REMEMBER Mrs. Lotika Sarkar, the elderly widow who was divested of her two-storey house in an upmarket neighbourhood in New Delhi by a scheming police officer and his family? (Reduced to a spectator, Jan 22, 2009).
The old lady, 87, is finally getting her house back thanks largely to a concerted media campaign.
Mrs. Sarkar is not some illiterate rural woman who could be conned by a trickster. She is a former head of Delhi University's Law Faculty and a social worker. Her husband Chanchal Sarkar was a leading journalist and a former chairman of the Press Institute of India.
That such a person could be deprived of her "old-age insurance" by foul means is a reflection of the problems elderly people face in India. Social activists say that that with India's population set to touch 137 million by 2021, such problems will multiply.
To recap Mrs. Sarkar's story, a few years after her husband's death, Mr. Nirmal Dhaundial, a police officer who was a family friend of the Sarkars, moved into her house along with his wife Priti and occupied the ground floor "to look after her." Their employed son Nitish had already been living with Mrs. Sarkar.
Though few of Mrs. Sarkar's relatives remembered seeing them when her husband was alive, Mr. Dhaundial claimed "I am like a son to Latika Sarkar. She has no one to look after her. My son has been living here for six years, and after my elder brother's death, my wife also shifted here to take care of aunty."
The Dhaundials were not the only ones who had their eyes on Mrs. Sarkar's property.
Her maid, Rangita Bharati, who had been thrown out of the house, bag and baggage earlier by the Dhaundials, also forcibly re-entered the house and occupied a room upstairs, saying it had been rented out to her by the old lady.
Mr. Dhoundial, who had used his police powers to throw her out of the house, could not do anything this time because a tenant cannot be evicted without a court order.
A statutory tribunal, set up under the Maintenance and Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act and which heard Mrs. Sarkar's story, was hard on the police officer in its order last week.
"She has been divested, at the age of 87, of her right to life with dignity through fraud by the Dhoundials who took advantage of her age and poor health," it observed.
It also declared as "void" a gift deed that Mr. Dhoundial, had produced as evidence that Mrs. Sarkar had "gifted" the house to his wife, a claim the old lady resolutely denied in a signed affidavit.
Mrs. Sarkar, who had shifted to a relative's house, said she could never have knowingly given the property away because it was her "old-age insurance."
Mr. Dhoundial's response was that he would return the house to her provided she spent 10 days with his family. Apparently, he thought that would give them sufficient time to work on the the frail, old woman to change her mind.
The tribunal, in its order, said the three Dhoundials (father, mother and son) "may not think of themselves as part of the criminal elements of society but their systematic actions over a period of time have put to shame even skilled professional thieves who make their living by burglary, loot, larceny and robbery etc.
"In this case, the Dhoundials used not gas cutters or house breakers to take over the house of Mrs. Sarkar but used 'nice paper work' as a tool in the property crime."
The news brought cheers to her friends and well-wishers, who have been following the case. It will be their fervent hope that the old lady would be allowed to spend the rest of her life peacefully.