In a deeply patriarchal and misogynistic society such as ours, growing up was not easy for Rohit Shekhar Tiwari. In fact, it was downright confusing — whispers of his paternity, infrequent visits from a well-known politician and his entourage that left his mother in tears, birthday wishes and promises that never left the confines of their house.
So, when he found out at the age of 11 that his father wasn’t Bipin Sharma, the name given on his birth certificate, but former Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand chief minister ND Tiwari, his reaction wasn’t surprising.
The senior politician refused to acknowledge his son’s existence in public, though he spoke to him affectionately in private. This behaviour enraged Rohit and fuelled his seven-year quest to prove that he was Tiwari’s biological son. “I must be one of the first in the world to fight to be proven a bastard,” he had said in an interview to the BBC in 2014.
The landmark court battle, which started in 2008, when Rohit was 28, was a first of its kind in that a child and not a parent filed the paternity suit. It was also unique because the court made a distinction between ‘legitimacy’ and ‘paternity’ for the first time.
In 2010, Justice S Ravindra Bhat said, “The protective cocoon of legitimacy should not entomb the child’s aspiration to learn the truth of his paternity.” He subsequently asked Tiwari to submit a DNA sample to settle the issue. But it wasn’t until 2014 that the former governor of Andhra Pradesh acknowledged Rohit as his son and married his mother Ujjawala Sharma. By this time, Rohit had already suffered a massive heart attack and a stroke.
Winning the court case wasn’t enough for him, he wanted to help eradicate the stigma that is attached to women who have children out of wedlock. He wanted words and phrases such as ‘bastard’, ‘illegitimate child’ and ‘unchaste woman’ banned in legal proceedings. In some ways, despite whatever flaws he had, he was a revolutionary.
So, while the father and son may have reconciled, it seems unfortunate that his primary identity became ‘ND Tiwari’s son’ after his death. Tiwari, if had his way, would probably have never let his ‘secret’ slip. According to reports, in 2006, Rohit, tired of trying to convince his father to acknowledge him, sent letters around Uttarakhand telling people that he is Tiwari’s son. This didn’t work as Tiwari chose to call Rohit a blackmailer. This is when the latter decided to file a paternity suit. The suit was initially filed in 2007 but was rejected because of a technical glitch. He re-filed it in 2008.
Rohit, who was murdered on April 16, eventually entered politics like his father but his career never quite took off. After 2014, his name slowly disappeared from the headlines, until his untimely death. According to reports, he was found ‘unconscious,’ bleeding from his nose, by the house help on April 16, around 3.30 pm. He was taken to Max Hospital from his Defence Colony residence around 5 pm, where he was declared brought dead. It was initially termed as a natural death but the postmortem revealed he was strangled and smothered to death. On April 24, the Delhi police arrested his wife, Apoorva Shukla (35), for his murder.
He supposedly stumbled home drunk late at night and had an argument with Apoorva, a lawyer. The relationship wasn’t steady to begin with but when he told her that he shared a drink from the same glass as his sister-in-law, Apoorva got furious and allegedly strangled him. In order to keep him from shouting for help, she supposedly smothered him with a pillow. Investigation regarding this is ongoing.