penal Code which outlaws dowry.

Former Additional Advocate General of an Indian High Court, Rajinder Goyal explains the intent behind the law and how it is misused.

498A means any cruelty to a woman concerning dowry demands and it is punishable with up to 3 years and with fine. And cruelty can be defined as any willful conduct of any type of nature that is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or to cause injury to the woman or danger to her life.-Rajinder Goyal

Rajinder Goyal -But nowadays what happens is that the law is being misused. And how that happens is that a number of false complaints are also coming whereby all the family members including the sister in law, the brother in law, the old parents and the married sisters who have been married long back, they are being implicated. And why this implication is because of faulty investigations and immediate FIR.

FIR refers to a First Information Report, on the basis of which a man and any of his family members can be arrested, even without an investigation.

Sunny*, another male victim adds that he fears going back to India because of the extortion he and his family will have to face there.

I live in fear that if I go to India, I may be arrested and then have to go through the same extortion process of the police and judiciary system where I will have to give money at every single step and I wouldn’t be able to come back to Australia-Sunny.

Despite such cases, violence against women continues to be a major issue in Australia.

Kittu Randhawa provides frontline care and support to victims of family violence in Sydney, and she believes that threats of deportation, visa issues and permanent residency have a lot to do with family violence.

She says a dowry demand is often made by Australia- based grooms, in order to recover the money spent on migrating to the lucky country.

Kittu Randhawa-It’s become quite an easy profit making mechanism so people who come here and then spend a lot of money on their permanent residency whether it’s them still being a student or they are on a work visa. They tend to look at this as some kind of recoup through their marriage and that’s where it all starts. However, for that person who marries into the country here, it can be a complete nightmare. They can come here and there will be further demands, constant ongoing demands and the way we can really correlate it to the citizenship is that we see the partners - and mostly they are women - when the residency comes due for permanency, the demands go up, the violence and the abuse go up.

So what is a dowry, and how deeply is this tradition affecting people living in Australia?

Although in some African countries a dowry is paid by the male at the time of a wedding, in the Indian context, it is generally the bride’s family that spends large amounts of money on buying wedding gifts.

A Delhi Wedding Displaying Dowry
A Delhi Wedding Displaying Dowry
SBS Hindi

A Health Promotion Officer and counsellor at one of Melbourne’s women's health services, Manasi, explains the genesis of dowry in Indian culture.

Manasi-If you look at it historically, dowry itself isn’t bad. It was given for financial security to the woman who was going to her husband’s family for her future and security. Also if you look back, women were not entitled to inherit anything from her family or father. So in a way dowry was the way that she would receive her inheritance. But in any case, the dowry was supposed to be hers. How she would choose to dispose of it was also her decision - so the dowry didn’t begin as a bad custom. What has happened over a period of time is that the greed has increased and people have started seeing the bride as some sort of a cash cow or she can get this and that so it’s the abuse of the system. That is causing the problem and that is what we need to address.

Back in 1961, giving and receiving dowry was banned in India through the Dowry Prohibition Act and subsequently, section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

Despite the law being enforced for over five decades, dowry abuse has been responsible for thousands of bride burnings and murders.

According to statistics released by the Indian National Crime Bureau, in 2016 alone, dowry abuse caused 7,000 deaths of women. This means one dowry death is reported every 77 minutes in India.

But the Indian anti-dowry law does not require the accuser to provide evidence to support their allegations, and there is a presumption of guilt until innocence can be proven. Those found guilty face up to three years in jail and the trial can take many years.

According to the latest figures released by India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), while the number of dowry abuse cases registered under Section 498A is increasing each year, the conviction rate is falling. The report suggests that this could be “because of false cases” or the failure of the prosecution to prove that the accused were guilty of the offence.

In the last 11 years between 2006-2016, for every case that resulted in a conviction, five other cases resulted in an acquittal and one case was withdrawn with the net result being that only one out of every seven cases resulted in a conviction.- NCRB

Former Additional Advocate General of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Rajinder Goyal says people who lodge fake cases must be penalised.

