Getting back to the epic of my father’s woes with his maid Anita Madhavan who kidnapped him after she sold off his Chennai based 2.5 ground property and ran with the money in demand draft and cash, we went from discovery to discovery all the while shocked and amazed at how easy it is to swindle an old person and how little the government, the police and any laws actually protect them from losing everything. A maid whom my father had accepted into his household, for whom I had sent the money to pay the costs for her wedding to a Mr. Madhavan and whose two children and husband my father had also subsequently welcomed into his home all the while treating them with dignity and respect. A dignity and respect they neither reciprocated nor even slightly hinted at.
We first discovered that unlike what we thought were small amounts she was able to take from my dad’s money, she had been swindling him for years of all the money that should have been available to him. This included the money we sent to him on a regular annual basis for savings, most of the money he had on arrival to India in 1998 and the money he earned working as a medical doctor from 1998 until 2003 when he turned 71. Her most amazing feat (though beaten subsequently by the amount she subsequently swindled of 2.15 crore) was to swindle an amount of 2.2 lakhs in less than a year between 2009 and 2010 without any of us, including my father realising that this amount which I had sent through Western Union and for which he had given her a power of attorney to retrieve never reached his bank account nor obviously his personal wallet. As she was also the only person given access to his bank account because he could not walk easily or wait in queues anymore, he did not have the possibility to realise that the amount was never deposited in his bank account.
So here we were believing that my father should have had deposits of at least 25 lakhs from which he should have been earning at least around 2 lakhs on a yearly basis and to which would have been added the amounts he earned as a medical doctor (less daily expenses) as well as over 50 lakhs we sent over the years which were supposed to have been put in recurring deposits earning him an interest varying between 8.75% and 10% which he should have been able to use for any additional requirements. Simple equation and comfortable life one would think. Utterly and amazingly wrong! Over the years, amounts were withdrewn by this shrewd maid and her husband which were used for her own personal expenses and lifestyle which included buying herself a plot and building a house in Puttagarm, her native town nearby Mayavaram.
During that time, my father lives a hardly decent lifestyle – which we found amazing on our visits but hey, my father assured us that Indian standards should not be compared to western standards and life was much costlier than we thought and he anyway was more into the spiritual realms than into material appearances. While dismissing this off as an eccentricity, we failed to identify the deeper reason, which was that apparently my father was simply not aware of how much money the maid had swindled and how much he had left and just believed that we were not sending enough to compensate any of his shortfalls which – in his mind – he thought better not to confront us with. Thanks to the clever swindling and typical elder abuse pattern that this maid had installed in my father’s daily routine, he simply did not have an idea of how much money he should have had left at the bank as that was totally controlled by the maid, did not know how much we were actually sending and had no clue on how much it actually cost to live in India. The maid would for example provide him his medication for 2,000 INR while the actual medication cost 200 INR and all items of his daily life were thus inflated accordingly if he would chance to ask her accounts, which my sister had started asking him in 2011 because comparing what existed on the net with what it seemed to cost him for what we considered a low lifestyle gave us little comfort on what was happening financially and my sister had started suspecting an elder abuse pattern.
Our biggest mistake though, was not realising the onset of dementia in my father’s life. He had always taken care of all family matters single handedly and brought up in the traditional way, we had never questioned his authority nor his ability to continue to take care of financial matters. This, coupled with my father’s pride in not renouncing his independence (or at least what he thought to be independence) and refusing to come live with one of us thus helped the wretched maid who continued spinning her web of deceit, swindling and isolation. She made sure he never went to any of the gatherings to which our relatives in India invited him, including when they attempted to stop by his house and take him to the gatherings and made any visits of relatives to his house very uncomfortable so gradually they started going less and less to visit him. By coincidence, none of my siblings and myself were able to visit him from 2011 until 2013 for various personal reasons but we remained in touch with him over the phone.
This is when the maid got a little greedier and moved to the next level. Somehow, we still have to discover exactly how this was done, she had more and more of my father’s property registered in her name between 2011 and 2012 before she finally got it sold off (including what was supposedly her share) to a group of (hardly) gentlemen who did not make much of the fact that an 81 year-old man only accompanied by his maid was selling off a house within a large land in Chennai without having any other place to live in while all his children were living abroad. It was obviously convenient considering the price they bought the land for to pretend that they actually believed the deceitful claim from the maid that his children and all his family had abandoned him instead of investigating further and finding out the truth. Beside that, they also allegedly chose to pay a large amount in cash knowing very well that such an old man would be more easily swindled out of a large amount of cash paid out of the banking system than when he is paid the amount within the banking system.
