Kamalamma is all happy now. She spends time telling stories to her grand children and helps her daughters-in-law in the kitchen. Her sons are competing to buy her medicines and sarees every month. The children never let her skip a meal or her regular health check ups. Yes, Kamalamma is well taken care of.
Well, not until a few months ago. Then, Kamalamma slept on the street and visited temples to have their free food offerings. None of her three sons would allow her to visit their homes or have a portion from the food they cooked, until she filed a complaint in front of sub divisional magistrate to reclaim her partitioned property. Now, Kamalamma lives like a queen, attended by daughter-in-laws and entertained by grand children.
For the first time in Kerala, Eranakulam subdivisional magistrate Dr Adeela Abdulla IAS has formed a 42-member body of counselors for the legal conciliation of family disputes. Cases filed by aged parents against their children and vice versa are being settled before the subcollector without strangling their relationship.
In association with Santhwana Institute of Counselling, Kochi, Dr Abdulla first selected 40 professional psychotherapists and trained them in legal conciliation with the help of senior advocates.
Merging the Senior Citizen’s Protection and Maintenance Act 2007 to a subdivisional magistrate's power to nullify a property transfer deed if proved forceful, the subcollector crafted a mechanism to ensure the well-being of senior citizens in the district.
The 42 volunteers, who are from different realms of social work, gather at the subcollector's office on every Tuesday and sit with the plaintiffs assigned to each of them. The conciliators engage both complainants and respondents with a detailed counseling and bring in a solution, evoking emotional bonds. They make sure the senior citizens are recognized and guaranteed with effective provisions for welfare and maintenance as mentioned in the Act.
A single case may warrant multiple hearings, engaging the conciliator for more than a day. Interestingly, all the 42 counseling professionals in the body render their services completely free of cost!
“It is a common affair for the subdivisional officers, to conciliate the disputes that turns up at their office,” says Dr Adeela Abdulla IAS, “but there will be numerous cases of family disputes within a district, all of which a single person cannot resolve. Here comes the relevance of a multi-membered body.”
When the complainant and the respondent belong to a single family, there is a possibility for a counselor to intervene. The root of a decade-long legal fight would mostly be a simple jealousy, possessiveness or mere discomfiture. A trained psychotherapist can easily figure it out and help them bridge the mental gap, she adds.
A medical doctor turned administrator, Dr Abdulla easily gets involved in the talks and never hesitates to command her decisions. “Some cases evolve from the childish obstinacy of senior citizens too. We shall often treat them like children,” the young administrator laughs as she says.
But there are enough and more cases of selfish children disregarding the harmony in the lives of their parents. Aged 75 and 68, respectively, Velayudhan and Komalam do not remember having lived a single day apart in the last 40 years. But their children parted them. Velayudhan had to live with their daughter and Komalam, with their sons.
The children did not think beyond their convenience of having a grand parent at home when their kids returned home. But it was ruining the prosperous togetherness of this loving couple. Frustrated, Velayudhan filed a petition at the subcollector's office reclaiming the family property he partitioned among their children. Once approved, he made a will that the partition will only come into effect after the death of both the parents. The couple now lives at Velayudhan's paternal home, with their youngest son and family.
“This is a vast opportunity for the young psychologists to sharpen their skills,” says Siji, a counselor from the crew. “Apart from the fact that many senior citizens in the state lack proper emotional and physical treatment, many fresh graduates of psychology and social work engage in corporate job hunts after their course. The benefits of this service is reflected immediately in the society. The satisfaction of watching a stranded family reuniting because of us is just awesome,” Siji adds.
J.M. Kurian, a senior psychologist who has been supporting the venture, has a totally different view to share. “Many of these cases would otherwise be solved in the rigidity and legality of the court of law, estranging the family members from one another. A psychological counseling helps them realize the flaws and misunderstandings which happened long ago, correct them and lead a life together in the years ahead,” he says.
There is a larger societal surveillance involved in this process as well. When the court of law limits itself to 'justice' devoid of all emotional quotients, a psychological counseling, accompanied by legal conciliation, revives the family bonds by helping the subjects resolve their conflict on their own. Dr Adeela Abdulla hereby sets forth a model for other districts and states to follow. After all, like she says, “it is all about making the system more accessible, comfortable and fruitful.”