Advocate Rajinder Goyal
Advocate Rajinder Goyal says India's anti-dowry laws are being increasingly misused.
Supplied

Rajinder Goyal-In India almost, I can say that after the case is put to trial in 498A and 406, 80 per cent is the acquittal rate. That means, it is found that the case is not proved. In such a situation, the investigating officer who registered the case and who investigated the case should be held responsible for false cases. In the net result, if after investigation it is found that it is a false case, then the complainant should also be burdened with a heavy cost, and a case should also be registered against him for giving false information.

Indian legal proceedings can take years, sometimes decades, before someone is pronounced guilty or innocent by the courts there. The NCRB data shows that fewer than 50,000 cases are cleared every year.

As at the end of 2016, more than 515,000 cases were still pending – which is an increase of 150 per cent in 11 years.

Many men told SBS Punjabi that even though they are Australian citizens and their cases have been settled according to Australian family law, they continue to face multiple charges in India because of these legal loopholes.

Akaash*, who is facing multiple dowry-related cases, claims all cases against him in India are false and vindictive.

satyendra
Snapshot of Indian High Court's judgement in Akaash's favour.
Supplied

Akaash-We married in 2007 and were married till 2010. Almost we were married for 3.5 years. The issues were there but we were trying to work it out but when she left the matrimonial home in 2010 all these issues started. After a year in 2010, she made a Police complaint against me, filed a domestic violence case, police noted in their statement that even though there is extreme violence alleged, there was nil physical injury seen on the victim. So that was clearly noted down. At the same time, her father filed a dowry case in India.

Their plan was that through dowry case in India, my family back home will be jailed, they will be trapped there and through a domestic violence case here in Australia, I will be jailed and they will then use it as a leverage for me to accept all they wanted - controlling all aspects, finances and controlling my family- Akaash.

Akaash-The worst part is that even after eight years of separation, she keeps alleging domestic violence. We have not been together for eight years but she goes to court, gets a mutual intervention order and when the intervention order expires, she goes and alleges a new charge and she is using all this to stop my child contact and misusing all the government agencies here. We have always asked where are the proofs? Do you have any receipt? None has been ever submitted in any court -only allegations. And even in India 80-90 per cent of cases are fake. Even the highest court in India the Supreme Court has made these observations very frequently that the misuse of dowry law has reached threatening proportions, jeopardizing family stability. And ex-wives are becoming more like an extortion club.

India has become the largest source of migration to Australia in recent years, with over 300,000 new migrants from India moving to Australia between the years 2000 and 2016.

During this period, dowry-related abuse has also been reported from many pockets of Australia and it is often linked to domestic violence. 

Melbourne-based psychiatrist Dr Manjula O'Connor has campaigned hard for anti-dowry laws in Australia. She believes that this ancient tradition has been the root cause of family violence in many Indian families living here, and at least in one instance, has led to suicide.

These practices are happening here in Melbourne, in Sydney, in Adelaide, in Brisbane. These are happening here. The marriage may have happened in India but the demands are happening in Australia as part of the ongoing marital condition-Dr Manjula O'Connor.

Dr Manjula O'Connor -I have been in contact with the abandoned wives of these men who are living in India now stigmatized, divorced, their dowry money all down the drain because these men have taken the money and sent them back home because it wasn’t sufficient for their requirement. I know women at least, definitely there are a number of suicides, but at least one woman who committed suicide because of continuous dowry demands in Victoria. How much more damage do we want? Deepshikha Godara’s murder happened only because there were continuous dowry demands that did not allow that couple to bond properly. How much more murders do we want?

Dr Manjula O'Connor
Dr Manjula O'Connor pushes for a federal law to ban dowry abuse in Australia.
White Ribbon Australia

Dr Manjula O’Connor says that she has come across 70 cases of women being harassed due to dowry demands over the past two and a half years.

Previously in 2016, she had told SBS Punjabi that 75 per cent of the cases she had dealt with were female victims of dowry abuse. She says the incidence of such cases has reduced, but her statistics are a “tip of the iceberg.”

We have had 179 women in the last two and a half years of that 40% have suffered dowry abuse-Dr Manjula O'Connor.

Dr O’Connor believes all dowry victims are female, saying she has “not come across male victims” of dowry abuse.

Kittu Randhawa is the project leader of the Sydney based Indian Crisis and Support Agency (ICSA). She says she has dealt with almost 100 cases where dowry demands were the root cause of violence, and she concedes that sometimes, there are male victims too.

