“Sir, tell me, how do I get back my lost years, my dignity and my daughter, who has been taken away from me' I also seek your help in getting my daughter back” — a plaintive cry to the chief minister of Bengal from a father, a widower and a man labelled guilty until proven innocent,
In a letter to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Nirmal Banerjee also urged him to stop husbands being ‘hanged’ under Section 498A and robbed of everything before being pronounced not guilty.
When Nirmal woke up on May 7, 1995, for an early assignment at the multinational firm he worked in, little did he know that the day would change his life forever. Wife Lalima was in the kitchen, clad in a silk sari, preparing breakfast, when the flames from the stove leapt out and engulfed her. Nirmal rushed into the kitchen to save her, but by the time she was wheeled into SSKM Hospital, Lalima had suffered 95 per cent burns.
Before succumbing to her burns later that day, Lalima gave two declarations to the police, stating that the blaze was an accident and that Nirmal, whom she had married in 1991, had tried to save her. As soon as Lalima was cremated, her father lodged a complaint with the police, charging Nirmal and his parents under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. All three were arrested and, although Nirmal’s parents were released after a few days, he was finally released on bail on June 9, 1995.
When Nirmal went to his in-laws’ place to bring back daughter Arundhati, Lalima’s parents refused to hand her over. They told Nirmal that the child, hardly three years old, “did not want to see the face of her mother’s killer”. When Nirmal tried returning to work, he was shown the door, citing a rule that the service of an employee who remained in custody for more than 24 hours would be terminated.
Nirmal left Howrah and joined a small medicine-dealing firm in Jamshedpur. After a prolonged trial in Howrah court, judge Kanchan Chatterjee acquitted Nirmal of all charges.
Nirmal has now filed a case in Calcutta High Court demanding custody of his daughter. “No one has the right to keep her away from me,” he told Metro.
Nirmal’s case is a glaring example of the misuse of Section 498A, say officials, which states that if charges of physical or mental torture are brought against a husband or his family members within seven years of marriage, it is a non-bailable offence.
“The Centre is considering a proposal to revise the provision,” said advocate-general Balai Ray.