Runaway Grooms

runaway-grooms.jpgBlimey. Last week National Public Radio picked up a story about one of the newest scams to hit the community, that of Runaway Grooms. If NPR is doing a story about Punjabis and/or Sikhs, you’d hope it would be for something like this instead. So forgive me, if I think it’s disappointing (although maybe not surprising) that instead our community is the focus of an issue that seems to be quite prevalent in the Punjabi community in India and has links to England and North America aswell. Actually, it is very prevalent. Data suggests that 15,000 women in Punjab alone have been victim to men who, after getting married (and after taking the dowry money) return abroad never to be heard from again. Yup, these guys pull a Houdini. Here’s an excerpt from the NPR piece:

Satwant Kaur was full of hope and happiness on the day she got married. She had landed a husband who lived and worked overseas in Italy before returning to India to find a bride. She was looking forward to leaving her home in Punjab, northern India, for an exciting new life in Europe. Less than a week after the wedding, it became obvious that her husband, Sarwan Singh, had no intention of taking her with him back to Italy. She was the victim of a scam.

Women in India pay these men a hefty dowry in anticipation of the marriage and the promise to travel with them abroad. However, as it’s becoming increasingly clear, these men have NO intention of bringing their brides overseas and instead extort them of, what often is, their family’s savings. NPR may have picked this story up just recently, but this tale is not new. Ali Kazimi, a filmmaker, made a documentary about this called Runaway Grooms which has screened at various film festivals across the country. It’s a powerful film that leaves you in disbelief that this continues to happen in our community. What impacted me most about this film, however, was the strength that existed within these women who had quite clearly been abandoned. It reminded me of the same strength I see from Punjabi and Sikh women, that I know, who have come through similar tribulations.

At the root of this problem, and many others, is the tradition of daaj or dowry. Is this going away or has it’s form simply changed? I would suggest listening to the NPR piece and watching Runaway Grooms and then thinking about the impact this is having on our community. Our religion does not condone injustice, but more often than not, when those in our community are victims of fraud and lies, we always seem to look the other way…


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28 Responses to “Runaway Grooms”

  1. Reema says:

    I've heard of a few women recently who've broken off proposals because the guy or his family expected a daaj… I'm not sure whether these few random instances are exceptions or perhaps indications of a new trend? It would be interesting to see how many 1st or 2nd gen women and their families in the US would be willing to break off an otherwise perfect engagement if the guy's family expected a daaj…

  2. raj says:

    1 – what is a "perfect" engagement?

    2 – if the families have some sort of understanding regarding daaj – does that make the practice OK?

  3. Reema says:

    I’ve heard of a few women recently who’ve broken off proposals because the guy or his family expected a daaj… I’m not sure whether these few random instances are exceptions or perhaps indications of a new trend? It would be interesting to see how many 1st or 2nd gen women and their families in the US would be willing to break off an otherwise perfect engagement if the guy’s family expected a daaj…

  4. raj says:

    1 – what is a “perfect” engagement?
    2 – if the families have some sort of understanding regarding daaj – does that make the practice OK?

  5. harjot says:

    Ive also heard and seen on the Panjabi news about girls in India calling off marriages on the wedding day, when the soon-to-be husband's family starts demanding new cars and more money! While it's good to hear about this, I think that dowries are still being exchanged readily. I agree with the post and think that the dowry may not be something explicit – but on some level it still exists.

    I don't think a dowry exchange is ever okay – tradition is one thing, injust practices another.

  6. harjot says:

    Ive also heard and seen on the Panjabi news about girls in India calling off marriages on the wedding day, when the soon-to-be husband’s family starts demanding new cars and more money! While it’s good to hear about this, I think that dowries are still being exchanged readily. I agree with the post and think that the dowry may not be something explicit – but on some level it still exists.

    I don’t think a dowry exchange is ever okay – tradition is one thing, injust practices another.

  7. Reema says:

    Raj,

    1) I don’t know what a “perfect” engagement would be, maybe that was a bad choice of words, I just meant acceptable in the eyes of the families, which can be difficult. I was just trying to focus on families’ opinions of daaj (or the modern day form) without getting into the other issues that arise (caste, regional culture (Punjabi/Gujurati/Tamil), etc.). Each issue is equally important but I just thought it would be too much to talk about all at once, so I was trying to filter my question.

    2) I think this question is linked to what Harjot said that “dowry exchange is never okay.” In cases where new cars are being demanded, against the will of the bride’s family, I think it’s easier to say it’s clearly daaj, and just plain wrong. And though there are cases of this in the US, I think it’s more common that the bride’s family gives suits or clothing or small gifts to the groom’s immediate (primarily) family. This is derived from old-school daaj, but a more muted version. I think this is a difficult question Raj- should all gifts from the bride’s family to the groom’s be refused when the gifts are small, and both families want to give/receive out of respect for tradition and not out of any expectation?

    On the one hand, any recognition or appreciation for any form of daaj allows it to continue and is problematic. But realistically, how many brides’ families would be willing to not give ANY gifts to the groom’s family, considering how much the community talks and how this would be perceived? And how many grooms’ families would be perfectly content (in light of community gossip, not their own wishes) if the bride’s family didn’t acknowledge the tradition in any way?

    Perhaps one problem is that these little gifts aren’t seen as daaj… and until a more universal community disapproval of daaj-in all its masks-forms, the practice will continue.