Kittu Randhawa-We have quite a number of clients who are males who are under the same kind of oppression and experience the same kind of domestic abuse and violence because of the demand for money.

A few submissions made to the Victorian Royal Commission into family violence in 2015 referred to dowry demands and their impact on the Australian Indian community.

Acting on one of the 228 recommendations made by the Royal Commission, the state of Victoria became the first Australian jurisdiction this year to pass a Bill that includes dowry-related abuse as an example of family violence.

The Bill, which is expected to become a law soon, bans “using coercion, threats, physical abuse or emotional or psychological abuse to demand or receive a dowry, either before or after a marriage.”

Currently, a Senate inquiry is investigating how dowry-related issues are impacting Australians and whether federal laws need to be amended to address the issue. The Senate Committee will present its report and recommendations next year (in February 2019), based on public hearings and submissions.

Senate Inquiry into dowry abuse
Senate inquiry is considering the need for a national law to tackle dowry abuse in Australia.
SBS

But Muktesh Chibber who is an experienced family counsellor based in Melbourne, says existing laws are enough to deal with any financial abuse in marriage.

I don’t understand the meaning of dowry. It’s an old terminology doesn’t exist these days. Does dowry exist nowadays?-Muktesh Chibber.

Muktesh Chibber-We are intelligent enough in Australia you know, not to have a legislation on the basis of anecdotal evidence without any research, without any sufficient research done. Since when has any country formed a legislation based on anecdotal evidence? I am not aware of it.

Dr Gurdip Aurora has been a medical practitioner in Melbourne for over four decades and is the founder of Australia India Society of Victoria.

He received the Indian government’s highest honour for non-resident Indians called the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman, for his work for the Indian community here. He made a submission to the Senate inquiry into dowry abuse and strongly rejects the need for an anti-dowry law in Australia.

Let me make it crystal clear that we don’t have a dowry problem in Australia and if there is a dowry problem this is being inherited from marriages that occur in India. Nobody over here is getting married and asking for dowries-Dr Gurdip Aurora.

Dr Gurdip Aurora -People might be going back from Australia to India and there may be a dowry issue there. And usually what happens is that when there is a problem in the relationship dowry becomes the main issue that they need to give that money back and that is the problem that international students and newer migrants create for the Indian community here in Australia. So there is nothing that the Australian government can do and at the same time, there is nothing that the Indian government can do because they already have very strict laws against dowry. But these laws have not worked. If they do catch people and find out then the sentences are severe but for some reason, they are not acted upon.

I feel offended if there are some people targeting the Indian community because this is a very small pocket-Dr Gurdip Aurora.

But while opinions remain divided on the prevalence of dowry abuse, family violence, on the other hand, is identified as a critical issue in Australia.

A recent research conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicates that one in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner, while one woman a week in Australia and one man in a month were killed, as a result of intimate partner violence in the two years from 2012 to 2014.

However, there are no statistics available for the extent of dowry abuse, or even about the prevalence of family violence within the Indian community.

But in response to SBS Punjabi’s query, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed that Indian nationals have received more visas under family violence provisions than any other nationality in Australia.

According to the Department, between 2012 and 2018, 280 Indian nationals received family violence protection visas in Australia, with almost 180 of them receiving permanent residency in the last three years alone. The Department hasn’t confirmed the gender of the recipients of these visas and have not provided a breakdown of which state or city the applicants resided in Australia.

However, the approval rate of such visas was over 75 per cent, with 367 people of Indian origin seeking protection under the family violence act, and 280 people of Indian origin being granted these visas.

Overall, the Department of Home Affairs told SBS Punjabi that it has received a total of 3,547 such visa applications since 2012-13, and so far 2,733 visas have been issued.                                                                         

Masking the reality
Indian nationals have received more visas under family violence provisions than any other nationality in Australia
NITV

Ritu presented her case of dowry abuse to the Senate Inquiry currently assessing the extent of the problem in Australia.

She says dowry demands were the genesis of the terrible abuse she had to endure, including physical violence during pregnancy, which caused her miscarriage.

Ritu-

My husband became really frustrated and soon, he started to beat me up physically. After 7-8 eight months, he really bashed me up terribly one day. I was pregnant at the time, and I even had a miscarriage. At that moment I felt I had lost everything- Ritu.

