Panchami Devi, mother of Deo Munda, at Ranchi civil court on Wednesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, July 16: He’s six years and seven months old and already in Class IV, says his tribal mother, feebly attempting a smile. A classroom, not a courtroom is where Deo Munda of Bundu should rightfully belong.
But fate seems to have put the fourth grader at Rajendra Ashram School in Bundu in the company of legal eagles too soon. The son of Panchami Devi (35), widow of a farmer who is fighting court cases with her “distant relatives” over her husband’s ancestral plots of 1.71 acre and 53 decimal, Deo has been made a party to two cases lodged in 2013 and 2014.
On a regular school day today, he was in Ranchi with his mother at the court of first class magistrate S.D. Tripathi for hearings on both cases. He marvelled at high ceilings and black robes while his mother and lawyer Om Prakash Gaurav despaired over why such a young boy was being forced to miss classroom for courtroom.
Gaurav rued that in the 2014 case over the 53-decimal plot dispute, Deo was even named the direct party along with his mother, though minors are supposed to be shielded from this in civil cases.
“Perhaps the lawyer of the rival party who drafted didn’t ask the ages of all the persons concerned. But it is also amazing that nobody here took notice of it,” said the lawyer.
Ranchi district superintendent of education Jayant Mishra said if a minor was forced to be absent from school, it amounted to a violation of the Right to Education Act. “I can’t comment on this case since it is a legal matter, but it deserves attention,” he said.
On being told that a boy, five months short of turning seven, was a direct litigant, former state advocate-general Anil Kumar Sinha said: “Technically speaking, a minor can be made a direct accused in a criminal case. But in a civil case, the minor’s legal guardian can be party to the case. It’s is a well-established rule.”
But Deo is living proof of how the rule has been bypassed. He mumbled a few words in court today, signed and gave thumb impressions on papers and came out looking puzzled.
Asked, the fatherless boy said he first attended court proceedings in Ranchi last year. He recalled men in black robes asking him questions he couldn’t understand.
“Nine of our relatives had filed a civil suit against us claiming our 1.71 acres,” his mother filled in. “The case is on. This year, there’s a new case related to a 53-decimal plot. Deo has to come for hearings every month and his studies are suffering as he is absent from school.”
His mother said she felt bad. “He has brains,” she said.
Her husband Ghashiram, who died in 2012, wanted both son Deo and daughter Nema to be well educated, she added.
Nema, now aged nine, is a dropout and does odd jobs to supplement Panchami’s earnings as a daily wager. Deo still goes to school. Asked, he says his favourite subject is maths. He fires away answers correctly to all maths questions posed by The Telegraph correspondent. It’s also the only time he really smiles.