She was numb and shocked. She had just been violently hit and choked again before her 6-month-old daughter in New Jersey, USA. She dragged herself to dial 911. The police arrived, interrogated her, and took pictures of her injuries. But, instead of protecting her, they notified Child Protective Services who threatened to take her child away from her. As Aditi Satya (not her real name) talks to me, her eyes well up again. "I came to India because he and his family asked me to relocate. Despite that, my husband filed a false child abduction complaint against me over the phone from India, after I initiated domestic violence proceedings against him. Without evidence and without a proper hearing, my husband used US courts to criminalize me, the mother of the child. After obtaining the fraudulent US order, he has made my life, the life of my child and parents a living hell. He is litigating in every court in India and temporary custody has been given to me. Although he exercises visitation rights and Skype access, he refuses to pay any alimony or child support. He subjected me to intolerable domestic violence and is an unstable alcoholic. I tolerated his abuse for a long time as I was dependent on him for my Green Card. But when my daughter was born and I realised she would be exposed to this, I decided coming back home to India was the best alternative."
There are currently 94 cases in India where a child from the US has been registered as kidnapped by one parent and brought to India after the marriage broke down. Washington is pushing India to sign the Hague Convention, an international treaty that decides which country's courts should adjudicate a dispute over custody. It is normally decided based on where the child "habitually resides" - women like Aditi claim this works against them because this allows for the case to be decided in the US. Indians rank number 2 after Mexicans when it comes to alleged child abductions by parents in the US, even though a biological parent (mother) is considered a legal guardian under Indian law.
Aditi came to India with her husband and daughter a little over two years ago, but her husband abandoned her upon their arrival in India. Aditi's daughter is now three and a half years old and she lives with Aditi and Aditi's parents in their home in India.
Aditi's husband, a doctor, returned to the US to file a false case of child abduction against her in a US court, in which he is claiming sole custody of their minor daughter. Criminal charges have been issued against Aditi who is not contesting the case in the US and already has temporary custody awarded to her by the Indian courts. I asked her why she can't go back and fight the case there. She says, "The minute I land in the US, I will be arrested and jailed. My child will be permanently separated from me. There is pressure to give up ownership of our children to Child Protective Services and foster care as soon as one reports abuse and domestic violence in the US. A very large percentage of children die in the custody of CPS. How can this possibly be construed as being in the best interests of our children? I have no family, emotional or financial support to litigate the case in America. I don't even have immigration papers to go back".
Shocked at her response, I asked her how such wrong was being perpetuated. She says, "The US Government aggressively supports the so-called 'Left Behind Parent'. They do not have systems in place, nor do they insure that the complaint is genuine. Anyone can call in from anywhere to register such a complaint, without any evidence, and a charge is instantly registered. Aware of this, the so-called Left Behind Parents misuse the government machinery to stalk, harass and torture the women that left them, and use the false criminal charges filed by them as a mechanism to avoid paying alimony and child support and get the women to succumb to their demands. Thus, filing false complaints while knowing fully well the whereabouts of the child, has become a common occurrence in the US."
The men enjoy visitation and Skype access through Indian courts, yet refuse to pay alimony and child support. Their families in India join them in perpetuating the abuse. They go back to the US and hold up "Missing Kids" posters claiming their kids are missing and get the US Authorities to support their false claims. Abusive spouses are using these claims to generate false sympathy by portraying themselves as so-called 'left behind parents' who are denied access and who have no knowledge of the whereabouts of their kids. They use the charges to falsely criminalise the women, evade Indian court orders and any criminal charges applicable to them, get fast tracked ex parte
orders of custody and divorce in their favour in the US, and avoid paying alimony and child support. Some are using this route to get themselves residency status and citizenship in the US. This is the issue that has hundreds of women, their children, families and supporters opposing The Hague worldwide, of which nearly ninety-four (94) Indian origin women who have returned from the US recently, are actively opposing along with their support groups, what seems to be the Indian Government's unfounded and renewed interest in the matter.
Niharika Dasgupta (not her real name) is another Indian mother badly caught in this trap. "I came to India with my husband's explicit consent and with a signed notarised agreement to relocate. My son was pre-registered to attend school in India at an early age. We were residing together in my husband's own home in India, when he suddenly disappeared to file false charges of abduction against me in the US. I had temporary custody orders in my favour in India. Despite that, my husband proceeded to get ex parte
custody orders in the US, completely disregarding the Indian court orders. The US courts refused to recognise the Hindu Marriage Act under which we were married, nor would they recognise any of the evidence I have as proof of my husband's consent to relocate to India. My husband used me to get himself a Green Card in the US and then proceeded to file false charges against me. I am now trapped with these false charges and cannot travel outside even for work, even though it was my husband who was the perpetuator of abuse and domestic violence in our marriage. Returning to the US would be like a death trap for me."
These women are bravely fighting this along with several lawyers' and women support groups in India, and trying to raise awareness on the issue. The issues underlying The Hague are grave and serious in nature and need to be carefully considered. For several decades, the Indian Government has rightly refused to succumb to the US demand to sign The Hague, as it defies the very foundations of our social fabric, family values and judicial principles. To sign The Hague, albeit under relentless pressure from the United States, would be to let down and jeopardise the lives of all the innocent women and children who have returned home to escape abusive and treacherous situations abroad.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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