Ritu has since been successful in gaining her permanent residency here, but she continues to remain involved in multiple legal battles with her husband and his family, both here in Australia as well as India.

But for many men facing dowry cases brought on by their wives and ex-wives, such cases become a source of trauma, not just for themselves, but for their entire family, leading to countless court proceedings and even judicial arrest.

Sunny says his elderly parents had to pay a very hefty price for his failed marriage.

Sunny-The marriage took place in January 2014. The marriage was actually a scam. The person I married, married me for the wrong reasons. She wanted to come abroad, live in Australia, and that was the main reason for marriage. However, to me, it was displayed that it was a cultural marriage and we were the right match. So that’s how it all started. We started living together and I started to realise that it was a mistake, it was a joke, the intention really was to get a visa to stay here in Australia. We were not compatible at all and had a lot of arguments. We tried to resolve but wasn’t working out. The more she researched that divorce was my legal right here in Australia and it was easier to separate and eventually to get a divorce, even though there is no mutual consent, that is when the divorce went to another level. She conspired with her father mainly and her uncle who works in the police in India and booked us - me and my parents in a false dowry-related case. It's called 498A/406 which basically means that we harassed her and her family for demanding dowry and in the process, there was domestic violence from our side and my parents. It was a completely false and cropped up story. My parents never lived with her. She always lived here (in Australia) and I never lived in India and it’s apparently very easy in India to book anyone in that kind of a false case. All you need to know is somebody in the police and maybe pay some money to them and stuff like that. Before even we knew were accused in that case, my parents went through a lot of harassment in India. They were arrested at the airport. It’s just so easy. Just by merely someone making a statement that I have been harassed for dowry, Police can take that as a gospel and book you into that complaint but it actually ends up into a criminal case in India which is actually a non-bailable law.

Marriage
Is the practice of dowry striking roots in Australia?
Wikipedia Commons

Kamal* entered into an arranged marriage in India, to a man already settled in Australia. She told SBS Punjabi, that the marriage came with a hefty price tag and she has seen many other families using Indian brides as cash cows.

Kamal-They demanded a cash payment of around 26- 27 lakh Indian rupees from my parents (approximately $54,000 USD). It was very hard for my parents to arrange all of this and hand over to them. They also demanded that the money is transferred directly into their bank account. Is this is even fair, that a girl’s worth is arrived at by weighing her against cash money? After I got married, no one even spoke to me. I would sit alone and cry for hours together and no one would even notice. I asked them to tell me what would please them – so that I could do that and make them happy. But they just said, we have no relationship here, why bother to build it. They said, our boy has made a mistake in marrying you – he loved someone else, so now we will make that happen. I think this is very deceitful that these people get married to girls in Punjab, bring them here to Australia and on that pretext they demand money. When they receive the money in their bank account, then they talk of arranging a marriage with another girl. This isn’t part of our Indian culture that a girl’s future is destroyed like this.

Priya says that despite paying a huge amount of dowry, her husband’s family never accepted her.

Priya-It was a very lavish wedding and they demanded 30 lakh over there but afterwards, they denied. When we asked they said we didn’t demand it, it was the middle person. At that time we couldn’t connect the things but now we do. I was not in a position to accept that things like this can happen to anyone. Gradually, I heard them say ‘she must be kept in her place’. I just couldn’t understand what they were trying to say or do. They would order ‘don’t sit here, don’t eat this, who drinks so much milk? Don’t contact your family’. I don’t think my husband even took me out to anyplace during that time. In fact, he hardly ever spoke to me. Literally, he would only come into the room to sleep. I would sit with him and just ask, why doesn’t anyone talk to me? I’ve become very lonely and isolated – at least someone should speak to me. I would just break down and cry, saying everyone is trying to intimidate me. I requested him to please try to stop this. And responded, you should try to win their hearts. And I would think to myself, how can anyone win hearts. I can’t even win over my husband’s heart, how do I win over the others, especially when they have so much hatred for me?

Gurpreet* narrates an unusual tale of being duped into marrying a woman who was already married to someone else overseas.

Not only that, he found out that she had a criminal record in the USA and she was eventually deported from Australia. Yet, her allegations against him in India remain the country where the two were married.

