A newly born infant makes her presence felt by giving free vent to both lungs and limbs but rare is the man who comes into the world of fatherhood kicking and screaming. When Rohit Shekhar filed a paternity suit in September 2007 against Narayan Dutt Tiwari, the veteran politician — who had no biological children of his own — resorted to every possible stalling tactic available to him under the law, and then some. He fobbed off repeated judicial directions to undergo a DNA test until finally, five years on, the justice system caught up with him. The Delhi High Court has now revealed to the world the truth that Mr. Tiwari wanted to cover up, and what his son wanted brought out, come what may. Of course, the Tiwari saga’s ending is a far cry from the cathartic outcome in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter where the protagonist in the end admitted in public to having fathered a child with one who had consequently been stigmatised. Regrettably, even after the final revelation of his paternity, the 87-year-old leader has sounded most unremorseful and has been talking in terms of conspiracies that did him in.
The issue at stake is not a narrow notion of morality in the way Western publics understand the term but Mr. Tiwari’s failure to own up to his responsibilities. Unlike the situation in the United States or Britain or elsewhere, the Indian people, and by extension the Indian media, are remarkably indifferent to the complicated private lives of their politicians. So we have had bachelors with “foster” children or husbands who have left their wives, politicians with companions, and ministers with more than one wife and family, but none of this has affected their public standing. Whenever our politicians are judged harshly, it is always for their political and not personal failings. Even today the reputation of Mr. Tiwari — a former Chief Minister and Governor — stands diminished in the public mind not because he had an affair or fathered a child but because he refused to stand by what he had done and fought five long years to deny something he knew to be true. Mr. Tiwari claims this is his personal business. He is wrong. Where private deeds impinge unfairly on the lives of others — in this instance, on the life of Mr. Shekhar who has carried the unfair stigma of being fatherless in a society which unfortunately places a high premium on paternity and birth in wedlock — that defence cannot possibly hold water. The young man and his mother, who together led a brave battle despite the odds that were stacked against them, deserve praise for the persistence with which they pursued the truth.