13 Sep 2017

Woman imprisoned, chained by family sent back to India

6:17 am on 13 September 2017

A couple who fled to New Zealand after the wife's family threatened to burn her alive and kept her prisoner have been sent back to India.

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The tribunal ruled the couple were not refugees because they could safely return to another part of India. Photo: 123rf

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal was told the woman was imprisoned by her parents for more than a year after they discovered she was having a relationship.

She was chained up and assaulted before she escaped and married her husband.

The tribunal ruled the couple were at risk of persecution in their native Punjab, but were not refugees because they could safely return to another part of India.

They met at school but her parents forbade the relationship when they discovered text messages between the pair.

The tribunal was told the woman was locked in her room for periods of between two and 20 days in an attempt to stop her contacting the man she had fallen in love with.

"On one occasion she was chained to a wardrobe by her neck and feet," according to the tribunal's decision.

"On at least one occasion her father attempted to set her alight but was dissuaded from doing so by the grandfather on the basis that this would harm the reputation of the family and hinder their chances in marrying the wife's younger sister.

"On other occasions, the wife had chilli powder thrown into her eyes. She was also subjected to numerous minor assaults, particularly by her uncle and father."

The wife told the tribunal she escaped late one night after discovering her family had arranged for her to marry a man from a wealthy family in Delhi.

The couple travelled through the night on a motorbike to reach the High Court to get a protection order.

After telling their parents they were married, her father threatened to kill her husband and her uncle hit him.

The threats continued, and they planned how they would leave India and travel to New Zealand.

The tribunal heard the wife was from a wealthy, politically connected family, while her husband's parents made and sold clothes.

The couple's lawyer told the tribunal it risked being a classic case of honour killing.

"Her father threatened to set her alight for dishonouring the family," the tribunal wrote in its notes of the woman's testimony.

"[She] vividly recalls her father having some diesel fluid in his hand with a match.

"She was only spared from being burnt because her grandfather intervened, berating her father with the fact that, should he harm the wife in this way, this would reflect badly on the family and affect the family's chances of finding a suitable husband for her younger sister."

But the tribunal ruled the couple were not at risk of being persecuted if they moved to Mumbai or another large Indian city.

"The tribunal is satisfied that were the husband and wife to return to their home city there is a real chance that the wife's family will make good on their threat to kill them.

"On at least one occasion, the wife's father took active steps to burn her alive. This degree of abuse is indicative of the level of animosity her family showed towards the wife and, by extension, the husband for bringing, in their eyes, shame and dishonour on the family."

But it ruled that it was speculative to conclude that the wife's family had sufficient political leverage to track down the couple using the police or identity cards or other means.

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