Gurpreet-She arrived in Australia after three months of marriage. When she arrived she was fully drugged and even the airport authorities told me that she has been vomiting in the plane since she was over-drunk. She came out nearly 3 hours after the flight landed and then I thought you know she was from a Gur-Sikh family and how come these guys never told me that she has drinking problems. So we never had any relationship at all. And then finally her only relatives from the US came here. They were saying really big things. This girl was already married to somebody in the US and she was also arrested in the US for a theft she was caught stealing in a store and she was arrested and she was kept in a prison. She went back to India and then I wrote her an email that I don’t want to continue with you and I will be filing a divorce after fulfilling the legal requirements. She just took the email to the police and filed an FIR. And that’s on the basis of whatever she was saying and that was enough for the police to file an FIR. She was even lying to the courts here in Australia and then she finally got deported from Australia and now she is living with her other husband in Canada.

The system is so biased in India that if the girl says something, that is enough. And even if she gets caught, there is no punishment. That means the boys have no right to live at all. They have no right to live-Gurpreet.

Gurpreet-Now the Indian police is harassing us. They are sending us threats that there is a LOC opened against us, we will get caught at the airport. All these threats are unconstitutional and that's what they have been doing in India. These 498 clauses in India are a legal way of terrorising men.

The LOC referred to by Gurpreet is a Look Out Circular which is used at all international airports to verify if a person is wanted by police in any country or jurisdiction.

Victims like Rajiv* speak of the trauma such false cases cause in their lives.

Rajiv-Emotionally, I’d say that it all breaks you down - like psychologically, emotionally and you have no support. Virtually except your parents, no one understands and there is no agency that can provide you help and even counselling doesn’t help because they can’t understand the core issue that you’re an accused in the court. That pain is not going to go away. It becomes like an endless pain.

Some men express deep regret that there are no services in place for them when they face such abuse.

Sunny says even though he is an Australian citizen and pays his taxes, there are no support services available, no legal aid and worst of all, no help with crisis accommodation.

Sunny-I’ve lost self-confidence, ability to trust someone again. I lost faith in the marriage especially arranged marriages, lost faith in the legal system in India, lost faith that there will be an equally or neutral treatment for men here in Australia. I know there are no shelters for men. I had to stay in hotels or someone’s couch while my ex was able to get help from the government and was able to go to a women’s shelter.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, who is a fourth-term Member of Parliament in neighbouring New Zealand since 2008, says he has seen a similar pattern in the Indian community settled there. He was instrumental in setting up the first male shelter in Auckland, which he says filled an essential gap in services available.

Hon Sir Bill English – Former Prime Minister of New Zealand.  Photos also have Mrs Ranjna Patel of Gandhi Niwas.
NZ MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (L) with Sir Bill English, Ex Prime Minister of NZ (C) and Ranjna Patel, Chairwoman of Gandhi Nivas (R).
Supplied

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi-As you know that because males don’t talk about it (they keep) wandering around, sleeping at bus stops, spending nights in the parks and cars. So that was a major issue, so then we started a male shelter. Within one year, the majority of people who came to seek shelter were Indians. And the counselling they got, they sat on the table, their issues were easily resolved and they went back to their homes. And that encouraged police to support 'Gandhi Nivas' as we called the shelter and they too started referring cases. Now just not Indians but people from other communities also come into the shelter. We have now got 23 beds in the facility in Auckland and similar shelters were opened up in Hamilton and Christchurch.

Coming back to the Australian context, how big is the dowry problem in the country?

As the anti-dowry law has already been passed in the state of Victoria, a Senate inquiry has already taken many submissions and held public hearings in major Australian cities, to investigate the extent of the issue. But there are many questions being raised in the community.

Are the existing family violence laws in Australia adequate in dealing with matters relating to dowry? Does the existing financial abuse clause cover dowry abuse?

Is there a need to wait and assess the effects of the anti-dowry law being enacted in Victoria, before making a federal law?

Are there enough checks and balances in place to ensure that loopholes aren’t exploited?

Is dowry being demanded in marriages taking place in Australia or does the issue arise only when the marriage takes place overseas? If so, is there a need for an Australian law in response to a cultural tradition practised overseas?

And finally, is there any truth in the suggestion that by enacting a federal anti-dowry law, the reputation of the entire Indian community maybe tarnished?

