I am probably the first person in the world to fight to be proven a bastard. People seek to be recognised as legitimate heirs. People seek dignity. But I want the world to know that I am the illegitimate son of Mr ND Tiwari.
Growing up, I used to watch the film Trishul over and over again. There is this part in the film where the hero, Amitabh Bachchan, tells Sanjeev Kumar, “Tum mere najaayaz baap ho (“You are my illegitimate father.)” It made a huge impression on me. I am an Amitabh Bachchan fan, I used to watch all his movies. But ever since I learnt Mr Tiwari was my biological father and not Mr BP Sharma, who attended my parent-teacher meetings at Modern School, Barakhamba Road, I felt that film told my story. I fantasised saying this to Mr Tiwari.
I do not feel particularly attached to him. There never was any scope for that. Even when I saw him regularly, which was till I was 14, he didn’t let me stay with him. We used to visit him; every three months or so, my mother would pick me up from school and we’d go to his house in Delhi. At that time, he was at the prime of his political career; he was either Chief Minister of UP or held Cabinet rank ministerships at the Centre. His official bungalow had a lot of security, and there were many people waiting to meet him, hundreds at times. But we were always allowed in right away. His staff treated me like the bachcha of the house. There was always someone to play with me, feed me, chat.
I used to wonder why. Why did we get this special treatment, why did we not have to wait like the others? Who was this man to us? Why would this man come to my birthday parties? Why did he lavish gifts on me? Mr Tiwari used to travel abroad quite often in the 80s, and he would get snazzy pencil boxes for me. This was pre-Liberalisation, and foreign stuff was a big deal. I used to show it off in school, the pencil boxes and chocolates. Even when he didn’t travel abroad, wooden crates of apples and mangoes lined with straw would arrive for me. You know how people give gifts to politicians? He would get boxes of fruit and mithai, and he’d send half a dozen over to our place.
We went to his residence at Lucknow too, when he was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Once when I was 8 or 9 years old, I saw Amitabh Bachchan in a white kurta pyjama, waiting to meet Mr Tiwari. Mr Bachchan was, at the time, an MP from Allahabad. I told Mr Tiwari that I wanted a photograph with my hero. When he said this would not be possible, I demanded to travel in Mr Tiwari’s state aircraft. He agreed, I sat on his lap the entire duration of the flight to Delhi.
I liked the attention, but when I was nine or ten, I started asking why this man gave me so many things. I have an elder brother too, my mother’s son from her marriage to my legal father, Mr BP Sharma. He didn’t get so many gifts, though I was of course asked to share them with him. And my mother didn’t take him to Mr Tiwari’s home.
I also noticed then that my mother would come away crying after these meetings. Every time she met him, she had an asthma attack later. Increasingly, he and my mother would talk alone, and have bitter arguments. Mr Tiwari would send me away to play with his staff when my mother and he spoke. By that time, I had started sensing things like the bedroom is a private space, the living room, a community space. Why did my mother keep meeting this man who treated her with such disdain? His behaviour towards me, too, changed. Sometimes he would play with me and chat affectionately, sing to me. He is very fond of singing. At other times, he would barely acknowledge my presence.
One day, when I was 11 or 12, my naani (grandmother) told me Mr Tiwari was my real father. I laughed. When I told my mother, she said that this is indeed the truth. That the reason Mr Tiwari and she were having so many arguments was that she was asking him to acknowledge me as his son, but he said his wife would not accept this.
Mr Tiwari had got close to my mother when he used to come to meet my grandfather, Central minister and one of the founders of the state of Haryana, Professor Sher Singh, in the 70s. My grandfather was a mentor of sorts to him. My mother had a bad marriage, and she was staying with my grandparents in those years. Though BP Sharma was a good father to me, he was not a good husband. My grandparents knew this. Mr Tiwari knew this too. He told my mother that his marriage, too, had failed. He was in his fifties then, and told my mother he wanted a child with her because his wife was unable to bear him one. He promised to marry her after his divorce came through. My grandparents believed him. My mother agreed with their support.
