Calcutta, Jan. 9: Little Chandramauli hadn’t seen his father Lakshmi Narayan Das and his mother together in almost a year. He spotted Bratati today — in a courtroom — and the floodgates burst.
The five-year-old leapt out of his father’s lap, raced into her arms and hugged her tight. “Ma, ma, ma,” Chandramauli mumbled as he sobbed inconsolably, moving the judge as well as many a battle-hardened legal eagle close to tears.
As the trauma of a child caught in a custody tug-of-war unfolded in Calcutta High Court, a grim voice boomed: “Look, what you have done to your child. Are you not ashamed of yourselves for your actions' Will you still not think of a reconciliation after this'”
Justice S.B. Roy, who was presiding over the court, sounded furious but could not stop his eyes from misting over. Neither could other lawyers in the room.
“I am also under tremendous mental pressure. It is better to fight a case under Tada because you know that you are dealing with dangerous people,” Jaymalya Bagchi, Lakshmi Narayan’s lawyer, said.
Lakshmi Narayan, a dental surgeon from Behrampore, suggested before the court that he had a spare flat where Bratati could stay separately with the child if she wished. “If Bratati wants to live in the flat (in Behrampore) with the child, she can. My client will only see the child, and not the lady,” Bagchi said.
Justice Roy has given Bratati time till Monday to think over the matter. The case will come up for hearing at 2 pm that day. “Till the hearing of the case, the child will be with the mother,” the judge said.
Lakshmi Narayan had married Bratati, who hails from Haringhata, in 1993 but the relationship soured over time. He had been busy with his job, and Bratati, left to herself, had found a teacher’s job to fill her time. Chandramauli had been born four years later.
“But even after getting the job, Bratati could not adjust with her husband and finally left my client’s residence in May 2001 with her child,” Bagchi said.
Bratati then moved to her parents’ place in Haringhata. “My client used to go there to meet Chandramauli. When the mother refused to allow him to meet the child, he filed a custody case before a magistrate’s court in Murshidabad and obtained an order in his favour. Since then, the child has been with the father.
“Bratati filed a case against the magistrate’s order in the sessions court which stayed the order. We then filed a case before Calcutta High Court,” said Bagchi.
Calcutta High Court then directed Lakshmi Narayan to produce the child before it to ask him his wish. That was why the boy turned up in court and met his mother today.
Like Chandramauli, more than a thousand children in Bengal are caught in custody battles. As many as 1,500 such cases are now pending before various courts in Bengal with the high court alone handling 126 disputes.
Bikash Bhattacharya, a legal luminary with expertise in matrimonial and custody cases, said the rising graph of custody battles “needs to be addressed by sociologists, because a lawyer may not be fully equipped to understand the nuances”.