  8. Reema says:

    Raj,

    1) I don't know what a "perfect" engagement would be, maybe that was a bad choice of words, I just meant acceptable in the eyes of the families, which can be difficult. I was just trying to focus on families' opinions of daaj (or the modern day form) without getting into the other issues that arise (caste, regional culture (Punjabi/Gujurati/Tamil), etc.). Each issue is equally important but I just thought it would be too much to talk about all at once, so I was trying to filter my question.

    2) I think this question is linked to what Harjot said that "dowry exchange is never okay." In cases where new cars are being demanded, against the will of the bride's family, I think it's easier to say it's clearly daaj, and just plain wrong. And though there are cases of this in the US, I think it's more common that the bride's family gives suits or clothing or small gifts to the groom's immediate (primarily) family. This is derived from old-school daaj, but a more muted version. I think this is a difficult question Raj- should all gifts from the bride's family to the groom's be refused when the gifts are small, and both families want to give/receive out of respect for tradition and not out of any expectation?

    On the one hand, any recognition or appreciation for any form of daaj allows it to continue and is problematic. But realistically, how many brides' families would be willing to not give ANY gifts to the groom's family, considering how much the community talks and how this would be perceived? And how many grooms' families would be perfectly content (in light of community gossip, not their own wishes) if the bride's family didn't acknowledge the tradition in any way?

    Perhaps one problem is that these little gifts aren't seen as daaj… and until a more universal community disapproval of daaj-in all its masks-forms, the practice will continue.

  9. RK says:

    I heard the NPR piece too and it's real;y sad how much these issues affect children that are born to these couples. I think they said 6,000 kids have been fathered by these guys? So who's looking after them and paying for their needs??

  10. RK says:

    I heard the NPR piece too and it’s real;y sad how much these issues affect children that are born to these couples. I think they said 6,000 kids have been fathered by these guys? So who’s looking after them and paying for their needs??

  11. Cali-boy says:

    Just to keep things in perspective, China is facing a similar issue. The Chinese government was only allowing couples to legally give birth to one child. The result was that many couples were aborting the female fetuses, so that they could keep the family lineage going. The female babies that were born now are reaping the benefits in the sense that they are in the driver seat and can be more selective on who they choose to marry.

  12. Cali-boy says:

    Just to keep things in perspective, China is facing a similar issue. The Chinese government was only allowing couples to legally give birth to one child. The result was that many couples were aborting the female fetuses, so that they could keep the family lineage going. The female babies that were born now are reaping the benefits in the sense that they are in the driver seat and can be more selective on who they choose to marry.

  13. Camille says:

    I don't know that the gender difference in sex selection substantially improves the life experiences of young women, though. Either way girls are treated as bartered commodities, not as something intrinsically valuable.

  14. Camille says:

    I don’t know that the gender difference in sex selection substantially improves the life experiences of young women, though. Either way girls are treated as bartered commodities, not as something intrinsically valuable.

  15. […] on “The Langar Hall” there has been discussion about “Runaway Grooms” who with their immigration status abroad marry women from Punjab, only to abandon them after […]

  16. Suki says:

    Back in 2005, Indo-Canadian MLA Harry Lali made a very blunt statement in the House on abandoned wives in India. Here are excerpts that will give you an idea of the problem:

    The reality is that there are 30,000 – estimated number – of these abandoned brides in India, 15,000 of them in the state of Punjab in northwest India alone.

    There are 12,000 villages in Punjab. That makes it at least one per each village in terms of how many brides have been abandoned in India, because there are 12,000 villages there. India's official estimate is that 10,000 of those Punjabi brides are abandoned by their Canadian husbands. Almost 50 percent of Canadian Punjabis live in British Columbia. In B.C. alone, you're looking at approximately 3,000 to 5,000 Punjabi men who have abandoned their brides – perhaps a number as high as 7,000 men of Indian origin living in British Columbia, most of whom live in the lower mainland.

  17. Suki says:

    Back in 2005, Indo-Canadian MLA Harry Lali made a very blunt statement in the House on abandoned wives in India. Here are excerpts that will give you an idea of the problem:

    The reality is that there are 30,000 – estimated number – of these abandoned brides in India, 15,000 of them in the state of Punjab in northwest India alone.

    There are 12,000 villages in Punjab. That makes it at least one per each village in terms of how many brides have been abandoned in India, because there are 12,000 villages there. India’s official estimate is that 10,000 of those Punjabi brides are abandoned by their Canadian husbands. Almost 50 percent of Canadian Punjabis live in British Columbia. In B.C. alone, you’re looking at approximately 3,000 to 5,000 Punjabi men who have abandoned their brides – perhaps a number as high as 7,000 men of Indian origin living in British Columbia, most of whom live in the lower mainland.

  18. […] two years ago I blogged about an NPR story that highlighted the issue of Runaway Grooms. Today, I once again write about the same issue – this time the media terms it “Holiday […]

  19. Dosanjh says:

    I think if you asked anyone in England they'd tell you the 'runaway bride' problem is far worse than that of 'runaway grooms'. Over the last 5 years or so there have been at least a dozen cases in my own extended family where brides from england and brides from Punjab have seriously duped and left stranded innocent grooms. I honestly can't recall a single case of a bride being duped. But then again…..real stories like that don't sell papers and don't make for juicy publicity.

  20. Dosanjh says:

    I think if you asked anyone in England they’d tell you the ‘runaway bride’ problem is far worse than that of ‘runaway grooms’. Over the last 5 years or so there have been at least a dozen cases in my own extended family where brides from england and brides from Punjab have seriously duped and left stranded innocent grooms. I honestly can’t recall a single case of a bride being duped. But then again…..real stories like that don’t sell papers and don’t make for juicy publicity.

  21. […] The Langar Hall: Runaway Grooms, 2007 […]

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