ArticlesVolume 19, Number 3 (2010)

Brides without Borders: New Topographies of Violence and the Future of Law in an Era of Transnational Citizen-Subjects

Abstract

 Lavina Melwani has described non-resident Indian (NRI) abandonment cases as the “ugly underside of outsourced marriages.” As the introductory narrative suggests, patterns of marriage and migration within the Indian diaspora have generated new forms of abuse that manifest themselves in a wide range of desertion scenarios involving new brides. Anti-violence activists are receiving a growing number of calls from women experiencing what some advocates have characterized as “transnational abandonment.” It is estimated that at least 20,000 to 30,000 Indian women have been abandoned by their non-resident Indian spouses, and true figures may be significantly higher due to underreporting.
As the issue of abandonment receives increasing international spotlight, so too has information concerning the many different circumstances in which it occurs. Depending on their objective, spouses in abandonment cases file divorce papers, initiate custody proceedings, or avoid paying child support in the jurisdiction they believe to be most supportive of their interests. In many of these situations, women are powerless to contest their spouse’s legal actions because of financial constraints and/or the inability to travel due to immigration restrictions. In addition to being severely disadvantaged in these cases from a legal perspective, these women are often subjected to other forms of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of their spouses, and in some cases, their in- laws.
The issue of transnational abandonment highlights Saskia Sassen’s concept of the “global city,” or that which signifies the “unbundling of the exclusive territoriality of the nation-state.”‘ 0 In this juncture between globalization and sovereignty, the absence of national and international legal strategies to address the emergent issue of abandonment leaves many women without access to vital legal protections.
This Article examines the phenomenon of transnational abandonment, or what has emerged in media and legal discourses as the figure of the “NRI abandoned bride.” In particular, this Article investigates the potential of the NRI abandoned bride for advancing a more transnational approach to jurisprudence involving family law and child custody issues; and the extent to which the US. and Indian governments have responded to the problem of NRI abandonment, given the distinct challenge of advocating for women across national boundaries, and in the absence of a coordinated system of intergovernmental communication and meaningful cross-border advocacy networks. By tracing the figure of the NRI bride in and through these multiple national, transnational, legislative and jurisdictional entanglements, this Article aims to complicate legal theory, which has resisted meaningful engagement with the altered jurisdictions globalization has produced.