Obviously this is what happens and the maid makes a run with the cash but not without having made sure she is securing her tracks. To do this, she takes away every document my father has including his passport, his ID card, his medical card, his Electricity bills, bank pass and anything that could possibly serve as identity or residence proof and then kidnaps him to a remote location some 8 hours from where he used to live. For over 45 days my father is kept in dreary conditions (we found him subsequently in a shed-like construct in her hometown village) and he recalls that he was drugged (which coincides with the fact that we found him in a dazed and incoherent state) and we finally find him but are incapable of doing anything officially because the Police claim that without any identity proof they are not able to take his complaint (see my earlier post on The plight of the elderly in India for more details at this link https://geethaprodhom.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/the-plight-of-the-elderly-in-india/).
That is for the brief recount of what we found out.
Now where it would get hilarious with hindsight – if it were not such a bitter experience of human greed and corrupt behaviour – is how most people around this tragedy reacted when we attempted to sort things out. It obviously did not seem to help that allegedly at some point, the owner of the Vels University in Chennai had wanted to get the land my father’s house was on as this would have helped build some sort of extension he had been contemplating and my father had refused as for no reason would he have let go of his house and land acquired officially in 1990.
The first lawyer whom we contact suggests that we pay 1.5 lakhs as a start to attempt to get back the passport from the maid by resorting to the police in the Manilmedu station. We shake that off as my siblings feels it is ludicrous although I have to say that I am slightly tempted having undergone the harrowing experience of journey back and forth between Chennai and Mayavaram with a sadly useless trip to the Manilmedu police station. It is decided in the family that I better get things sorted out myself by commuting to India as I am the closest, being based in Dubai. After I start commuting between India and Dubai, get a couple of papers done that could prove his identity (mainly duplicate bank passes), I go visit a travel agent who promises to get my father’s passport done using a method deemed infallible and which only requires an ID and residence proof (which I give in the form of the bank pass with my father’s photograph, the bank stamp and bearing his address) as well as a Non Traceable Report from the police regarding the passport stolen by his maid. It seemed crucial now that he had lost his only place to stay that we get him out of India and into my home in Dubai. The process is supposed to cost 12,500 INR and require 7-10 days so I pay up immediately and gladly the cash thinking that finally my father will be in Dubai with me and can lead a peaceful and dignified life. Around 15 days later, nothing has happened and upon my next visit to the agency, all sorts of excuses pop up but as nothing is happening, I ask her to reimburse me and get 11,000 INR back. At around the same time I visit a lawyer who has been contacted by my sister to get the EC documents as nothing can be done in terms of complaint without those documents being produced to the police. He asks for 4,000 INR which he pockets without a receipt and of course, 10 days later, we have no copies of the EC and he stops answering me. Thank you very much KSR B. for making us a tad more sceptical about the integrity of lawyers in Chennai. After that experience, we decide it is better not to pay before we actually have something happening. Subsequently I pay a taxi driver who offers to help through a person whom he knows and charges me 1,000 INR for the initial EC document which he is able to get (for some reason, the person directly gives it to the lawyer he refers subsequently to us saying he will take care of obtaining the documents pertaining to the entries in the EC rather than giving it to the taxi driver who had promised to send it to me via scan and ordinary mail).
