CHANDIGARH, India - Jaswant Kaur is one of more than 15,000 'holiday wives' spread across India's northern Punjab state who, after years of abandonment, still awaits her husband's return from Britain.

A fortnight after their lavish wedding in the border district of Gurdaspur, Karamjit Singh - considered a prize 'catch' for most Punjabi parents wanting their daughters married as he was a non-resident Indian settled abroad - left for London.

He promised his excited 21-year-old bride, who had never left her small town, that he would send her immigration papers within weeks to enable her to join him.

The groom and his family also carried away 700,000 rupees ($21,867.73) in dowry and gold ornaments which the bride's parents had raised by mortgaging their small plot of land and house.

Eleven years later, Jaswant Kaur still waits for news from her husband.

"We now learn that he already had a wife and two children in London when we were married" Kaur said.

"For him I was nothing but a sexual dalliance and a source of gratification for his greed in the dowry.

"Along with my family, I stand disgraced socially as an abandoned bride. I have no recourse to any redress whatsoever."

Jaswant, however, is one of the luckier ones. Karamjit Kaur from nearby Jalandar, 400km north of New Delhi, was not as fortunate. Her husband Raghbir Singh left her with his parents and returned to his job in Dubai in December 2002 after carrying away the mandatory dowry.

Three months later Karamjit's in-laws attempted to kill her by setting her alight when her parents were unable to pay additional dowry, a mode of bride murder favoured by thousands of greedy Indian husbands and their families.

Her parents lodged a police case, but were harassed in turn.

"All the police were interested in was making money out of our misery. They are doing nothing to investigate Raghbir Singh and his parents," she said.

"Lust, dowry and the lure of settling abroad are responsible for the plight of thousands of these holiday wives across Punjab" said Daljit Kaur, a lawyer and activist.

There was no legislation to safeguard them from being duped and dumped by Punjabi grooms mostly from the West, particularly Britain and North America and the Gulf Sheikhdoms.

Some men even married three or four times, managing to flee safely each time because local police favoured the boys' families.

In some instances, police took five to six years to even register a formal complaint.

Since 2002, only a small fraction of the 15,000-odd female victims had managed to lodge cases. But police officials in state capital Chandigarh privately conceded that such cases are difficult, if not impossible, to investigate because once the man has left the country, extradition was given little or no priority.

There have also been several cases of overseas Punjabi grooms taking their wives back, insuring them for large sums and then bringing them back home to have them murdered.

India's tortuously slow and corrupt legal and police investigation structure was insurance against them being caught, although since the mid 1990s a handful of convictions had occurred but under pressure from overseas authorities.

Punjab's intensely patriarchal social structure has a distinct gender bias against women, widely considered an economic liability as they need to be married off after payment of substantial dowries.

Abandoned brides become even more of a drain on their families.

"A woman who has been abandoned by her non-resident husband and returns to her parents' home is not welcome," said Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, head of the People's Welfare Society.

The children from such unions face even greater prejudice.

"Though social awareness programmes have been launched to educate people against this evil and the government lobbied to adopt more stringent laws, progress has been incremental" Kaur said.