Many dads allege that in divorce disputes, mothers are granted custody of the child without evaluating what is best for the child's welfare..
The Foundation wants the legislature and the judiciary to give all fathers a fair chance to win custody cases.
Nivedita Choudhuri Bhavya is cherubic, with a mass of dark curls that tumble down his forehead and a friendly smile. But the twinkling eyes of the child in the photograph don't mean he hasn't a care in the world. His parents are involved in a matrimonial dispute and the six-year-old hasn't met his father since 2005.
International Day of Families, which is celebrated every year on May 15 to underscore the importance of families, may not mean anything to Bhavya and hundreds of other children like him. Deprived of the love of a parent, they have no option but to suffer silently. But Bhavya's desolate father Kamal Vikram, unable to take it any longer, set up a foundation in his son's name last year to help thousands of fathers facing bleak times like him.
Bhavya Foundation, in the words of its activist-founder, will seek to promote the concept of child custody cases in courts so that the agony of the children involved is not prolonged. in India and ensure that no child is denied access to a parent in case of divorce or matrimonial dispute between his/her father and mother. It also advocates the speedy disposal of
The Foundation wants the legislature and judiciary to give all fathers a fair chance to win custody cases. Many dads allege that mothers are often granted custody without evaluating what is best for the child's welfare. Moreover, Vikram says, children below the age of seven should not have to choose between their parents as this would constitute mental cruelty towards the child. Another demand is that orientation programmes for judges of should be conducted by psychologists to sensitise them to child-related issues.
Foundation members call for laws such as Section 498A IPC and the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 to be made gender neutral. Section 498A IPC relates to harassment of a married woman by her husband or his family members and it has been alleged in recent times that this law is being heavily misused. Many of the 1,000-odd members have been charged under this law and the Domestic Violence Act.
Arnab*, a member, found himself in deep trouble after he filed for divorce last year. His estranged wife, who had already charged him under Section 498A IPC, immediately stopped their minor daughter from meeting him. He appealed to a family court, which passed an order allowing him to meet his daughter once a fortnight for two-and-a-half hours. The visits take place on the premises of the family court, where the atmosphere is least congenial. Arnab can't take her out.
Arnab alleges that his wife invariably arrives late for the meetings and she has brainwashed the child to such an extent that the girl has started to believe her father will kidnap her or harm her. She has become aloof as a result and does not trust him. He regrets the fact that “courts are biased towards women and fathers are treated with utter disrespect”.
He adds that the meetings leave him “emotionally drained” and it takes him a couple of days to recover from the snubs and snide remarks of his wife and the rejection and alienation he feels after meeting his child. Arnab wants more time with his daughter and he wants the visits to take place outside the family court and away from the other parent.
Akash*, another member, lost custody of his five-year-old daughter to his wife last year. He has met his child only once in the last 10 months or so and that too for just two hours. He has filed an application to meet her on weekends and in school, but nothing has come out of it.
There have been many hearings and adjournments since then in the family court, but the case is nowhere near its end. He fears that nothing concrete will happen before the court closes for the summer vacation and he won't be able to see his daughter for the next six weeks. He signs off saying even fathers have a heart and love their children as much as their mothers do.
Custody battles on the rise
Another group that supports a greater role for fathers in the lives of their children and the promotion of family harmony is Child's Right and Family Welfare (CRFW). Sandeep Kedia, president of the NGO which was formed in January this year, says divorce cases are on the upward spiral, leading to a sharp increase in the number of . Fathers are often denied custody and visitation rights and the children also undergo tremendous emotional trauma when their fathers are suddenly shut out of their lives. Members of the NGO meet every Saturday near the family court at Bandra, Mumbai, where they are given legal counselling. The NGO receives around 50 calls a week (helpline numbers are 9768046667, 9867854147) from harassed fathers locked in custody battles. A member rues the fact that the maximum time a father can hope to spend with his children is two hours every fortnight. That translates into 48 hours or so every year, which is highly insufficient for a father to bond with his children.
Kedia says while granting custody, courts should give the non-custodial parent weekend access to the child at home and a chance to spend festivals and birthdays together. Non-custodial parents should also be allowed to attend school events such as parent-teacher meetings and sports days as well as visits to doctors if their children are ill as both parents are equally responsible for the welfare of their wards. If these decisions are taken early enough in courts, precious time will be saved.
Both Vikram and Kedia reiterate that children need both parents and is a must. Sole custody signifies child abuse. Innocent children are being used as tools to get even with estranged partners. This is affecting the psyche of thousands of children and the adverse effects of all this will surface when they grow up, add Vikram and Kedia.
The legislature, judiciary and bureaucracy may have turned a blind eye to the plight of these children, but CRFW and Bhavya Foundation are determined to ensure that no child is denied the love of both parents. Mothers nurture, but fathers nurture too, and these dads will not be robbed of their nurturing rights so easily.