Peace, at what cost?

SURVIVAL INSTINCT

Peace, at what cost?

TIES THAT BIND Ranjana Dixit, advocate and president, Family Courts Lawyers’ Association, Lucknow, explains why Sudhir and Priti Saini reached a compromise. PIC COURTESY/WFS

Meet Lucknow-based Priti Saini, who lived through a nightmare for three years at the hands of her husband, Sudhir, and yet is willing to play the part of the ‘dutiful’ wife.

 The irony is that Priti was close to getting justice before she decided to compromise. This despite having to live with the haunting memory of an attack inflicted by the goons her husband had hired to kill her, which left seven hatchet wounds on her head and an equal number on her body.

Today the couple’s case is cited as a positive example for warring couples, in Lucknow, who come to family courts seeking solutions to their marital disputes. They are told that if the Sainis can make it work, every couple can have a shot at living happily ever after!
 Priti’s story is termed a ‘miracle’ even by the lawyers in the city. They praise her and call her the ‘Sati Savitri’ (‘dutiful wife’) of the modern age. With over 15,000 cases pending in the family courts here, even one happy ending is cause for celebration however ugly its history may have been.

Priti says, “He is my husband. If I do not forgive him, who will? Since 2007, we were living apart. We needed some time together. When that happened he realised he was wrong. So I guess he deserves another chance.”

But Priti is not as submissive as these words make her out to be. She decided to fight for her rights after Sudhir abandoned her and their three children a few years ago because he was involved with another woman. He actually wanted her dead at that juncture and made several attempts on her life. He hired men to break into their home and attack her and their children. Fortunately, Priti and the kids survived that murderous assault. Later, Sudhir abducted their youngest son in order to force Priti to divorce him so he could marry the other woman. But she did not relent.   

Since Sudhir happened to be an inspection officer with the Lucknow High Court (HC), he ensured that every step taken by Priti for justice was negated. Then he decided to go ahead and marry the woman he was involved with, after forging Priti’s signature on a fake divorce decree. The marriage was deemed dissolved.

A determined Priti countered this step with courage. She appeared before the former Chief Justice of Uttar Pradesh, Hemant Laxman Gokhale, and asked him to poison her and her children so that they would not have to continue bearing the torture at the hands of an employee of the Chief Justice’s court.

Fighting against all odds

Her case was then forwarded to the family court. Ranjana Dixit, president, Family Courts Lawyers’ Association, who contested the case, says: “Every minute that Priti sat in the family court I knew she was in grave danger. Her husband would be waiting outside with hired killers. He called constantly on her mobile phone and asked her to come out. I knew he wanted to identify her so that the killers could finish the job. He even threatened me a number of times. Yet, we continued with the case and managed to put him behind bars.”

 In the meantime, Priti’s self esteem took another blow when she found out that her husband’s mistress was pregnant with his child. She recalls, “I was shattered as this was the ultimate betrayal. But I was even more shocked when I heard that she had aborted the child and that too at the seventh month. Both of them were so confidently breaking the law and getting away with it.”

 Things took a dramatic turn in November 2009, when Sudhir — released after serving a 17-month jail term — headed straight home. It was at that point that Priti forgave him after he pleaded with her to take him back.

 So, what made Priti — despite having had the upper hand — relent? She had managed to get Sudhir suspended from his post at the High Court and was receiving a monthly maintenance through the family court from his salary. Why did she then compromise? The answer to the question is important, because it provides a glimpse into the pressures on ordinary women caught in situations of domestic abuse.

 Roop Rekha Verma, former VC, University of Lucknow and a women’s rights activist, says: “On the one hand, women have very limited access to legal aid and those who do muster the courage to come to court are forced to wait for a judgment for so long that their resolve breaks. They feel they have no option but to go back to the husband or abusive in-laws. A huge attitudinal change is needed in family courts and in the entire working of the legal system, to ensure that women get timely and fair justice. Cases of marital disputes should not be kept hanging for years but decided as soon as possible. Only then will justice be done.”

 But Ranjana Dixit says, “Most disputes fizzle out with time. The tedious hearings bring many warring couples to the negotiation table. In my experience, even in the worst situations, couples get back together within two to three years.”

Between a rock and a hard place

A disturbing trend that is fast gaining acceptance is that however bitter the marital differences are, they can be worked out.

But at what price? The fact that justice has not been done sets a disturbing precedent.
Even if the woman shows tremendous resolve to fight injustice and seek her rights in a marital dispute, all her effort would be in vain if she eventually decides to compromise and spare her husband the punishment for his crimes.

There is also no guarantee that Priti’s life will continue to be secure in a relationship that has witnessed such unacceptable atrocities.

Why did Priti compromise? “I don’t know what changed my husband. But he has
changed and that’s enough for me. When he was to be released from jail I went to my parents asking them to give me shelter as I was afraid he would again try to kill me. But they refused to take me in and asked me never to come back to them. I was on my own, where could I go? So when my husband pleaded before me to take him back I did,” she says with tears in her eyes.

 The fact is that Priti had no support system and very few options and that, probably, is the most important reason that led her to work out a compromise.

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