Sucheta Dalal :And don't forget: there is the husband too
Sucheta Dalal

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And don't forget: there is the husband too  

July 3, 2007

The trouble with women's empowerment is that, carried away, people forget that there is the husband too!
Till yesterday, the bio-data of Pratibha Patil acclaimed her as the Founder-Chairperson of the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank. Suddenly, we are told she has had no connection with it since 1994! Till yesterday her bio-data stated that she is 'The Chief Promoter and Chairperson of a Sugar Factory in Jalagaon District.' Suddenly, we are to believe that she has had no connection with this factory either – certainly not since it closed its doors having swallowed Rs. 20 crore in unpaid loans.
That leaves her strenuous endeavours for education. We have already had a glimpse of the Engineering College. But there are also the schools.
The staff is bitter. To illustrate their plight, they bring documents that nail how a teacher was treated; how he was driven to suicide; and how the husband of Pratibha Patil,  Devisingh Shekhawat and his associates have been keeping justice at bay.  
The painful sequence
Committed as they are to education, 'especially of women', as her bio-data continually reminds us, Pratibha Patil and Family have set up a society which runs some schools. Devisingh Shekhawat is the President of the society. He is also the Accused No. 1 in the case that I am about to summarise.
Kisan Dhage joined the school run by the Shekhawats in 1977. He worked as an Assistant Teacher. After prolonged privation and harassment, on 15 November 1998, he took his life by swallowing poison.
The police were called. As they examined the body in the presence of witnesses, they discovered in his pocket a suicide note that Dhage had written in his own hand. They also found a stamp-paper – Dhage had written out on it also the painful account of events that were leading him to take his own life.
He set out how he had been harassed and mentally tortured for long by Devisingh and his associates. His salary was not paid. His pleas for credit from the credit society that is run by the education society that runs the schools were turned down. The forms to enable his son to take the examination for scholarship were blocked… The family was driven to starvation…
Eventually, they dubbed him 'surplus', and transferred him to a far-off school. It turned out that there was no vacancy for a teacher's position in this school. Dhage was shoved around and told to supervise the hostel, such as it was. In despair, Dhage wrote to the Social Welfare Department in Amravati. On 27 January, 1998, the Social Welfare Officer at Amravati, wrote to the school management saying that the transfer was illegal as there was no vacancy for the position of a teacher in the school to which the hapless man had been driven. The Officer, therefore, withheld sanction for the transfer.
To beat him into submission, Devisingh and associates completely stopped paying the salary of Dhage. He received nothing from September 1997. Being a family of little means, they were at their tether's end. Dhage appealed to the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court for relief – there is no vacancy for a teacher in this school, they have sent me here, they have stopped paying any remuneration, we are at the point of starvation… Such were his pathetic pleas.
The application was filed on 19 January, 1998. But the wheels of justice move at deliberate speed. The order of the High Court did not come till 8 October 1998. By now a year had passed since the family had received any pay at all.
The High Court ordered Devisingh and associates to take Dhage back as teacher and to pay his salary. It also directed them to pay arrears since 25 August 1997.
Dhage kept going to the management. He waited upon these high and mightily-connected personages. His health broke down. He applied for medical leave – he attached a medical certificate with his application. His request even for medical leave was rejected peremptorily.
Nothing moved them. In spite of the High Court's direction, Devisingh and Co. refused to pay him anything. Dhage's colleagues were aghast. But helpless.
The family had to turn to moneylenders. They had to sell the wife's few ornaments. But now there was little left even to sell…
Unable to secure food for his wife and children, crushed by the insolence of these heartless people, around 10 in the morning on 15 November, 1998, Dhage swallowed poison and killed himself.
The police recorded the panchnama. It took the suicide note, the stamp paper and all. The body was taken away. The viscera were removed for examination.
And then, full stop.
Dhage's widow, Mangalbai, filed a complaint. Police looked the other way.
Mangalbai then approached the local court. For two painful years she kept being knocked from pillar to post.
Eventually, the Court ruled. It set out the entire sequence: the harassment; the illegal transfer; the stoppage of salary to beat the man into submission; the order of the High Court that the salary as well as the arrears be paid… In spite of the High Court order 'not even a single penny' has been paid, the Court noted. After examining witnesses – including the police official who had examined the body, recovered the suicide note, overseen the extraction of the viscera; after studying the suicide note; after noting the wanton disregard for the order of the High Court; after seeing the wretchedness to which the family had been reduced; in a word, after going through the matter in minute detail, the Court declared that a prima facie case had indeed been made out. '…Thereafter the matter was reported to the police by the complainant  [Mangalbai Dhage],' the Court observed, '…however, under the political pressure police did not register offence against the accused… Complainant has proved her prima facie case…' The Court directed that process be issued to Devisingh and his four associates, and proceedings be commenced against them under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code: the section that deals with 'abetment to suicide', the word 'abetment' covers pushing someone to take his own life.
That was on 6 October, 2000 – by now three years had gone since the poor man's salary had been stopped, two years since he had killed himself.
A family as devoted to education, and women's welfare, and rural development and everything good and gracious as Pratibha Patil's bio-data makes her out to be, would have immediately agreed to day-to-day hearings – to say nothing of not having such privation befall a hapless teacher and his family in the first place.
What did our friend do? He filed an appeal against the order of the Court with the Additional Sessions Judge.  
Five years went by. Eventually the Judicial Magistrate, A.A. Nandagaonkar, delivered the judgement. It was a resounding slap on Devisingh – the plea of the poor widow was upheld in entirety. The complainant, Mangalbai, has proved the prima facie case against the accused – Devisingh and associates. 'Therefore, I am of the opinion that issuance of process against the accused is necessary. Hence, as such enquiry made by me upon going through the facts and circumstances of the matter and evidence adduced by the complainant is sufficient enough to proceed against the accused for commission of offence u/s 306 r[ead]/w[ith] 34 of the IPC.'
That was on 22 July, 2005 – seven years had gone by since Dhage had been compelled to take his life.
At least now, you would think, our friend would let justice proceed. But you reckon without our would-be First Man of the Republic. He filed an appeal in the High Court!
On 26 December, 2005, the High Court passed an order directing the local Court to examine the grounds that Devisingh and associates had now given against the order and dispose of the revision application within three months.
Lawyers were fielded. They fielded lawyerly arguments – the complainant had listed 16 witnesses, but she had examined only 7; the lower Court erred in concluding that a prima facie case had been made out… As is their custom, lawyers cited a series of judgements.
In a third stinging slap, the reviewing judge concluded that Devisingh and Co. had no ground for their appeal at all. He showed that the elaborate judgements that Devisingh's lawyers had cited, that each and every one of them in fact fortified what the original Court had done. The evidence that had been adduced, the sequence of events that had been brought on record, the Judge ruled, 'are sufficient enough to inspire [sic.] that these accused had abetted Mr. Kisan Dhage to commit suicide by creating unbearable situation for his survival and also making him unable to maintain his family members.' 'The series of facts alleged in the complaint also inspire [sic.] that all these accused are in collusion with each other and therefore as far as the question of prima facie case is concerned, there are sufficient grounds brought on record before the learned lower court…'
This order came on 7 February, 2007 – that poor Assistant Teacher had been driven to his death in November 1998… The trial is yet to commence.
Wouldn't you say that Devisingh Shekhawat, husband of Pratibha Patil, the prospective First Man of the Republic of India, has already succeeded? The pathetic teacher gone? The widow worn to exhaustion. And he about the enter the portals of Rashtrapati Bhavan…
Arun Shourie

-- Sucheta Dalal