SBS Punjabi put these questions to many experts and victims and here is what they said. Federal Labor MP Julian Hill, who is involved in the Senate inquiry investigating dowry abuse, feels very strongly about it.

Why are we getting reports of family violence murders and suicides in response to dowry and dowry abuse? This is a practice that most Australians would not even realise is alive and well-Labor MP Julian Hill.

Mr Hill added that it was important to understand whether the visa and immigration issues were exacerbating the problem.

Member for Bruce, Julian Hill in Melbourne, November 22, 2017.
Labor MP Julian Hill
AAP

Labor MP Julian Hill-How the migration system may actually be enabling dowry abuse, to whether putting a price on a woman in modern Australia is acceptable, I don't think it is.

Dr Manjula O’Connor says following in Victoria’s footsteps, Australian Federal Government must recognise dowry as a form of family violence.

Dr Manjula O’Connor-It should become national because the laws should be uniform across the country so that perpetrators cannot hide from one state to another. The second reason why we need the national law is that these perpetrators who extort and demand money from the women and their families they are being harboured by the Australian government.  Why do we need to be like an ostrich who has its head buried in the sand? Why do we not accept that this a problem and we need to actually face it? We have to solve this problem. How many brides’families take loans to marry their daughters because the marriages between women in India and men in Australia is considered to be highly desirable. Not just people in India but men in Australia also want to marry women in India. This tradition is not going to stop because we people in the Indian community like our culture continuity - and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we should protect these women who are coming across, they are vulnerable.

But Family Counsellor and mediator Muktesh Chibber has a word of caution about enacting any specific law in Australia for a problem that originates in another country. She believes that the current Australian law is adequate in dealing with this issue.

   

muktesh chibber
Does dowry even exist nowadays? questions Muktesh Chibber
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Muktesh Chibber-People need to think very carefully, in an intellectual manner, that what is dowry. If it is gifts and we have given it willingly then we don't have reasons to complain and if it’s a demand and we are fulfilling a demand then we are also party to the crime in fulfilling a demand. Then why complain later on. If unfortunately, the relationship breaks down then all of that is taken care of during property settlement. Let us respectfully uphold the integrity and intelligence of the Australian family violence Act which safeguards the victims and I feel that duplicating such a legislation will actually create more confusion for the issues that have already been legislated. The Australian government needs to think very carefully - are these issues prevalent in Australia or is this a social issue that has been prevalent in a foreign country - we are talking about India -- and which has a very steep root and there has been prolonged studies and deliberations, debates before the government of India came up with a legislation. The root cause is in India and are we making a legislation for something that doesn’t exist here because the root cause is there?

New Zealand’s Member of Parliament Kanwalijit Singh Bakshi, who until recently was the Chairperson of Law and Order Select Committee says he’s keenly watching these developments in Australia because the Indian diaspora in both countries faces similar issues.

Kanwalijit Singh Bakshi-Both sides are abusing the law and this must be stopped. There should be a strictest possible law so that who so ever is proven guilty is subjected to a strictest possible punishment whether you deport him or her or ban him form the country.

Kittu Randhawa, the Sydney based project worker who has provided crisis support to many Indian victims of violence says at the very least, the Australian government needs to acknowledge the dowry issue and its link to domestic violence.

But Ms Randhawa believes that legal nuances can be rather tricky.

Kittu Randhawa-What we need to do in Australia is that first of all have a formal acknowledgement that it exists. The connection to DV and abuse that should be up there. When we talk about DV or abuse, there are lots of different categories of emotional, psychological etc and I think dowry abuse should be on that list. And then we need to start unpacking how do we address this, bearing in mind that we have multiple things to consider here-- which is two different jurisdictions, having the Indian jurisdiction and the Australian one and it can make a difference how you get married whether in India or in Australia. Where does your divorce take place how easy it is to get a divorce. So I think that needs to be unpacked first. From that, we need to start looking at pathways as to how we can get matters resolved and hopefully to get some prevention measures in.

Madhumita Iyengar is the head of Initiative for Women in Need, which is a Canberra-based organisation. She has dealt with many cases of family violence in the Australian community. She has also made a submission to the Senate Inquiry that is looking into dowry abuse. She believes the current laws may be enough to cover the dowry abuse.

