As usual, the doctor appeared quite confident of his success. And why wouldn’t he? One of the perks that came with a professional life that boasted
of successfully handling thousands of such ‘critical’ cases over the last 10 years or more was confidence.
Only the place and predicament were different this time. Standing firmly in the witness box, he was used to the public gaze that never unnerved him. But there was somebody sitting in the front row of the room, constantly staring at the him; quite discomforting for him.
Finally, the judge delivers the verdict. The doctor has lost the case. Standing stunned for a few minutes, he suddenly turns into a picture of contrast.
Confidence gave way to anxiety; hands, which were always firm in wielding the scalpel, started trembling; eyes, which had never exhibited emotions, became moist. He collapses and breaks down in tears.
The ‘somebody’ sitting in the front row seat was his daughter. Dr Anand Parekh had not met Shruti for a year, and had been fighting for her custody since last six years.
Now, he has lost all—his daughter as well as interest in life. While the world will celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday, for many like Dr Parekh it will be a day to mourn. “What’s the point in being a father when you are deprived of your child,” said a devastated Dr Parekh. “Just because I didn’t give birth to her, doesn’t mean I can’t bring her up properly. A father can also be a mother.”
Fast-food culture, fast-paced life and fast disintegrating families — India has seen all in the last decade or so. The only two things that have not changed perhaps are the excruciatingly slow pace of justice, and a notion that man can’t play the role of a mother.
“It’s an old notion and goes back to the time when women didn’t have a professional life and took care of the family,” said S Susheela, a Bangalore-based advocate practising in the Karnataka High Court.
“So, it was thought that she could bring up the children in a more proper manner and spend more quality time with them. But now such a notion no longer holds true.” These days both the parents are working and can equally bring up the child, she adds. “For a child, both the parents are equally important and his/her isolation from either of them should be condemned.”
Most of the child custody battles in the country, unfortunately, have become a man versus woman fight, a fight in which the child is used as a pawn.
“We had a divorce by mutual consent and it was decided that my five-year-old son would stay with me. But after seven months, my wife files a case in the court saying that she is the natural guardian and court grants her permission to take away my son,” says Sunil Dabas, who works as a manager in one of the MNC banks in New Delhi.
“I used to bathe my little son, prepare his school lunch box, drop him to the school and play cricket with him every evening. And one fine day I am told that I can’t bring up my child properly because that can be done in a better way by a woman!,” says Sunil with a choked voice.
CRISP (Children’s rights initiative for shared parenting), a Bangalore-based NGO formed by parents, mostly fathers, fighting for the custody of
their children, has been advocating the need for speedy justice and shared parenting. “My daughter was studying in 1st standard when I got separated from her.
Now she is in 10th and I am still fighting for her,” says Kumar V. Jahgirdar, founder of CRISP, who has been engaged in a legal battle with her former wife since 1999. “Can I get back those golden 10 years of my daughter’s life when she was growing up,” asks an aggrieved Kumar who still feels that he would get justice.
The tardy legal system has in fact turned India into a hot destination for NRI parents, especially mothers, escaping with their children as they know that Indian judicial system will take too long in deciding the case.
“There has been a dramatic jump in the number of such NRI cases,” says PBA Srinivasan, a New Delhi-based advocate practicing in the Supreme Court. “And the motive in most of such cases is either extracting money from the estranged partner or settling an ego battle.”
While the NRIs may be taking advantage of the legal system, millions in India have lost hope in the judiciary. “Lucky are those who are embedded in closely-bonded communities with well functioning and responsible biradari/jati (lineage/caste) panchayats because they do not need to depend on sarkari (state) courts to resolve their marital disputes and the future of their children,” said Madhu Kishwar, a human rights activist and professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
“If our judicial system can’t give justice to the Bhopal victims, do you think it can handle in a sensitive manner the fates of traumatised children who are at the centre of custody battles?”
Indeed, custody battles are not only about the hapless fathers who are deprived of the love and affection of their children and are at the receiving end of the judicial system.
It’s also about another silent victim — the child. In the US, it has been found after extensive scientific research that children from broken families without a father are: 14 times more likely to commit rape; 5 times more likely to commit suicide; 20 times more likely to end up in prison; 10 times more likely to take drugs; 32 times more likely to run away from home; 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders; 9 times more likely to drop out of school; 9 times more likely to end up in a state operated institution.
However, in India no such studies have been conducted but the results of a fatherless society could be devastating. “Father is the epitome of security, authority and support,” says Dr Jayanti Dutta, a consultant clinical psychologist.
“And if the father is not there, for whatever reason, that sense of security is gone. A mother may take on paternal role along with the other roles that she is playing simultaneously. But there is likely to be a role conflict,” adds Dr Dutta. “Just by wearing a western outfit, a woman doesn’t become a man.”
Sandhya Bajaj, member, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), says: “It’s ultimately the child who is the loser. As long as parents play dirty games against each other and use the child as a pawn to settle scores, no solution could be found.”
At the end of the day, it’s the children who pay the biggest price for the irresponsibility of their parents. “Very few people ask themselves whether they are really fit to be parents. They end up producing children simply because they are biologically capable and it is a thing to be done,” says Ms Kishwar.
“One should avoid producing children if one can’t provide them a stable secure family life.” A thought for the day, come Sunday.