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.
Her dream did not last long.
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.
Indian men working abroad are much sought-after as husbands because of their relatively high incomes. Their families often demand huge dowries — a practice banned in India but still widespread in some areas.
Kaur says her family paid Singh and his relatives cripplingly large sums of money — the equivalent of $15,000 — during the wedding festivities alone.
Almost immediately afterward, Kaur's new in-laws came up with more demands. They wanted a television, a house and — after Singh went back to Europe — another $15,000. They threatened her with death if her family failed to pay up.
Kaur, now 30, has fled back to her family with her 3-year-old daughter — the product of Singh's brief visit. Mother and daughter must now live with the stigma of being abandoned.
She is not the only one. Social activists say as many as 15,000 women in the northern state of Punjab alone are victims of a growing racket in which Indian men based overseas arrange marriages back home for the purpose of extorting wealth from their brides' families. The problem is particularly acute in Punjab, as the state has a large number of people working overseas.
The problem has become so severe that a new group, For the Dignity of Our Daughters, was established in India to tackle it. It is led by a former federal minister, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia.
"Six-thousand children have been fathered by these NRI (non-resident Indian) Punjabis. Many Punjabi girls' parents have to shell out money to the tune of ($30,000 to $41,000)," Ramoowalia says.
Some brides are left waiting at airports, some left with their in-laws, all cheated of money, valuables and, most of all, dignity.
"The reason NRI grooms come to Punjab is not to chose a life companion, but ... because of money and lust," Ramoowalia says.
Tracking Down Offenders
Ramoowalia says the men are often confident that they'll escape without prosecution. But that is no longer the case. Ramoowalia's efforts have put a couple of men behind bars; he says his political party is vigilant in its efforts to track down offenders.
Ramoowalia's campaign is also mobilizing a new type of Punjabi bride, who — far from being docile and submissive — is determined to fight for justice.
Kaur is one of them. She wants her husband extradited from Italy, so that she can prosecute him for fraud.
Radio piece by Philip Reeves. Written piece by Shivani Dogra for NPR.