Siminder Kaur with her son Anhad who she claims is being kept from her by her estranged husband and in-laws.
It is the kind of unimaginable, nightmarish scenario that every parent dreads: a new parent, overwhelmed by the rigours of being a new mom, a career professional and an immigrant in a strange land, leaves her 15-month-old life in the hands of close relatives for a short time as she attempts to catch her breath only for the child to be, in effect, abducted and kept away from her.
Then, a frantic search for justice as people she thought were her well-wishers – including her own husband – turn against her with the active complicity of a corrupt and broken system, conspire to keep her son away from her.
And yet it is not a nightmare or a storyline out of a bad novel.
It is the story of Siminder Kaur, a 33-year-old mother that illustrates – yet again – the madness and cruelty of a patriarchal society which subjugates and overwhelms its womenfolk and the institutions and laws that enable that subjugation.
First some background.
Ms Kaur is originally from Ludhiana, in the Punjab. An ambitious and hardworking woman, she studied computer science before falling in love with Vaneet Singh, a Mechanical Engineer working in the United States.
The pair met through a matrimonial website in India and married in March 2008. Just a couple of weeks later Ms Kaur joined her new husband in the United States.
It was a marriage that would follow the distressing script of a not insignificant number of Indian marriages.
The problems began, Ms Kaur tells the UKAsian, the moment the couple revealed their romance to Vaneet’s parents.
Even before the tea had cooled, his parents began demanding a lavish wedding. Then came the demand for a dowry – the price Siminder had to pay for the “privilege” of marrying Vaneet. Siminder’s parents, towing the cultural party line, agreed.
Siminder however, refused and in fact, she says, backed out of the wedding days before the main ceremony only changing her mind after her soon-to-be husband apologized on behalf of his family.
But the seeds for the future had been laid and the fruits would prove unbearable for Siminder.
It was, however, not immediately apparent. Despite the ensuing problems – from her in-laws as well as her increasingly volatile husband who played the “deportation” card on her – Siminder managed to obtain a Masters degree in computer science, become a permanent resident, secure an amazing job at a medical research hospital and survive before giving birth to a son in August 2014.
Anhad, as her son was named, became the centre of Siminder’s universe. Two years later that universe is in tatters.
Siminder says that things began to unravel even further soon after Anhad’s birth when her “possessive” and increasingly “paranoid” husband who began controlling every aspect of her life, most curiously about her child-rearing abilities.
The fiery combination of work pressures, a new baby and being migrants took a toll on the new parents and their relationship began to suffer.
Siminder Kaur and Vaneet Singh in happier times.
At around this time – towards the end of 2015 – the couple and their infant son flew to India to attend Vaneet’s brother’s wedding. The tensions between the couple escalated, according to Siminder, during the visit to India, prompting a durbar with Vaneet’s family, during which, Simindar says she was “compelled” to leave Anhad in India with Vaneet’s parents for a short time in a bid to save her marriage.
Siminder’s in-laws also convinced her that a short stay in India would be good for Anhad’s eczema which often flares up during the cold winter months in the US.
It was supposed to be a short term solution – three months at the most.
“It was the worst decision of my life”, Siminder now says.
As soon as the couple returned to their home in Tennessee, things began to take a sinister turn.
The couple, whilst sharing a house, lived separately – believing that a “domestic separation” would be good for their marriage.
“But I couldn’t bear separation from my son”, Siminder says. “So I started asking my husband to bring Anhad back after a month or so but he kept making excuses and buying time. Towards the end, he started taking extreme steps of taking away my access from the common computers, master bedroom, financial documents”.
She also found that he was actively pursuing a legal separation rather than focusing on resolving their personal conflicts.
As the weeks went by her requests to get Anhad back to the US (he is a US citizen while Siminder is a holder of a Green Card) were refused.
“He kept making excuses and buying time, and in the end, he blatantly refused. We couldn’t resolve our differences. That’s when I realized that he never had the intention of resolving any issues or bringing back our son; it had been a ploy all along”, Siminder says.
At the edge of her sanity, Siminder travelled to India in April 2016 to get her son back.
“When I reached Mohali, my in-laws stopped me from entering my home and did not even allow me to meet my son outside the home. The police instead of helping me advised me to get a “court order” to enter my home or to meet my son. The irony is that my husband and I have paid for the loans and registration for this house; in addition to regularly contributing to household expenses and I still can’t call it my home. This is the home that appears on my passport as my permanent address and this is the home that is now restricting my access to my child”, she says.
It was a bizarre situation but unsurprising in the context of India – police not only becoming involved in a civil matter but demanding a “court order” for an individual to enter her own home to see her own son.
Siminder now believes that the local police may have been influenced by her husband and his family.
“When the police failed to help me, I was forced to file multiple cases against my husband and in-laws to safeguard my interest and to fight for justice. However, justice is being delayed and I’m now on the very verge of losing my job in the US. And as the adage goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Unfortunately my son is caught in the middle of this crossfire and is being deprived of his mother’s love & affection”, Siminder says.
The case is now with the Punjab High Court where a judge will rule next month on the fate of Ahlad. Siminder has filed a case of illegal confinement while her husband has contended that it is in the best interests of the child to remain with her paternal grandparents.
But Siminder, despite the enormous emotional and psychological stress this has wrought, remains determined.
“Over the past 8 years, I have been constantly subjected to domestic violence and abuse by my husband and in-laws.
But fearing the social stigma attached to a single mother, I bore the brunt and didn’t bring it to the forefront or report any incidents. Today, my husband has deceived me and robbed me of everything. My trust and naivety has led to majority of our jointly made assets being in his name in India. I am now dependent on my parents with no money in India to fend for myself. But despite these problems I’m determined to fight for my son.”
The road however, is anything but easy.
“I have sought help from local police, from courts, from India’s National Commission for Women, among other organizations, from the US consulate, from US congressmen, from neighbours, from common friends, from media, but till now I haven’t had a glimpse of my son. I am being told this can take years but that would only mean that I will miss my sons most productive years and lose out on an opportunity to make a positive imprint on his childhood years”, she says.
Vaneet Singh has meanwhile has worked to ensure that he does not lose his job – making regular trips back stateside – leaving his family and its cohorts to fight Siminder Kaur in court.
Siminder Kaur’s story is not an isolated one. In 2015, the US State Department reported 99 cases of such abductions. In a report, the Department also chastised Indian authorities for “non compliance” by “persistently failing to work with the United States to resolve abduction cases”.
“A mother, who has lost everything, who wants to protect her child and his welfare, is asking for her son to be released to her, it’s where he belongs”, Siminder says.
“But the Indian judicial system does not consider this as an urgent issue; and she needs to wait for a written reply to even get some interim relief. My in-laws manage to get dates after dates to file a reply and she now has to wait for the offenders’ written reply to be with her own son? How do the rights of a grandparent take precedence over the right of his birth mother?”, she asks exasperated.
Siminder is currently raising awareness on her issue through her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SimindersFightForJustice
When contacted by The UKAsian, Vaneet Singh denied the allegations made by Siminder. He emphatically denied that his wife had been denied entry into the home in Mohali and access to her son.
He contends that Siminder had filed police complaints against him and his parents before attempting to visit their son and attempting any sort of ” reconciliation”.
He also insisted that the on-going legal battle was over custody of Anhad and not a matter of illegal confinement.