Calcutta, May 13: Thirty seven-year-old Subhra Khemka is fighting a battle that very few Marwari women have fought.
To “secure justice” for her two sons, she is taking on the Khemkas — one of the most influential business families in the country into which she was married some 17 years ago.
Although the Khemkas have never been as celebrated as the Tatas and Birlas, their assets run into millions of dollars, and their businesses are spread across the world.
From the US to Ukraine and Channel Islands to China, the Khemkas have diverse businesses, including asset management and brewing.
Born to a stockbroker in Calcutta, Subhra married Sanjay Khemka in April 1986. The family was close to ministers and government officials of various European countries.
“We would have ministers and diplomats from Russia, Italy and Hungary dine with us on their visits to India,” Subhra recounts. Chandi Prasad and Nand Lal continue to be honorary consuls of Iceland.
However, her good life with the Khemkas was short-lived. After being “abused” by her husband for years, Subhra walked out on Khemka in September 2001.
She came to Calcutta along with her two sons, Mihir and Kushal, who at present study in boarding schools in Ajmer and Nainital. Mihir, 15, and Kushal, 12, have recently filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court demanding an eighth of the Khemkas’ assets under the Mitakshara school of Hindu law.
They have alleged in their petition that they were being deprived of their share of the family's assets and that Sanjay, their father, was mentally unstable and an alcoholic.
“It took me more than a year to initiate legal proceedings against my husband and in-laws, but finally decided to do so when they would not provide for the upkeep and education of my children,” says Subhra.
Mihir and Kushal claim in the petition that their great grandfather, Rameshwar Lal Khemka, migrated from Kahalgaon in Bihar, and set up small businesses in Calcutta.
Rameshwar Lal had seven sons. Three of them separated in the 1940s, but the four others — Nand Lal, Chandi Prasad, Shyam Lal and Ballabh Prasad — took the family business forward. (Mihir and Kushal are Chandi Prasad's grandchildren.) The four brothers have since remained undivided and promoted several businesses together, the petition says.
More specifically, Subhra and her sons say all the companies that were promoted by the four brothers, were funded by a common family kitty that remains stashed in numbered bank accounts in Swiss private banks.
Sanjay disputes the claim and says the businesses are run separately. In his affidavit in reply, Sanjay says most of the better-performing companies — namely Sun Interbrew, Sun F&C Mutual Fund, Sun Capital Partners — were promoted and managed by Nand Lal and his sons, Shiv and Uday.
Denying that there was any family kitty or investment arm, Sanjay says his sons are not entitled to become shareholders in the companies that were promoted by his uncles and cousins.
But Subhra contends, “There are cross holdings amongst the brothers in nearly all the companies. Though I am convinced about the existence of a common family fund, establishing it could be difficult, particularly because most of it is hidden in numbered accounts in foreign banks.”
Besides the battle for the assets of the family, Subhra has also been drawn into a legal wrangle for the custody of her sons. The Chennai High Court today said her younger son, Kushal, could spend his two-month vacation with his mother.
The Supreme Court had earlier said that the children's preference should be taken into account. So Kushal had to appear before the Chennai High Court today, and say that he really wanted to spend his vacation with his mother. Next month, Mihir will have to do the same.