By Uma Sudhir
I am sure for most people around the country it was a similar experience. I had been restless, with knots of nervousness in my tummy all morning, waiting for the verdict. And when it came, it only made me more deeply disturbed. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, parents of Aarushi, had been declared guilty of murdering their only daughter, as well as their domestic help, Hemraj.
I don’t know if they were innocent or guilty, whether they got a fair trial, or resorted to unfair methods to hide dark truths they felt were best unsaid and unknown to the world. But the extent of dissection that has happened in the public space on this case, simply won’t let that happen.
As a nation and belonging to a culture that puts parents and a child-parent relationship on a pedestal, beyond criticism, beyond reproach, we are visibly uncomfortable facing head-on disturbing, unsettling pieces of information that has been `leaked’ to us at various points.
On television, I just heard a gentleman say he does not expect a highly educated, qualifed couple like the Talwars to act the way they are believed to have done in this age and time.
Was it shame, guilt or shock of encountering something totally unexpected that pushed them into violence, if indeed they are the murderers?
Did things simply get out of hand?
How does a parent who is otherwise extremely protective of a child feel driven to physically harm that very child. Surely, it is not that uncommon either.
Only last year, in June, India had reacted with shock when parents of a 7-year-old boy were convicted by a court in Norway for branding the child with a hot iron ladle and threatening him, because they were either unable to deal with a `difficult’ child, were embarrassed and acted in anger, or hoped to reform the child by `punishing’ him the `Indian way’. We said this happens all the time in India. Not that it makes the `Indian way’ justifiable in any way.
And what about parents who feel they have been shamed, insulted, humiliated, let down by their children, whether it is because they failed in some exam, fell in love with the wrong person, or indulged in behaviour that was totally unacceptable to them. Most often, the parent is either blind to it or would not like to acknowledge either to themselves or to the world around them. If they are forced to do, they must act in a way as to safeguard their `honour’. Just because they happen to be parents surely does not endow them with either maturity or sagacity to act in a manner that we as a society believe befits a parent.
How should a mother who knows her son is behaving in a wayward or even criminal manner deal with it? Is she equipped or even capable of `reforming’ him? Will she get support from her family or society?
If a parent knows his or her son or daughter is prone to violent behaviour, even if it is only occasionally, will lie and distort the truth, how should the mother or father deal with it? If the parent calls a spade a spade, will he/she be doing right by the child? It is quite possible the child gets condemned, with no chance to return to `normalcy’ once the parent himself/herself has declared the child, a young man or woman, guilty of the worst behaviour or crime. Difficult questions but one for which we must look for answers.
Last week, a social activist who has been working with child issues for over a decade, said to me that she found it deeply disturbing that notions of motherhood as we have known it seem to be getting turned on their head and that it would have long-term consequences on the very fabric of our society.
We were visiting Shishugruha, a children’s home in Warangal and one young boy, Raju, not even four years old, had deep gashes on both his wrists because the cuts he suffered because of the nylon ropes with which he was tied, had to be stitched up. There were also injuries on his head and shoulders. He had been tied for days together by his biological mother as punishment for wetting his bed. She had two younger children from a second marriage, and she was clearly unable to manage all three.
Another child reportedly shivered whenever he had to be in the same room as his mother and pleaded with the authorities to never hand him over to his mother because she would physically abuse him. The mother had repeatedly tortured the child, threatening him not to reveal her extra-marital affair to her husband, the father of the child.
Yet another very young mother had left her 3-year-old son and 3-month-old baby girl locked inside their one-room tenement in Warangal and disappeared. The children were crying for hours together, may be for more than a day, before neighbours reported to the police and to childline authorities. The children were brought to the government-run Shishugruha. I was told the elder brother, Krishna, himself a baby, would cry for his mother at night. But he was extremely protective of his 3-month-old baby sister Kiran, and would reportedly check on her every few minutes and insist that she should not cry.
Three months later, the day I was visiting, the mother reappeared to claim her children. She did not have documents or photographs to prove the children belong to her. Krishna did not run to her but stood behind a window, looking at her. Was there recognition, I could not make out. When I asked him who she was, he smiled shyly and said “Mummy”. Her story: her husband fell seriously ill working outside and she could not return to look after her children.
She stood there silently, looking forlorn at her two children, too young and afraid to even recognise her and jump towards her in joy? May be they had forgotten her? I didn’t know whether to feel anger at a mother who had left her two very young innocent children to the fate of the world, or to feel sorry about a helpless woman, overwhelmed and unable to deal with the complex challenges that life had thrown up.
Not easy to sit in judgment.
(Uma’s Twitter handle is @umasudhir)