Desertion of married women by NRIs a major social problem: Law Commission in its latest report

The Law Commission has recommended that the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indians Bill, 2019 should include provisions for compulsory registration of marriages of non-resident Indians and overseas citizens of India to prevent fraud and desertion.

THE Law Commission of India has recommended compulsory registration of all marriages between non-resident Indians (NRIs) and overseas citizens of India (OCIs).

In its 287th report, titled Law on matrimonial issues relating to non-resident Indians and overseas Tof India, the commission has reasoned that compulsory registration of marriages would curb the rising occurrence of fraudulent marriages involving NRIs marrying Indian partners.

The commission calls the trend ‘worrisome’ because marriages with NRIs often occur hastily without adequate verification of background. This oversight exposes individuals, particularly women, to various risks, including abandonment, domestic violence, extramarital relations, delay in visa or immigration processes, and even ex-parte decrees of divorce.

The report highlights a pattern where such marriages turn out to be ‘deceptive’, putting Indian spouses, especially women, in a precarious situation. It notes: “Deceptive practices like false assurances, misrepresentation and abandonment are commonly associated with these fraudulent unions, causing distress to the Indian partners.”

The commission has particularly highlighted a challenging scenario of cases where NRI husbands initiate ex-parte divorces in foreign courts without the knowledge and consent of their spouses.

It states that such divorce decrees could be based on false information and fake documents, adding to the complexities faced by women spouses in a foreign country.

In the 65th report, the commission dealt with the issue of the recognition of foreign decrees of divorce and judicial separation in India. The report pointed out that the law to recognise foreign divorces and related matters has not been codified.

However, a decree pronounced in absentem by a foreign court to the jurisdiction of which one of the parties has not in any way submitted is an absolute nullity under international law, the report states. The commission referred to the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Smt. Satya versus Teja Singh (1974).

Lastly, the commission has recommended that the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), 2023 (the law replacing the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973) should include provisions with regard to NRIs and OCIs for the service of summons, warrants or judicial documents.

It has noted that the CrPC has no provision for serving summons, warrants or judicial documents to those living abroad. However, the BNSS allows for the courts to issue electronic summons.

The BNSS must include provisions for ensuring appearances of the defaulting NRIs or OCIs before a court in India in matrimonial matters, the commission further recommends.

If physical appearance is not possible, the commission recommends that a court appearance could also be facilitated by the Indian diplomatic missions abroad through video conferencing.


The Law Commission report is based on a reference from the external affairs ministry on the Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indians Bill, 2019.

The Bill defines an NRI as an Indian who resides outside India. Whereas, the Income Tax Act, 1961 defines an NRI as an Indian citizen who resides in a foreign country for more than 182 days in a year.

The Bill provides for the compulsory registration of marriage for better enforcement of the rights of deserted spouses under various family laws.

The Bill was introduced on February 11, 2019. The 16th Lok Sabha referred the Bill to the Committee on External Affairs. The Bill was again referred to the Committee on External Affairs after the 17th Lok Sabha. Ultimately, a reference was made to the commission.

Based on an in-depth study, the commission has recommended that the Bill is a comprehensive enough legislation on the issue of fraudulent marriages in NRIs.

It has, however, recommended that the legislation include OCIs defined under Section 7A (registration of overseas citizens of India cardholders) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.

OCIs including all persons of Indian origin (PIOs) who were citizens of India on January 26, 1950 or thereafter or were eligible to become citizens of India on January 26, 1950.

Further, the commission has recommended that the legislation contain provisions on divorce, maintenance of spouse, custody and maintenance of children, and serving of summons and warrants or judicial documents on the NRIs and OCIs.

Lastly, the commission has also recommended that requisite amendments be introduced in the Passport Act, 1967. This is to mandate the declaration of marital status, the linking of a spouses’ passports and the mentioning of the marriage registration number in the passport of both spouses.

What do the statistics suggest?

As per the official data of the external affairs ministry, 32,285,425 people of Indian origin have settled overseas as of October 5, 2023. Of them, 13,601,780 are NRIs and 18,683,645 are PIOs.

A 2007 study conducted by the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development on desertion in marriages by NRIs in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh suggests that 60 percent of such marriages in Punjab were not registered.

The study is titled A study of desertion of married women by non-resident Indians in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. The study notes that in Andhra Pradesh, 23 percent of such marriages were not registered.

The study pointed out that the primary reason for not registering marriages is that registering marriages would render subsequent marriages, solemnised or contracted without obtaining the decree of divorce, non-est (void) in the eyes of the law.

Further, the commission remarked that the report highlights a peculiar sociological aspect, which is that these cases are predominantly observed within the Muslim community. It states that the Muslim community generally lacks a comprehensive registration system.

However, mere institution of registration of marriages among Muslims may not solve this problem, as Muslim men can marry (and register) upto four marriages. It is pertinent to mention in this context that the Law Commission report says its recommendations are for “secular” and “monogamous” marriages.

Data of the external affairs ministry on the number of reported cases of desertion of Indian women indicates that the ministry received 796 petitions in 2015, 1,510 in 2016 and 1,022 in 2017.

The commission noted that this data suggests that for effective redress of grievances, the parties have often turned to state authorities. Police stations across many states in India have reported a surge in complaints regarding fraudulent actions by NRI husbands.