Madhumita Iyengar-There is already a law and the law needs to be practised. We don’t understand why the family violence law is not seen as a law here. Our viewpoint is there is already a law.

Sydney-based expert Amrit Versha, who has received the NAPCAN award from Australia’s Governor General for her tireless advocacy of women’, children and refugee rights believes that so much focus on dowry abuse seems misplaced because there are other pressing matters relating to prevention of family violence in the Australian Indian community.

Amrit Versha-I come from an anti-racist and a feminist perspective which supports that we need the protection of all women from human rights angle. And we look at DV across all communities and why are we sensationalizing it for our community. Dowry exists across the world in so many countries. Sudan had dowry Lebanon has dowry a lot of African countries have the dowry. I think rather than sensationalizing this issue we actually need to focus on what are the most prominent issues for our women. One of the most prominent issues for me and my experience has been the impact of temporary visas on women…That what are the support services we are providing to people that don’t have an entitlement of services. We are in a country which has a transient population, we have a lot of temporary visas and there is a high rate of women I come across for whom I keep raising funds because I can’t get services they can access. So our energies should be focusing on issues that are really important and to me, I really want to know what the backstory is, why has this become a very prominent issue rather than the real issue that we come across every day specifically for grass root workers like me who work in the community. If the primary candidate is a student and the woman is the dependent of that student he can easily send her back, there is no protection for her. And they have no access to any service because the services we have in the domestic violence system are for permanent residents only. So those women on temporary residency have no entitlement to Centrelink benefits. So they have no economic support, no housing access. So a majority of the people I deal with are those who are actually getting access to nothing because even if they go to shelters, most of the times they have to pay.

After hearing from social workers, professionals, experts and politicians, we now have the final word from victims themselves. Each of them came forth with their suggestions when they were interviewed by SBS Punjabi.

Priya-I would really like the government here to support people like me, who are suffering or no fault of theirs. If the other party is at fault, then they must be punished. The authorities should help us with every possible means. In my case, neither I am at fault, nor my parents.

Sunny-My experience of the dowry law in India has cost me 6 years of pain and misery. My parents’ life was made hell. The abuse of the law was so easy and it was gender biased -only favouring the females. I think that law hasn’t helped anyone but totally ruined lives and family structure. So am totally against the gender biased dowry law in India. Now, something similar is trying to come to Australia and I think if that goes through then people like me who are already suffering through the process is going on in India. Our suffering will grow 10 times more now these women will be able to initiate this stuff here. The DV law here in Australia is quite broad enough to actually capture any sort of abuse anyway so I don’t think there is a need for new law targeting a particular community.

Ritu-There is a great need to create awareness in women as well as in men, because men aren’t even aware that if they come to Australia and behave like this, so much can be done against them. Similarly, women need to know that if they are facing violence, they should actually approach the Police here. They are very supportive. Households are being destroyed, families are falling apart. Family breakdowns are causing so much suffering to the children. Everyone is suffering so much emotionally. That’s why it’s so important to create this awareness that no one should perpetrate family violence and no one should suffer it either.

Australia to become the first country outside India to target dowry abuse
Do we need a dowry law in Australia?
SBS

Rajiv-If you make a specific dowry law, then 85% of the times that law has failed in India. When do you declare a law a failed law - when it is 100 per cent fail? So why would you want to impose a similar law in Australia when you are not even capable of understanding what that thing is?

Kamal-will only say this- you will all get married and enter into a relationship in the future. If that foundation of that relationship is based on money, then please don’t accept that marriage proposal. Make yourself so strong and independent that your parents find a suitable match for you in a good family, instead of laying the foundation of the marriage on an exchange of money.

Akaash-Women in India are already misusing this law to the hilt where people like me are being asked to pay $ 400,000 AUD to settle extortion, to be able to stay away from the kids, to never see their kids. I think this will really be doomed, I would really like to urge the Parliamentarians or Senators to please look into the facts and not believe on hearsay and make the law. And in case you are thinking of including it, make the law gender neutral.

Hear the full audio feature by clicking the link below:

The Dowry Trap: the untold story of male victims
00:00 00:00

*Names have been changed to protect their identity.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. You can also call MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 and Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. In an emergency, call 000.

The team that investigated the story