This is that initial EC ec
This is how we get this lawyer JG M. who is supposed to be an honest man according to the person who is referring him. The first impression is that we could have possibly found at least one honest lawyer in Chennai. He promises to produce the documents before he asks us any money and says that he will tell us the costs before he moves forward. I am a bit surprised when he comes up with a figure of 15,000 INR for the documents related to the 10 entries in the EC (Encumbrance Certificate) but my siblings and I devise that this probably includes his fees as it is such an inflated amount so we agree. What a surprise we have when not content with the 15,000 INR he then out of the blue says we need to pay him an extra 26,000 for his own fees and expenses, which would take the simple act of getting EC certificate and related 10 documents to the whopping cost of 36,000 INR. If he had asked an extra 5,000 INR we might have paid that which would have multiplied the actual cost by 4 times but would have been acceptable but not this, it is simply too blatant swindling. He says that we should realise his fees are commensurate with what lawyers do usually and that we will find this out for ourselves if we have not already found out and even puts his request through saying “pay it or else.” and lets us imagine what would be the consequences of not paying up. I fail to see what consequences really other than ending up having paid around 5,000 INR himself for a bunch of documents that will be useless to him and that we were willing to pay 15,000 INR for (except of course if he is able to corrupt people at the registrar so that we don’t get any documents subsequently – which by now I believe is very likely with my freshly acquired knowledge of how the system works in India). During this time, on the passport front, what seemed to be a promising beginning with a very nice lady introducing me to a man working within the central government who could help turns out to be yet another swindling story. Initially asking 30,000 INR to get the passport done, the person mentions that he would actually need at least 50,000 INR as it would also cost to pay the police off and funnily enough I would have to do the whole thing over the internet (like a normal request any travel agent would do) but I should make them believe that no passport was ever delivered before and I should only call him at the point of having already undertaken the request with a Kendra and gone for the meeting. At this point, there is no way I would be paying up 50,000 INR to a person whom I did not know at all without getting anything in advance and having on top of it to lie about no passport existing (while we had already filed a complaint for the stolen passport). Obviously that plan went down the drain too, not just because the corrupted cost of it with no identifiable countervalue but because it was simply ridiculous and riddled with problems.
By now, we are totally disgusted by the behaviour of most of the people we encounter and how money oriented their mindset is and how far, far from any type of integrity or spirituality they are.
To add to our woes is the way in which the police handles the matter. Despite our complaint to the Commissioner, things do not go as we expected. First I am told to come back to India within two days of the complaint failing which no action will be taken. True to the logics of how I was brought up and how I have behaved in my own profession, I take this to be a binding matter and turn up two days after in India but am told that I have to come back on Monday (while I had been commuting from Thursday to Sunday making use of the fact that Friday is a day off in Dubai while it isn’t in India). So back to Chennai again on Monday after having just returned to Dubai on Sunday morning, I am on my way to collect my father and go to the inspector’s office. My father wishes not to come as he is growing really weary of all the useless trips to the police station and other places but as the inspector seems to have questioned why it is only I and not my father who had come for the complaint at the commissioner’s office, I tell my father that his presence is really required and he has to bear with me at least this one last time to hopefully conclude the requirement for his presence. He has signed a power of attorney for me to represent him for the complaint matter arguing his old age (81) but this does not seem to be relevant as far as Indian authorities are concerned.
Now the amusing thing here is that while we are entering, a police officer stops us and says my father cannot come with me. When asking why, I am told and this totally beats any logic out of me, that it is because he is old. It would seem that old people are not allowed into the premises because it could be problematic (we are told for example that they could have loose motion, could faint while waiting, could pee and possibly even die, etc). When asking what then of the old people who have no young relatives to do the complaint on their behalf, the police officier looks at me quizzically. Oh yeah! I should have figured that one out myself. An old man on his own even thinking of making it this far to the commissioner’s office to complain? Get a life, this is India. What am I talking about? This is not Europe or the US. After some going back and forth between us and him as well as another onlooking officer, he finally decides to let us in with my father.
At the inspector’s office that Monday, we discover that the inspector who is responsible for the investigation is out of post and cannot meet me. My father and I are met by a head constable who takes down scrupulously the recount of what happened (this had already been done normally at the commissioner’s public complaint open room) and then questions my father and myself in Tamil (with a relative helping out for the translation as I don’t understand properly their Tamil). We ask for the famous Non Traceable Certificate so that I can finally get my father’s passport done but the constable declines. He says we need to get it from the Pallavaram police station and although I point out that we have already attempted to get that done without success he dismisses this by saying that they have to give it to us.
