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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blood is thicker

Every child should have the right to know where he or she came from

A few weeks ago I wrote about a man who was fighting a legal battle to establish his rights as a father.

Adam Dell had gone to court to ask that his name be added to the birth certificate of his daughter Krishna after a DNA test had established paternity. And he was in negotiations with the child’s mother, Padma Lakshmi, to come to an arrangement that ensured that he got to spend enough time with Krishna.

His relationship with Padma Lakshmi may have ended badly. But Dell wanted to be involved in Krishna’s life. He wanted Krishna to know who her father was; and that he cared enough to fight for her.

Well, today, I am going to write about a man who has just lost a legal battle to escape being named as a father.

N.D. Tiwari, that fine, upstanding political leader who has been chief minister of one state and Governor of another, lost the final skirmish in his long legal battle when the Supreme Court of India ruled that he had to supply a DNA sample so that it could be proven, one way or the other, whether he was the biological father of Rohit Shekhar.

It was a significant victory for Shekhar and his mother, Ujjawala Sharma, who had been trying for decades to get Tiwari to admit paternity. But Tiwari resolutely refused to recognise Shekhar as his son, even though his relationship with Ujjawala was common knowledge in political circles.

In his petition to the court, Tiwari – chivalrous old codger that he is – labelled Ujjawala as an ‘unchaste woman’ for having had a relationship with him while still married to her husband (presumably, she held a gun to his head while she had her nasty way with him, the poor man!). Rohit, he maintained, had been born while Ujjawala was married to another man and, in accordance with Indian law, he should be regarded as the legitimate son of her husband.

Therefore, said Tiwari, there was absolutely no reason why he should be required to give a DNA sample to prove (or disprove) paternity.

Well, the courts clearly thought otherwise. First the High Court and then the Supreme Court ruled that it was the right of every child to know who his or her father is. And that right trumped all the legal arguments that Tiwari’s team of crack lawyers had presented in court.

Finally, it seems Rohit Shekhar will get to know who his biological father is, even if he had to wait until he was 30 to get conclusive proof.

Now, you and I may well quibble over whether a man who behaves the way N.D. Tiwari has, should have any right to be called a father. But none of us can deny that the principles of natural justice demand that every child should have the right to know where he or she comes from.

Yet every day we see instances of children being denied access to that knowledge. And while many such battles are fought away from the limelight, the list of public figures who have dodged paternity is long and illustrious.

N.D. Tiwari is not the only politician to deny paternity of a love child simply because it was politically expedient to do so. Across the border, we have the shining example of Imran Khan, who refused to acknowledge his daughter, Tyrian, with Sita White. The US courts declared him the father in absentia when he failed to turn up for a court hearing or provide a DNA sample. But Imran continued to deny her existence because it would difficult to explain a child conceived out of marriage to his followers (such as they are) in Pakistan.

It is to his ex-wife, Jemima’s credit, that she took Tyrian under her wing after untimely death of her mother, Sita, and gave her the recognition that she so badly craved. But then, Jemima, who was born to Annabel and Jimmy Goldsmith while her mother was still married to her first husband, Mark Birley, probably knows how important paternity is to children no matter what the circumstances of their conception.

Aatish Taseer, the son of the assassinated Pakistani politician, Salman Taseer, addressed his angst at not being recognised by his father in his book, A Stranger to History. When he finally met his father at the age of 21, Salman explained to him that it would have been impossible for him to be in Pakistani politics with an Indian wife and a half-Indian son. Tragically, the two were estranged when Salman was shot dead by his guard and Aatish wrote poignantly about “mourning a man who was present for most of my life as an absence”.

Of late, though, science has made it that much more difficult for men to evade parental responsibility. Back in the 70s, Mick Jagger refused to acknowledge paternity of Karis, his daughter by African-American model, Marsha Hunt, until the girl was 12 years old. But in 1999, when the Brazilian model Luciana Morad had his son, Lucas, a paternity test cleared up the matter immediately and Jagger obediently stumped up child support.

It’s too late for that as far as Rohit Shekhar is concerned. He is a grown man now, a lawyer in his own right. But while he may no longer need a father to support him financially, he still needs to know who father is. That is the right of every child – even after he is all grown up.


Vibha said...

That's so true. And this is a sensitive topic handled with such empathy. Unclear parentage can be the most painful dilemna of a child's life. I am kind of glad for Rohit even though the justice has come a little late. At least he will find out the truth now.

O P Tandon said...

What you have stated is legally and morally true that every child should have the right to know where he/shee came from. However, the instances quoted by you are motivated by extraneous considerations viz. exploitations etc.Moreover in traditional societies even if there is an offspring out of flings outside matrimonial alliance neither the child nor the parents reveal the fact and the child gets and shows affections to the man who acts as father.Ignorance is bliss and it strenghtens the family bonds. In case every child or grown up is made to go for DNA tests it will destroy the concept of Family and bring untold misery on the society.So let us not make a general issue of it.

KrRahul said...

I think with celebrities (like NDT’s case), it is too difficult to judge the true intentions of the accusers. In general I agree with your statements. But in case of famous personalities and celebrities it becomes difficult to judge so…