“How long can sweetened lollipops replace a need for father” asks a 60-year-old grandmother whose little granddaughter is handed over a lollipop by her mother every time she wants to know about the whereabouts of her father who is fighting a custody battle for the child.
Neha, is among the scores of grandparents, questioning the legality of the system whereby long drawn out custody cases between spouses were taking a toll on their patience and subjecting them to mental trauma of waiting to be reunited with their grandchildren.
Neha, who is part of Child Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), a newly-formed organisation that demands equal right of parenting in divorced cases, says the bitter fight between spouses often leaves grandparents and children as innocent victims for little or no fault of theirs.
“My daughter-in-law decided to one day walk out from the house but in the process we have been denied access to the grandchild. What is our fault. We have to wait till our son gains rights to see his children,” she sobs.
The law generally favours mothers in case of custody battle as well as during the interim period of the cases when interim custody is given to the mother. The set of paternal grandparents are often left fighting loneliness and depression at their ties suddenly being severed by their children’s animosity, said Kumar Jahgirdar, President of CRISP.
Couples walking out of an acrimonious marriage is common, but what is becoming even common is that the animosity is often carried to the level of ensuring that ties with grandparents are also severed, says a CRISP activist.
“I have not seen my grandchild for three years,” says a 75-year old man with tears streaming down his cheek. “Time is running out for me. The judiciary takes its own time to settle the dispute, what about senior citizens like us who are waiting for these battles to be over and to see their grandchildren,” he said representing the angst of many.
“I spend my time play acting and imagining myself with my grandchild on a beach, reading a book, or simply giggling away and talking gibberish as we did when she was with us,” said Neha. “But how long can I play act. I need my grandaughter.”
The society, the government, the media and judiciary must be sensitised about the rights of senior citizens in custody battles and to provide them with avenues to be with their grandchildren, says Kumar who has taken up the task and opened four more chapters of CRISP in India with membership of 500 members including parents and grandparents fighting for their rights for shared parenting.
A child, who is separated from either of his parents goes through enough trauma and added to it is the trauma of being separated from his grandparents with whom he or she might have shared a very fond relationship and happy memories, says Neha.
“The saddest part of an unhappy marriage is that while the two separate, the grandchildren and grandparents suffer and bear the brunt of separation. The nurtured bond of ties during the twilight of our years suddenly snips, leaving grandparents like us with severe bouts of depression,” says a grandfather.
The visitation rights granted to a spouse, often the father after long custody battles, still do not provide any solution as they are conducted in the court premises, where many of the ailing or aged grandparents cannot travel to, says a CRISP activist. “We need more trained counsellors, a more sensitive judiciary to understand this problem,” he said.