I do all kinds of matters, civil, criminal, service, company, consumer… all of them but matrimonial matters are the ones where I get personally involved, going beyond the realm of the usual lawyer-client relationship.
Today one such matter broke my heart.
As I entered office this morning, I saw a father and his daughter seated in my cabin. A few days ago the younger brother had come and I had insisted on calling upon the girl who wanted to file for divorce. Therefore, their presence did not come as a surprise. However, what ensued was definitely heartbreaking.
The girl was wearing this beautiful lemon colored suit with shiny grey border and navy blue embroidery, nicely wrapped in the duppatta. She looked delicate and submissive. The father was in his early fifties, wearing a t-shirt and track pants with small-round holes in it. The sun-tanned face had lines, which showed years of hardwork. And then it started…
It was a case of mutual consent divorce so I had thought of it to be an open and shut case. I came directly to the point that the draft, which had come to me, showed that the father of the child will have her custody and if we fundamentally agreed on it? To this query, the father sitting across me said something that astonished me completely.
‘Madamji, I have been telling her to give the custody of the daughter to the father. But she refuses to listen to my advise. She is young, I will get her married again but if the daughter will also stay with her, then, who will marry her?’, I was caught unaware. I was under the impression that it was a decision, which was mutually arrived at. As I turned my attention to the girl to try and explain to her that if the husband wanted the custody, then you may look at other avenues like shared custody for instance.
Suddenly on my mentioning this, I saw this petite girl turn into a lioness. She started by saying that she is my daughter, I have given birth to her. The reason why I was thrown out was because I gave birth to a girl child. I was put to 8 ultrasounds in 2 days in order to detect the gender of the baby so that they could have had the baby aborted if it was a girl. That even after the birth of the daughter, the in-laws and the husband would not cater to the needs of the child and wanted the baby to die. As she started to say this, tears rolled down her cheeks. Her gaze filled with tears behind the specs she was wearing, was so piercing that I quickly searched for the tissue box and handed it over to her just so, momentarily, I would not be the subject of her gaze. It made me uncomfortable.
The dilemma was such. Here was a father sitting right across asking me to explain to her daughter to give away the custody of the girl-child so that she could be married off to someone better and have a better future? And there was the mother who, despite being a dutiful daughter, did not want to obey her father and was crying to have the custody of her child because if the child went to her in-laws, she would be killed for being a girl. And there I was, a child-less, soon-to-be-divorced lawyer, who had to convince one or both of them to understand the predicament and to help them arrive at a decision.
It was not that the father was wrong. He said, ‘Madamji I worked very hard. I used to be a thele wala in this nizamuddin railway station. Now I have my own loading and unloading business. God has been very kind. I had only one daughter and so when I found this boy from our community with a government job, I thought she would be very happy. It was a small family. But then when my daughter told me about the mental and physical abuse that was meted out to her, it was good that she came back. Madamji, I wish she had told me what she went through earlier, atleast this girl wouldn’t be born.’
I could now see the strength of resolve in the eyes of the daughter. I could now feel how she would have stood up against her father and every other person from her community, in order to save her daughter. But how could I ignore the tears that were rolling down the cheeks of her father when he told me that after he married off his daughter, he would go and sit in his fields near Jamunaji and think about how his daughter may face atrocities in the new house. That the father was only trying to protect her daughter just as his daughter being a mother, was trying to save her daughter.
Seized with anger and helplessness, I could only try and persuade the father, citing examples of women, happily married with girl child, whose second husband had accepted them completely. Finally after much persuasion he gave in. He agreed to the custody of the child but not because I convinced him but purely because his daughter had an iron grit; that she refused to budge. Her battle must have been tiring and exhausting but she dint give up. And now as she enters into another battle, here’s hoping that she survives this one and that her daughter never has to fight such a battle.
It is very heart wrenching to see that with all the advancements that we have made as a country, there is still a considerable distance that has to be fathomed in improving plight of women.