Social Worker Komal Phadtare Tells Us How Prayas Brought Together A Broken Family
- IWB Post
- August 14, 2018
We are often quick to label people and put them in a box based on their circumstances, but sometimes the dynamics of a situation are more complicated than how we perceive them.
While any criminal act is wrong, there are people who fall prey to circumstances and end up doing things that fall beyond the precepts of ethics and humanity. However, some of them writhe to undo the mistakes committed by them and look for a way out of the system that labels them forever. Komal Phadtare tells us one such story.
Komal is a social worker with Prayas, a TISS Field Action Project dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable groups coming in contact with the criminal justice system.
That makes her a part of the team that does the groundwork at Prayas. Sharing the basic details of her work, Komal says, “We have to reach out to the prisoners, talk to them and find out about the issues faced by them. There are some who seek legal help, some just long to make a phone call at home, some are gravely worried about their children and so on. We have to first build a rapport with these women so as to ensure that they can confide in us. We strive to provide them with an environment where they feel at ease and open up.”
Of course, the women are initially hesitant to open up. They are really vulnerable and a lot of them have been through severe trauma. This, however, changes over time. “When they observe other women investing their trust in us they slowly begin to realise that we must be doing something right for so many people, including the jail superintendent, showing so much faith in our work,” shares Komal.
Komal also tells me that the majority of Prayas’s engagements are confined to first-time offenders. She explains, “Consider the case when a woman has been arrested in a case of theft. If she is a habitual offender, she is less likely to enroll in our rehabilitation programme, as petty thefts are how she makes her living. There is little that can be done in such a case unless there is a turning point in her life which makes her re-think about her options.”
She goes on, “Prayas has been working in the field for so long that many cases are now referred to us by the jail authorities. We get a plethora of them. Some of them are under trials for years and waiting for someone to help them out, a few battle mental health issues and we also come across of women who just keep mum and refuse to speak at all,” shares Komal.
Speaking of women who choose to stay quiet, Komal is reminded of a case that she believes is the most challenging albeit the most successful one handled by her till date. Thus, she gets into the details of the case of Meeta Padhi and Dilip Padhi (names changed to protect confidentiality) and how it was handled by Prayas.
“When we visit the prisons, we generally have a lot of people to talk to. This is probably why we didn’t get to reach out to Meeta who made no efforts from her side in the initial three months of her confinement,” Komal shares.
However, upon observing that the women really relied on Prayas and that the team was dedicated to helping them, Meeta felt that they could help her out as well. “She told us that she was arrested in a case of attempting to murder her own child along with her husband.”
This made Komal and the entire team at Prayas a little apprehensive about the case initially. “We thought how can we intervene in a case where the parents have been so cruel and inconsiderate to their own child?”
However, having worked in the field for almost three decades now, Prayas knew better and the team felt that there was more to the case than what met the eyes. “We thus decided to do in-depth work.”
“We realised after our repeated meetings with her and after we visited the accused couple’s family that the problems started from the family itself. Meeta already had a daughter, before she gave birth to the second one and her family wanted her to give birth to a baby boy. To add to it, Meeta’s brother-in-law believed that the baby was born out of an illicit affair,” Komal shares.
The child was delivered at home itself and there was no birth certificate. The family had two small plots in some indiscreet areas of Mumbai, and it was a big deal for the family. According to Meeta, the fear of being ostracised by the family, and thus losing their share in the property, led them to decide to kill the child. The child, however, survived.
After the husband and wife were arrested, the family refused to keep the child as they kept saying that she was illegitimate and thus she was sent to an orphanage in Mumbai under the supervision of Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
To add to it, Meeta’s husband was in another prison, who was also convinced that the child was illegitimate as his family had talked him into believing that. Komal says, “Realising that we made all the possible efforts to convince him that it was his child and also showed him the DNA reports, and he finally understood what we were trying to say.”
After the court hearings, the judge acquitted the couple and advised the couple that they should take good care of the child and prove their worth as parents. “When the CWC got to know about the verdict, they showed great reluctance in handing over the child to the same people who had tried to kill her,” says Komal.
The husband and wife were released from the jail on the same day.
The discussions with the CWC and the orphanage regarding the child’s custody went in the direction of the child being given away in adoption. It was on the day of a family photograph with the child (as part of the adoption proceedings) that Meeta learned about her daughter being sent away for adoption and that is when she refused to give up the child. The CWC, however, was reluctant to hand over the child to her biological parents.
Komal says, “This is when Prayas stepped in and we requested the CWC to hand over the child to the parents, as it was their right to decide whether to give the child in adoption or not. Thus the parents got the custody of the child.”
Amidst it all, there was a good Samaritan who had been financing the caretaking of the child after learning about the case from newspaper reports. When the person realised that she wasn’t in the orphanage anymore, he became anxious. He was also not happy with the role of Prayas in the case. “He had prolonged discussions with us including our Director before we were able to convince him that it was the right of the parents to keep the child and that we would keep regular follow up in the case to ensure that the child’s interests were fully protected”, says Komal.
“We at Prayas believe that as far as possible, the children should be with their parents and we thus had decided to do our best to unite this family,” Komal explains.
During the period, Prayas submitted quarterly reports to the CWC regarding the well-being of the child. After regular phone calls and meetings with the good Samaritan, he came around to our point of view, once he was sure that the child was indeed being looked after well by the parents and the child seemed happy to be in the family. He continues to provide financial support for the upkeep of the child and calls the child his ‘adopted’ child.
The situation has drastically changed today. Komal shares, “While initially there was a time when the child wouldn’t even go to her parents, today she is always glued to her father. The couple has left their family home for good and have set up a home of their own. The wife takes care of the children, and the husband has taken up some job. They are bonding beautifully as a family now. There are plans to encourage the mother to enter our placement programme, once childcare issues are sorted out.”
Sometimes one mistake is all it takes to condemn you for life. But everyone deserves a second chance in life, especially when he/she is willing to mend their ways and live a life of dignity. We at IWB strongly believe that.
Thus, this Independence day, IWB is joining hands with Prayas in their fight for women prisoners where we are striving to reverse the mire of their mistakes and the stigma that has followed them and to help them live a life of dignity, where they embrace their independence, with their heads held high.