In a scene straight out of a Bollywood tear-jerker, lawyers in a New Delhi court rustled up 100,000 rupees (S$1,830) to help two sisters who were in court because their father refused to pay for their studies.
During a virtual hearing of the Delhi High Court, the agitated mother, Shalini Bangia, 45, told the judge her divorced husband had refused to pay the college fees for their daughters. One is a third year law student in Ghaziabad and the other is learning German.
She wanted her girls to be unlike her – penniless after a divorce and unable to earn after having been a homemaker all her adult life. Dropping out of the courses would destroy their chances of economic independence, she told Justice Najmi Waziri.
Bangia’s lawyer Kumar Prashant showed the court a pile of documents. “They prove that the father has numerous properties and investments but had them all transferred to relatives’ names to pretend he is a ‘pauper’ and unable to pay the college fees,” Prashant said.
Since their divorce in 2011, Bangia had paid for her daughters’ education by altering clothes and taking money from her retired father, but he died of Covid-19 during India’s brutal second wave. “I hated being a burden on my father but I had no choice,” she said.
While the judge was considering what to do, a few of the lawyers who happened to be logged into the hearing while waiting for their own cases to come up offered to make a contribution.
In the ensuing flutter of excitement, other lawyers also chipped in and before anyone could so much as say pro bono, a sum of 100,000 rupees had been raised by 10 lawyers.
The daughters, who were on the video screen with their mother, burst into tears. “It was such an emotional moment, totally unexpected. Till now, most of the lawyers I have dealt with have been corrupt. I was overwhelmed at their kindness,” Bangia said.
Lawyers in India do not enjoy the same reputation as they do in some other countries, with the exception of senior ones.
Some Indians fear having to hire a lawyer, convinced they will be fleeced and exploited to the hilt, particularly as lawyers have a reputation for contriving to cause delays that inflate legal expenses. It is not unusual for verdicts even in humdrum, uncomplicated cases to take five years or more.
Justice Waziri was delighted with the collection. “The gesture reassures society about the nobleness of the legal profession and that the generosity of humans is only waiting to be tapped,” he said.
However, he noted that 100,000 rupees would not pay for the girls’ total fees and asked the Delhi Bar Association to see if its members could help to raise some more money. The association has agreed.
The court’s decision on the father will be made at a hearing on Feb 1. Meanwhile, Bangia wants the daughter studying law to become a judge.
“I want her to fight for women like me so that no one has to be in my position, having to beg and fight for what is my daughters’ right, again,” she said.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.