The same evening, we are called in again as the inspector is back but I go without my father who truly cannot take it anymore and just with a relative for the translation. There is some shuffling around, some pointless talk during which the inspector says that we don’t seem to be able to actually prove that the maid has been embezzling my father. I am quite nonplussed as I have given them bank account statements which show the methodical documented withdrawals by Anita Madhavan and her husband from my father’s account as well as Western Union statements which show the additional money sent to my father’s attention. A relative has also stated that my father did certainly not live like someone who was receiving that sort of money (aside from what he was supposed to own in terms of deposits and savings). The inspector says that the fact that she took out the money is not proof that she has used it for herself and the fact that she subsequently swindled the house cannot be proven because maybe my father had decided to gift her his land out of his own free will. Nobody seemed to make any case of the fact that my father had repeatedly mentioned (as he had instructed us in the case of his demise and as we would inherit as per his will) that he was willing to give her 600 sqft of his land if she served him until his death. How she ended up with around 3,000 sqft from his 2.5 grounds (or 5,680 sqft) in her name is a mystery that my father has no recollection of.
Every attempt I make to show him that his reasoning is flawed because it was clear elder abuse and swindling of my father is thwarted by him simply averting his eyes and telling me it is going to be very difficult to prove anything and definitely there is nothing much they have on her for the case to go forward. As for the land documents which we were unsuccessful in getting from the initial lawyer KSR B. and for which we had asked JG M. subsequent to the Monday interview with the inspector, he claims that these should be easy to get for no more than 4,000 INR. He does not ask for any money but says that as a police officer, he should be able to get them without any trouble but that it is for us to obtain those documents paying 4,000 INR to the registrar as it is our complaint against the maid and we should be able to document it. Again I question if it is not their duty to investigate and find out all the criminal acts themselves once a complaint has been lodged but my reasoning seems to be totally out of proportion for the way the Indian system works.
We again get to the point of my father’s passport and he again helpfully indicates how the system works, mentions that the actual archiving of the information and the deliverance of some document which indicates that the passport has been stolen is just next doors, pauses and ends up saying again that we have to get it from the Pallavaram police station. There is possibly something that has escaped my attention but owing to the stress and the language barrier (Tamil in Chennai when spoken fast is absolutely incomprehensible to me, despite my study of Tamil as a second language during my childhood) I have possibly missed out on something that could have made the process different.
During the subsequent discussion with the third lawyer to dabble into the matter, he mentions to my relative who had offered to go again to the Pallavaram station and get the in-famous Non Traceable Certificate that in doing so she would be breaking the law. He says that if she gets the NTC, this could be held against her if subsequently the same police station is able to retrieve the stolen passport from the maid and it could be claimed that she ab-used influence to get the NTC while the passport had actually been traceable. So exit this possiblity as far as my relative is concerned. Weirdly enough, after he has scared my relative into inactivity, the same JG M contacts me saying that he can get the NTC if I pay up in order to “grease” the wheels. His reasoning is that if we get the NTC through the influence my relative has and not pay anything some people could take it badly as they would not have made any money out of the matter and subsequently the police verification of the passport could go wrong and therefore we would be back to square one, my father would have no passport so would be unable to travel and things could become difficult with the ongoing investigation itself as it normally reverts back down from the Commissioner’s office to the original Police Station. A request I make to Shri MK P. from the Ministry of External Affairs listed as the person to write to in cases of stolen or lost passports which are unsolved goes totally unheard. Neither my father nor any of us is an extremely wealthy or famous person and therefore the matter is probably of no concern to the authorities and is dismissed accordingly…
It is at this point in time that I am totally and utterly disheartened by the level of corruption and absence of reaction from the authorities in such cases. Back to Dubai, I post this temporary state of mind as my facebook status. Yet I don’t think I will let this quest go and although I refuse to accept this corrupt and inefficient system, I am sure that somehow, at some point in time my father’s passport will be done and he will be able to leave Chennai finally and live a more dignified life than what he thought his hometown would offer him.
For now, we are resorting to have lawyers from outside India directly use a lawyer in India that they usually work with in order to reign in the utter greed that exists in India. As far as we have seen on the internet and browsing through law offices websites, the usual fee that an Indian correspondent lawyer asks is between 30 USD and 100 USD an hour (100 USD being for the more qualified ones although not the star lawyers) which would equate to 1,800 to 6,000 INR an hour. It would seem that the fact these lawyers usually work as correspondent lawyers binds them to not inflating their figures as they would do when meeting an NRI directly and at least the lawyers in the other countries would be bound by the stringent rules existing in their countries on establishing an engagement letter and respecting it.
For now, while I await my passport to be returned to me after cancellation of my current visa and the transfer, I guess I have to keep mum and watch and listen while the matter unfolds. More to read as and when the matter progresses and I am able to travel again…