In one of Bundelkhand’s most remote and drought-prone tehsils, Mau, the grief over the death of a child is quickly overshadowed by the more urgent need for money to survive. In this story, an estranged couple forget their loss in the fight for the compensation they are due.
Mau block of Chitrakoot. Madaha village. Lightening struck on 5 of June 2018, killing two young boys and injuring three. The state paid Rs 45,000 to the families of the injured and took care of their treatment; and compensated the families of the dead with four lakh rupees.
One of the children was Indrajit, the 16-year son of Neelam, a product of her first marriage, to Rajaram, in Lasahi village. She had three more children with Rajaram. The marriage was violent, and eventually Rajaram threw her out. Subsequently, she remarried and has been living in Madaha for the past ten years, with her four children and her husband, Umesh.
When Indrajit died on the 5 of June, the compensation provided to families hit by natural disasters was transferred into the account of Rajaram. The nimble-footed Rajaram left town almost immediately after, with the money, to Pune.
‘Once we knew what the compensation was, it had been settled before the SDM that the money would be divided between us. When I realized the money had gone to Rajaram, I ran to Mau. The Tehsildar said it had all been transferred into Rajaram’s account.’
Neelam’s first marriage had not been formally annulled, as is the normal case with rural households. They had submitted a notice to the Bargarh police station, and said that each party would take on guardianship and maintenance of two children. But her Aadhar card, recently acquired, mentions Umesh as her husband, and her bank account is an individual one. All the children stayed with her, occasionally visiting their father. On asking if Rajaram had ever helped or provided economic support to Neelam for the children, she was emphatic, ‘Last year our son was unwell and I asked him to ask his father to pay for his treatment. [Rajaram] flatly refused, saying the asshole has his eye on my money and was making illness an excuse to claim it. My son came crying back to me. I laboured on someone’s fields and asked him to give me 100 rupees for my son’s treatment.’
Neelam’s mother-in-law asks if it’s fair for the husband to have received and claimed the money from their son’s death, when Neelam brought him up, pretty much single-handedly.
Rajkumar Pandey, the Tehsildar of Mau tehsil, claimed that the victim’s father was entitled to the compensation, as per the rules. There was no note of acknowledgment of any injustice in this edict. ‘Now beyond that, husband and wife have to figure out how to divide the money between them. We’ve done what was required by transferring the money into the father’s account.’
As this story was being written, we went back to Rajaram’s village, and he was only just back from Pune. He verified that he was present when the SDM had said to divide the compensation between Neelam and himself, but said he had no intention of transferring Neelam’s share. ‘I will get the children married, so the money should stay with me,’ he said. ‘Two lakhs will come in handy to marry my daughter into a good house. And right now I can educate her too,’ he said, as a smart afterthought. ‘At the end of the day, children need their mother’s love but blood runs deep, and they will need me as well. They will come back here sometime.’
– Disha Mullick
This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost