Suresh Verma, 76, is frothing at the mouth with anger as he speaks to his son sitting across the table. “You refused to give me blood when I lay sick in the hospital. You did not allow me to live in your house, you have disgraced the father–son relationship. I know that you will not even come to my funeral; all that you are interested in is my property.”
Anshu Priyadarshini, sitting at one end of the large table, tries to calm him down in her soft, soothing voice and asks the son to tell his side of the story.
“You have already given all the property to my brother; now you want to throw me and my children out of my house. The house I live in is an ancestral property, not yours, and I have an equal right to it,” says Rajesh Verma, the son, who is less hysterical, but sounds equally hurt as he makes his point.
The father and son are inside the mediation chamber at the Delhi Dispute Resolution Society’s (DDRS) Qutub Institutional Area centre. Their emotionally charged conversation is too loud to remain inside the closed doors of the wood-walled, plush air-conditioned space, lit up by bright LED lights. Outside, there are a dozen people holding files with documents, waiting for their turn to enter the room.
The walls have posters advocating the advantages of mediation—how it can save people time and money wasted in long-drawn litigation on issues relating to pets, parking, marriage, family disputes etc.
Anshu Priyadarshini is their mediator.
For the uninitiated, the society is one-of-its-kind initiative in the country by the Delhi government’s department of law and justice for alternative dispute resolution by way of mediation and conciliation in both pre and post–litigation cases. The idea is to take the burden off the courts and ‘help parties resolve their disputes amicably, economically & quickly’.
The DDRS has 10 mediation centres and receives about 9,000 cases in a year. About 40% are direct, others are referred by police stations before an FIR is lodged, consumer courts, Delhi Police’s crime against women cell, Delhi Commission for Women, financial institutions and other such forums. The maximum number of cases – about 22% -- is received at the Nand Nagri centre.
Every day, these mediation centres become a theatre of many quarrels; some mundane issues between neighbours, some emotionally wrenching disputes between father and son, mother and daughter, but all give an insight into the changing societal and family values.
Among those waiting to meet Anshu Priyadarshini is Nafisa, 25, who is accompanied by her mother. Her husband seeks a separation but Nafisa and her mother want him to return all the money –- Rs 8.5 lakh — they spent on the marriage about a year back. “He treats me like a maid, and says he will never give me the status of a wife. Soon after marriage, he started taunting me because I have studied up to class 8 only. He knew my education when he married me, but now that he has got a good job in a big company, he feels I am not fit for him,” says Nafisa.
She points to a man who has arrived with three of his relatives. “He is my husband,” she says, shifting her eyes. The husband, who seems to be in his early thirties, hardly acknowledges her presence and gets into a chat with the men accompanying him. He looks at his watch -- there is still about 30 minutes before they will together meet the mediator.
Of the 9,000 cases the society receives in a year, about 45% are matrimonial matters, 25% family disputes, 15% property and 10% neighbourhood disputes.
Some centres such as the one in Nand Nagri receives as many as 30% neighbourhood issues — mostly relating to garbage dumping and petty fights. Majority of the cases at the Parliament Street centre are related to consumer and commercial matters.
“We have seen ego is at the heart of most disputes. We had an army officer who had been locked in dispute with BSES in a consumer court for 10 years. During the mediation, we realised all the officer had asked for was a letter of apology. There are thousands of cases that need not go to the courts at all,” says Puja Dewan, director, DDRS.
She says mismatch and parental interference is often the reason behind most matrimonial disputes. “No one wants to make any adjustments these days. The other day we had a matrimonial case. A young man who came to our centre said he would go to any extent to get divorce from his wife. The wife said she would not give a divorce just to ensure he could not remarry. While the woman is an MBA, the man has studied up to class 10 and belongs to a business family. There are many cases when couples seek divorce after returning from honeymoon. The charges they level against each other are shocking,” says Dewan.
Mediation is not always a smooth affair; tempers run high and sometimes scuffles break out at mediation centres between contesting parties. “This happens once in a while in matrimonial cases. We call the police in such situations,” says Dewan. Mediators, she says, are trained to handle all kind of emotionally fraught situations. “Not every mediator needs to be a lawyer but they all must have empathy and the ability to listen.”
At present, DDRS has about 60 mediators -- lawyers, former judges, bureaucrats, doctors, teachers, social workers -- who are given 40 hours of training in the alternative dispute resolution process. Justice ML Mehta, a former Delhi High Court’s judge, is its chairman.
So, what kinds of cases are most difficult?
Anshu Priyadarshini says that it depends more on the people than the nature of cases. “The most educated are often the more unreasonable and have this desire to teach a lesson to the other person. The first thing I tell them is that I am not a judge; I am just a mediator, a facilitator in negotiations,” she says. “I meet them together and separately. I try to make them understand that in a court if one party wins, the other party loses. But if a case is resolved through mediation, both parties work out a solution themselves and are winners. The best part of mediation at our centres is that they get a neutral platform to vent their feelings.”
Nahed Anjum, a mediator at the Nand Nagri centre, agrees. “Our biggest challenge is conveying to people who is wrong. The problem is everyone involved thinks he is right. The poor and the elderly return most happy from our centres because litigation is increasingly becoming a costly and long- drawn-out affair and the elderly do not have the energy to do rounds of courts”.
After a dispute is sorted out, DDRS issues a settlement letter to both the parties with the terms of settlement.
It is 3 pm now and raining outside. One of the 22 cases listed at the Qutab centre, is one involving Rajeev Arora, a resident of Greater Kailash-1, and the Delhi Jal Board, which sent him a bill of Rs 1 lakh for three months. “First I directly approached the officials regarding the inflated bill but they just would not listen to me. But today, during the mediation, the official promised to resolve the matter,” says Arora as he walks out of the mediation chamber with the official concerned.
(Names of individuals seeking resolution of disputes have been changed to protect their identity)