When I was born, my mother named me Rohit Shekhar, believing Mr Tiwari would accept me as his son. When the birth certificate had to be signed, he made some excuse about his political image and my mother put her husband’s name, BP Sharma, as my father’s name. But she never used Rohit Shekhar Sharma because she believed Mr Tiwari would keep his word.
I was an angry, confused teenager, and would occasionally erupt at my mother, saying she had destroyed my life. In 1993, Mr Tiwari’s wife passed away and my mother thought he would finally recognise me, but Mr Tiwari cut off all ties with us.
I can say I went through hell in those years. I had difficulty studying, sleeping. I felt humiliated and angry. Some of it was adolescence, but adolescence with this man around was hell. By the time I was in college, I was suffering from depression and insomnia. I could barely go to class, though I enjoyed my studies.
I met him again in 2002, when he was Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. I confronted him then for the first time. He was cordial, he acknowledged me as his son privately. Over 2002-2005, we met a number of times; I was always put up in a hotel. When the two of us were in a room alone, he would offer me whatever he was eating, ask me to eat from his plate. More than once he said, “Yeh hamara beta hai, yeh toh apna raasta khud banayenge. (He is my son, he will lead his own way in life)”. But outside his room, he was a different man. In the mornings, when he’d meet his followers, I’d try to enter the room but his bodyguards would stop me, “Saab, abhi nahin please (Sir, not now please).” Once, I stood outside the main door when a whole lot of people were waiting, and he didn’t even make eye contact with me.
I told him more than once in those years that I was seriously thinking of taking the matter to court, but he didn’t think I would do it. Many of my friends and relatives also said, “Yeh sab to chalta hai. Bade log hain. (These things happen, he is a powerful man, after all.)” But I hated this attitude that it’s acceptable for powerful people to do whatever they want, it’s so feudal. I wanted this recognition, for my mother and for me, because we had suffered.
I met Mr Tiwari for the last time in December 2005. He had come to Delhi on work and was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on Mansingh Road. We went to meet him, my grandmother, mother and I, but he didn’t even look at us. He was surrounded by people. After waiting nearly an hour, I wrote on a chit of paper, ‘Please come and have tea with us at home when you get some time’ and gave it to one of his staffers. When he was leaving the hotel, he saw we were still waiting, pointedly rolled the chit into a ball and threw it away.
That was it, my mind was made up.
My lawyer and I did a lot of research, but he was nervous because my case was so unique. Besides, Mr Tiwari was a powerful man. I was scared, too. I was aware that my case might be thrown out because it could be seen as publicity-seeking. There were also the phone calls at night. Over the past decade, we had intermittently received calls threatening that I would be chopped into pieces and dumped in a gutter, or meet some other end. Mr Tiwari had always denied any connection with these, saying “Yeh to hamare dushman honge. (They must be from my enemies.)”
On 5 July 2007, I suffered a heart attack. I was watching Wimbledon at home when I felt severe pain in my back. The doctor who came home could not diagnose that I had suffered a heart attack and prescribed Voveran. I continued working. By September 2007, we were ready to file a case. On the night of 12 September, I suffered a cerebral stroke, because the heart attack had left me with two clots in my heart. While I lay in hospital, barely conscious, my lawyer filed the case at the Delhi High Court on 13 September. In shock over my stroke, he forgot a technicality: when you file a case against a prominent government functionary, you need to give notice of two months.
When my medical reports came, the reason given for my heart attack and cerebral stroke was stress and insomnia. I started doing yoga and meditation and taking lessons in Hindustani classical music. I recovered slowly; only, my left leg felt unsteady. It still does.
