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Right to fatherhood PDF Print E-mail
(0 Votes)
Written by NIVEDITA CHOUDHURI   

Desperate emails and phone calls from fathers who have been denied access to their children pour in each week for Kumar Jahgirdar, president of Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP). He replies to all the mails promptly, but with Father's Day (June 19) just round the corner, his plate is full. He is making plans, like every year, to organise a rally in Bangalore to highlight the grievances of single fathers, some of whom haven't seen their children in years.

Jahgirdar says Indian courts hearing child custody cases tend to be biased towards the mothers even when they may not be the more suitable parent. He says the adversarial approach to divorce law turns children into the spoils of marriage and there is too much focus on a father's responsibility to make alimony payments and not enough on his right to visit his child.

Bangalore-based NGO CRISP was founded around five years ago as a forum to support and fight on behalf of single dads. The organisation wants divorced/ separated parents to be granted equal access to their children, and punishment for those who misuse the anti-dowry law (Section 498A IPC) and the Domestic Violence Act to deny fathers access to their kids.

Jahgirdar shares several heartrending tales of hapless fathers. He mentions a dad for whom the only contact with his daughter is watching her from behind the school gates. Then there is Sunil*, who talks of the “emotional desolation” after his wife moved out of the family home with their two children, aged five and two, in February last year.

“It was really dreadful. The worst thing, practically, was finding the house so quiet because it was always so full of laughter and rampaging and stampeding,” he adds. “There were many times when I felt suicidal.”

“It's important to emphasise that family breakdown is a nightmare for everyone. Mothers suffer, and so do grandparents and even close friends. Most crucially, the children suffer. Not only are they deprived of having two parents living in the same house, quite often they will lose a parent altogether,” says Jahgirdar. This, in effect, amounts to, as singer Bob Geldof once put it, “a form of child abuse”.

Many fathers lose all contact with their children when they are separated from their partner or after divorce. “This is often put down to the indifference of the father, but it's actually about the barriers that are put in the way of contact. They are erected by the courts or the mother, or both,” says Vijay*, a SIFF (Save Indian Family Foundation) activist.

Vijay last met his two children, a boy aged 12 and a girl aged six, nearly 18 months ago. His wife had suddenly decided two years ago that she didn't want him in her life, but neither did she want a divorce. She threw him out of his own home, along with his belongings, and threatened him saying he could do nothing as the laws of the land favoured women where marital disputes were concerned. A despondent Vijay, who has all along been supporting his wife and children financially, sought a divorce. His wife responded by invoking the draconian Domestic Violence Act against him and his father. As the legal tangles take time to straighten out, Vijay's children have been unfairly deprived of their father's company.

CRISP has more than 1,000 members across India and is adding more each day. It holds weekly meetings, and has established several centres in the country to counsel fathers, provide support and educate them on the laws of the land. Its Web site, www.crisp-india.org, receives hundreds of visitors who access the information posted there. Jahgirdar and the other members of CRISP are determined to carry on, with greater vigour than ever, the struggle to ensure a fair deal for dads and guarantee that no child is unfairly deprived of his/ her father's love.

CRISP, which is part of the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), favours educating couples going through a divorce on the benefits of shared parenting, and setting up special courts to speedily deal with child custody cases in a just and sensitive manner.

 



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