I’ve never bought that line of thought, but…
There’s this woman I know, we’ll call her S. Her version of her story is like this. She had an arranged marriage and had two kids. About 10 years ago, her husband started mistreating her and took up with another woman. I don’t know the details of “mistreating” and I don’t know whether he left home or he threw her out of the house. But S found herself destitute and had to start working as a domestic help to support her kids. She initiated proceedings in the Family Court, hoping to get maintenance from her husband. I think she also filed for divorce. It took several years and most often the husband never showed up at court. He filed a counter claim that she had mistreated him and taken up with another man. Some time last year, the Family Court decreed that her husband should pay S Rs 3000 as monthly maintenance. Of this, 1000 was for S, and 1000 each for her son and daughter until the former attained majority and the latter got married.
I have no idea how much time and money went into getting this order and I suspect that her lawyer jerked her around in the process. In any case, after the order was passed, S still did not get any money from her husband. She got hold of some local politician who took a stiff fee for the job of shooting off letters stating her case to half a dozen political dignitaries. The letter to the President of India, surprisingly enough, did yield a result! S got a reply directing the CM’s office to look into the matter and ensure that justice was done.
Meanwhile, almost a year after the order was passed, her husband filed an objection stating that he cannot afford to pay S 1000 as monthly maintenance. Moreover, he said, since the daughter is now married and living with her husband, and the son has attained majority, the order should be modified to state that he does not need to pay any maintenance for them.
On the face of it, it looks like a trivial objection, because the order already limits maintenance payment for the son and daughter till they attain majority and get married, respectively. So it looks like the husband is just buying time, or being obstructive.
S added a new dimension to the whole situation by revealing that her daughter had been seduced by her husband’s sister’s son (her first cousin) and had gone off happily to live with him without stopping to get married. This, despite S’s warnings to steer clear of that family. Things turned out the way you’d expect them to, with the daughter being mistreated by her mother-in-law and S’s two grandchildren, 3 and 5 years old, suffering grievous bodily harm. What’s worse, S’s husband then attempted to bribe his nephew, S’s son-in-law, by promising to buy him a car if he would swear in court that S was living with another man!
But in this case, somehow the errant son-in-law did a u-turn and said, “Nothing doing!” He sobered up (yeah, that too), moved in with his common-law wife and kids and turned into a decent husband. (Hard to explain. Maybe the kids had this effect on him?)
That was when S’s husband filed his objection to the maintenance order passed by the Family Court. Notice was served on S to appear in Family Court on a given date. She received the notice just a couple of days before the date of the hearing. Since she’d already had it with her previous lawyer, she didn’t have a lawyer to represent or advise her and she was worried. What’s worse, the person who served the notice told her that she should consult a certain person (lawyer?) in Jayanagar who would help her, and she must bring Rs 5000 in cash. And if she did not turn up, she and her son and daughter would be arrested.
No wonder the poor woman was frantic by then. She obviously didn’t have access to Rs 5000 in cash. Periodically, when she needs money, she checks in some of her jewellery with a money lender. Currently I think most of her jewellery is already with the money lender. I advised her as strongly as I could against shelling out a large chunk of cash to an unknown shyster lawyer, and Amit called a legal friend for advice. He assured us that the Family Court can’t arrest anyone – S was quite relieved to hear that – and put us in touch with someone who would take up the case on “humanitarian grounds” for a “nominal fee”.
Meanwhile, though, S’s daughter and son-in-law had got hold of a lawyer and since time was short, S decided to go along with this lawyer. Apparently this lawyer ignored the Family Court hearing altogether, hauled them all off to the Criminal Court and slapped a case on S’s husband for domestic violence and abuse! He also implicated the husband’s employer in the case! The allegation was that his employer was enabling him to take voluntary retirement, so that he would get a lump sum payment and be freed of the responsibility of paying monthly maintenance. If true, this could explain why he was stalling by filing trivial objections in the Family Court close to a year after the maintenance order being passed. Unfortunately, the lawyer has no indication of this being even slightly true. What’s more, he stated the husband’s salary as at least one-and-a-half times what S thought it might be. When S expressed some hesitation, he said, “Look lady, you have to say it’s this much, ask for half of this. Then he will be forced to show his payslip to show that he actually gets less. Let him show his payslip. You went to Family Court and said he earns 7k. What did you get? 3k, of which you will now get only 1k. And you haven’t even got that yet after so many years. With this case, you will get a decision within three months. You ask for 20 k, he will say he doesn’t earn that much, at the end of it you might get 5k. But this time he can’t lie, because his employer is also implicated. Get it?”
I saw the petition. It states that S was criticized, beaten, abused, and driven out of her husband’s home – all of which is true to a greater or lesser extent. It also states that she was “carrying her child” at that time, which is patently untrue, considering her youngest is now 18 and the date for this specific act is given as April this year. Any way you interpret “carrying” won’t hold for an eighteen-year-old. And you have to only look at S to know that she’s beyond the age of “carrying” a child in the normal sense of that word.
I pointed this out to S, and she agreed that this little detail would have to be changed. Then I asked her how she felt about lying about her husband’s salary, and tried to point out that lying to court was not a good idea. I tried to explain to her that she might not have much credibility in court and might come across as a greedy or opportunistic woman, instead of the innocent and naïve victim that she really is, if she is tells a lie of this magnitude. Though normally a reasonable and honest person, she got really worked up and launched on a long tirade about all the wrongs her husband had done to her and how he was even now flouting the order passed by Family Court; how he was living alone in luxury while she struggled to make ends meet and provide food and education for her son, daughter, and grandchildren. If telling the truth hadn’t done anything for her so far, then it was time for a change in tactics, she felt. And after all the lies he’d told the court about her, shaming her by accusing her in public of living with another man… this was nothing.
I can see her point. I do feel bad for her situation, for how she’s had to fight her way through life, for the battles I see her fighting every day even now that her children are (almost) grown up and she’s a grandmother. After all she’s gone through, I do feel she’s entitled to a bit of comfort, a bit of security.
Yet I sit in my fantasy world, believing that you shouldn’t lie on moral grounds; and that the ends don’t always justify the means, the means have to be fair to begin with; and that you can’t resort to the same dirty tactics as your opponent; and, of course, that lying in a petition to a criminal court might not be a good idea in a purely practical (and legal) sense either. I sit here with all the very good reasons for her to not tell this kind of lie in these circumstances, yet I am not sure. In her position, what would I do? Would I also say, eff it, enough is enough, if I have to lie to get what I deserve, then so be it?
Honestly, what would you do?