Early this week the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgement that an unwed mother can be appointed as the sole legal guardian of her child without the consent of the father. The order by a bench led by Justice Vikramjit Sen goes beyond the Guardians and Wards Act and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act which require that a notice be sent to the child’s father to obtain his consent when a plea for guardianship is moved. The petitioner, who had a son out of wedlock by a man who had married another woman, was denied to name her son as the nominee to her financial savings and insurance policies until she identified the child’s biological father in the documents. The requirement put her in a predicament because the biological father was not aware of the birth of the son and could deny any relationship with him should he be asked to identify himself as the one in official documents.
The Supreme Court found it unjust to deny the unwed mother the right to take care of her child when she was well educated and had enough financial resources as savings and insurance. The verdict is going to be of immense value to an increasing number of single women in India who are bringing up their children in the way traditionally we thought only men could do. The lower court and the Delhi High Court had held that the process of law required issuing a notice to the father when a guardianship petition is moved. The Supreme Court overturned the High Court verdict, and rightly, because the disclosure of the name of biological father would create more problems for both parents as well as the child. Also, identifying the father was not mandatory on a passport application form, so why here? In a country women still live behind suffocating barriers, the SC endorsement of a single woman’s right to bring up a child alone has come as a silver lining. Being a single mother carries social stigma. She is an object of pity to some and object of contempt to others. Being mother of a child out of wedlock makes it worse in the traditional social set-up.
Above all, the Supreme Court verdict establishes the suitability of mother for the upbringing of her child. Good upbringing has traditionally been credited to father, almost ignoring mother’s role. At best, mother is given only minor credit. A woman – least of all a single woman – was not considered capable of bringing up her child in the best possible manner. The SC bench goes to the extent of saying that the “mother is best suited to care for her offspring, so aptly and comprehensively conveyed in Hindi by the word ‘mamata’ (affection).” No doubt, the court elevates mother to the status of father as far as upbringing of a child is concerned, but in trusting every woman’s ability to bring up a child entirely on the basis of her innate “mamata” the judges might have gone overboard. A woman shouldn’t be given the right to a child because her gender comes with a notion of ‘mamata’ attached to it. She should be given custody only if she can successfully and independently bring up a child by herself.
CCP Workers’ Option
The tough stance of the mayor of the Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) on the workers’ strike is going to get tougher in the coming days. He has exercised the option of getting private workers to collect garbage. He is going to continue with it as long as the workers are not ready to return to the negotiating table for an open-minded talk. The workers have taken the confrontational route, which is not going to be in their short-term or long-term interest. There are many financial issues that plague the CCP, which the workers trade association has been pointing at. There may be rightful and outstanding dues of taxes and cesses the CCP authorities are known to have failed in collecting. But there is little doubt that the financial health of the CCP is not excellent. For whatever reasons it may be – mismanagement, corruption or indifference – the finances of the civic body of the capital have not registered such a phenomenal upward graph that it should not mind paying its workers the kind of salary hike they are asking for. Under the tight circumstances the CCP has told them what it can pay them. The workers should accept it for the time being, or see if they can extract some more. But join they must their duty again.