Foreign dreams have always fascinated Punjabis. Despite the recession in North America and European countries, IELTS training centers, study abroad bureaus, and immigration agents continue to deceive gullible individuals who are willing to make any sacrifice to settle abroad.
Cracking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam is considered a significant achievement in Punjab. However, those who cannot pass it have found a new way to enter foreign destinations and we now have the growing trend of contractual marriages.
What are contractual marriages?
Contractual marriages here refer to arrangements between two families in which a less educated or even illiterate person, who cannot fulfill prerequisites like the IELTS exam, sponsors a financially disadvantaged yet bright girl student’s studies abroad in exchange for a spouse visa.
Misleading matrimonial advertisements in Punjab’s vernacular dailies are the preferred medium to attract such IELTS brides. These advertisements openly offer financial incentives to lure prospective brides.
Advertisements typically start with keywords like IELTS, PR, and Study Girl. For instance: “IELTS girl wanted. Canada, Australia, England, Jatt boy will bear all expenses,” or “A Chef in Canada on a work permit seeks a smart PR or study visa girl from Canada,” and “IELTS 6.5 band boy wants a girl from the family which can bear expenses to settle abroad.”
“Their first requirement is that the girl should first crack the IELTS exam and score six bands or above. Obtaining a PR is also a selling point,” says Chandigarh-based PR consultant Sheeba Sharma.
Sheeba reveals that most men seeking contractual marriages are those who failed to crack the IELTS exam. “They look for an intelligent girl, but the contract remains a secret between the two families. They offer properties and promise to bear all the expenses. Also, there is a written agreement between the two families,” says Sheeba.
Unemployment among key reasons to settle abroad
According to immigration agents, the primary objective of clearing the IELTS or moving to a foreign country is to escape growing unemployment and the drug menace in Punjab. Parents wish to keep their children away from these negative influences, and from an early age, children are taught that their future lies abroad.
“These boys and girls come from poor rural families and many of them fail to crack the IELTS exam even after getting a 6-month long training. They are under immense pressure to pass this exam,” says Sheeba.
The affinity to settle abroad is so strong that these individuals overlook the recession in European and North American countries like Canada. They are willing to take any job to repay loans and are inadvertently boosting the economies of these countries, Sheeba points out.
After NRI grooms, now NRI brides cheat their Punjabi spouses
The marriage industry in Punjab is undergoing a significant shift. The trend of seeking NRI grooms has now been reversed and now there is a search for IELTS girls or study abroad girls. Now, Punjabi grooms are searching for NRI brides.
The idea of contractual marriage was, in fact, conceptualized by greedy and unscrupulous travel agents.
Several travel agents in different parts of Punjab were making money by arranging contractual marriages, with women being paid hefty sums to become paper brides.
However, these controversial marriages have also caused harm to many grooms who were cheated by IELTS girls or study abroad girls. Some have even led to unfortunate incidents, such as death by suicides, due to harassment and monetary demands.
In many cases, the girls who gave consent for contractual marriages failed to clear the IELTS exam or complete their studies abroad. This resulted in their marriages ending up in court, as the grooms demanded their money back.
Gurpreet Singh, a resident of Moga, filed a criminal case against his NRI wife, Gurpreet Kaur, and her parents, accusing them of cheating him of Rs 25 lakhs. According to Gurpreet Singh, he married Gurpreet Kaur in 2006. However, in December 2009, Gurpreet Kaur went to Canada to pursue a course in child care and left their one-year-old daughter behind. In order to support her journey to Canada, Gurpreet Singh had paid Rs 14 lakhs. However, after he requested her to arrange a sponsorship, she stopped communicating with him. Gurpreet Singh revealed this in an off-camera conversation.
23-year-old Jatin Kumar died by suicide in January 2020 after his Canadian wife demanded money for getting him settled abroad.
Amarjeet Singh from Hoshiarpur died by suicide in April 2023 after he was harassed by his NRI wife seeking money. She was already married twice and wanted to extract more money from him.
These are just some instances of Punjabi men being duped by their NRI brides.
Chandigarh-based immigration agent Abhijeet stressed the urgent need to ban such marriages, which have brought shame to the institution of marriage.
“The procedure to get spouse visas should be made stringent so that no cheating is done in the name of a contractual marriage,” Abhijeet said.
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