[By Narendra Kaushik]
Khurja: The case of Sarita (name changed), a housewife in Gangthla Village in Khurja sub division of Bulandshahr District, is an example of how media and vernacular television channels in particular sensationalize, fabricate and distort news to catch eyeballs and improve their television rating points (TRPs).
Sarita (25), wife of one Bilkesh, was asked by a Panchayat in Gangthla last month to live with Shiv Kumar, her lover and father of her only son (four-month-old Bhaskar) after Kumar admitted to have fathered the child.
The Panchayat asked Kumar to accept Sarita as his second wife, transfer half of his land (3 bigha) to the minor and pay Rs. 1 lakh to Bilkesh within a month. The monetary penalty was imposed to help Bilkesh remarry.
It is nobody’s case that the Panchayat, a congregation of elderly from all castes in the village, had a right to sit in judgement on what looks like an extramarital affair.
But that in no way gave a license to media – vernacular television news channels being beamed from Khurja and New Delhi – to misinterpret the Panchyat diktat. Panchyat member Sudhir Chaudhary says the monetary penalty was imposed to ensure that Bilkesh, a daily wager, had money for remarriage. The channels instead interpreted the penalty as a price for ‘honour’ of Sarita, as her sale.
It could not have been more bizarre than this – Shiv Kumar pays for a woman who agrees to stay with him as his second wife.
The channels reported or rather overplayed the news and moved on. They are hardly bothered about the pain and complications that have unfolded in the aftermath of their telecast.
Today Sarita has no takers. She has nowhere to go.
Kumar, who agreed to keep her as his second wife (affirmed this on a piece of paper), has since gone into hiding after his first wife and mother of his three children, parents and siblings revolted against the agreement.
Kumar’s mother Dropa is accusing the Panchayat members of having forced his son to admit adultery. She has called for a DNA test to determine father of Sarita’s son.
Bilkesh, who Sarita decided to divorce (she filed an application in a court for the same allegedly under Kumar’s prodding) after the Panchayat, is in no mood to let her re-enter his house.
Sarita’s parents and brothers in whose presence Sarita and Kumar admitted their illegitimate affair have closed their door on her. Sarita says her parents are justified in turning their back to her after what was done to them in the village Panchayat.
Panchayat members, who were present in the meeting, claim that their interest was limited to delivering justice to Bhaskar and Bilkesh. Sudhir Chaudhary, one of the Panchayat members, says Bilkesh called the Panchayat after Kumar threatened to kill him.
Bilkesh nods in agreement and narrates his version of the sordid story.
How the story unfolded
Kumar, who was a supervisor with a railway contractor in Khurja, arranged a labourer’s job for Bilkesh four years back.
Bilkesh and Sarita shifted to Khurja Junction and started living in the same house where Kumar was a tenant. It was all hunky dory till April 7 when Bilkesh claims to have seen his wife and Kumar in a compromising position. He says Kumar threatened to kill him and Sarita filed a complaint of domestic violence against him at Khurja Junction police post.
Bilkesh returned to the village and told his plight to the village elders. A Village Panchayat was called on April 10 where Shiv Kumar, Sarita, her parents, Bilkesh and hundred others were in attendance. Ironically, the Panchayat decision written on a piece of simple paper also carries approval of Khurja police in the form of its stamp.
However, today, the same police are questioning the Panchayat decision.
“The order has no legal sanctity,”
says Shailendra Tyagi, a police inspector in Kotwali, Khurja’s main police station.
Police in a bind
The police are caught in a cleft stick. It has a number of options to proceed in the case but there are no complainants.
Shiv Kumar can be booked in a rape case (section 376 of the IPC) provided Sarita files a case against him. But she only wants to use the police pressure to stay with him not quite understanding that Indian statue does not allow a Hindu male to marry second time when his first wife is alive.
“He will not come back willingly. I have not heard from him for over a fortnight. I still would prefer to stay with him,”
The police can also book Shiv Kumar and Sarita in an adultery case but Bilkesh, the husband, is not willing to play the victim.
“Main apni jaan chhudana chahta hoon iss mamle se (I want to stay out of it),”
he told Point Blank 7 refusing to file a case against Kumar.
The police are also considering booking Bilkesh under section 498 (domestic violence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but Sarita claims the former never used physical violence against her.
The biggest puzzle for the police, for now, is to find a roof over Sarita and her child’s heads.
Currently, she is staying with family of one Malkhan. On May 10, Gangthla Village Panchayat gathered again to collect donations for Sarita and her child’s sustenance. Bhaskar gets unwell at times and Sarita has to visit Khurja to see a doctor for him.
The village, located about five kms from Khurja Railway Junction and about 105 kms from New Delhi, houses around 250 families belonging to different castes. According to Malkhan, the village has till now resolved all its disputes through its Panchayats. Shiv Kumar, Bilkesh and Sarita belong to scheduled caste families.
Kumar is nowhere to be seen. So are television channels that went to town about Panchayat’s decision on sale of Sarita.