In April 2008, I filed the case again at the Delhi High Court. On 25 November 2008, the Court issued summons to Mr Tiwari; he became the first sitting governor in India to be summoned to court. Mr Tiwari challenged the order on the grounds that he as governor was exempt from appearing in court. In November 2009, the Delhi High Court dismissed the case on technical grounds, but I decided to challenge the order. The hearings in court were traumatic. I was routinely called a ‘bastard’, a publicity hound, a blackmailer; my mother was called an ‘unchaste’ woman. It struck me then that the word ‘bastard’ is deeply discriminating and humiliating. It violates our fundamental right to equality. I filed a petition to ban the use of the word in the public domain.
In April 2010, the Delhi High Court ordered Mr Tiwari to file his written statement within four weeks. In the two years since the case had been filed, he had not even bothered to reply to the suit; this is how the powerful treat the law of the land. On 23 December 2010, the Delhi High Court passed a historic order in my favour, distinguishing between paternity (referring to the biological father) and legitimacy (referring to the legal father). Justice JS Ravindra Bhat wrote, ‘The court is of opinion that “legitimacy” and “paternity” are both valid interests of the child that may be accorded recognition under Indian law without prejudice to each other. While “legitimacy” may be established by a legal presumption, “paternity”has to be established by science and other reliable evidence.’
The order called on Mr Tiwari to undergo a DNA test. The court pressed for urgency in the matter of the blood test, as ‘vital evidence may be lost forever’, referring to Mr Tiwari’s advanced age. (He was 86 at the time).
The matter was listed before the Joint Registrar of the Delhi High Court eight to 10 times, but Mr Tiwari did not provide his sample. Finally, the Joint Registrar of the Court fixed the date 1 June 2011 for Mr Tiwari to give his sample. On the day, he appealed through his lawyer that he cannot be forced to furnish his DNA sample. Unfortunately for me, the Delhi High Court upheld this in September 2011.
I appealed. On 27 April 2012, the Delhi High Court set aside the previous order and held that Mr Tiwari had to provide his blood sample. Most significantly, the Court stressed that if he refused to do so, then a reasonable police force could be called upon to make him comply. This meant that if Mr Tiwari mobilised a thousand followers in his support, the Court had the authority to get an appropriate number of policemen to handle them. Mr Tiwari appealed before the Supreme Court that his fundamental right to privacy was being violated by the order to provide his blood sample. But the Supreme Court said that as a consideration to his advanced age, the blood sample could be collected from his home in Dehradun.
On 29 May 2012, I saw Mr Tiwari for the first time since 2005, when my lawyer, my mother, the officials assigned by the Court and I went to his house. He was rather chatty. He asked me, “Aur beta, tumhari padhai kaisi chal rahi hai? (Son, how are your studies progressing?)” I said, “Thanks to you, I have had to put my studies on hold for doing the rounds of courts.’ When I pointed out a striking photograph of Nehruji on a wall to my lawyer, Mr Tiwari called one of his guards. “Dekho beta kya bol raha hai. Unhe yeh tasveer pasand aayi hai. Unko yeh bhent kar doh. (See what the boy is saying. He likes that photograph. Gift it to him.)” I said immediately, “Aapke bahut bhent mile hain, ab bas apna blood sample de dijiye (I have got plenty of gifts from you, just give us your blood sample now.)”
He gave his blood peacefully. When we had to sign the blood sample, he turned to my mother. “Tumhari awaaz bahut din nahin suni. Raag Durga suna do. (I haven’t heard your voice in ages. Sing something in Raag Durga.)” My mother was stunned. She said, “You are confusing me again. Sign, and let us go.”
I trust the samples will not be tampered with. I have reason to believe this because the courts have supported my quest. When the test results are out, I will move an affidavit to change my name to Rohit Shekhar Tiwari Singh. Singh, after my hero, my maternal grandfather Professor Sher Singh. Then, I will demand compensation for the maintenance that Mr Tiwari did not pay all these years. Earlier, I didn’t intend to seek money, but his arrogance during the trial has made up my mind. I will make him pay for all this.
As told to Sohini Chattopadhyay