Make Mother First Guardian Empowering Women
At last wisdom seems to have dawned on our policymakers and they seem to have realised that it is in child’s own best interest that mother is made the first guardian of her child. In a heartening move, the Planning Commission’s Working Group for the first time has arrived at a logical conclusion: “Since normally it is the mother who primarily looks after the children, she should be listed as the first guardian.” Moreover, how can we be oblivious of the famous dictum which only vindicates the conclusion arrived at by the Working Group that, “When you educate a man, you educate an individual but when you educate a woman, you educate the entire family?”
Let us also not be oblivious of the clinching fact that it is woman who bears maximum suffering in not only child’s upbringing but also in enduring the endless pain while the child is in stomach for nine months and when it comes out of her body! It is the mother who breastfeed the child and not the father! Still why should woman be denied the natural right of being the first guardian of child? It is certainly not a hidden fact that most of the children are emotionally more attached with their mother and tend to always confide everything in them which certainly further vindicates the natural right of woman being the first guardian of child which most unfortunately has been wrongly denied to her for no fault of hers.
Let’s accept it that making women the first guardian for all official purposes is truly laudable but should have been done a long time back. Also, we have to accept the fact that it is the mother who shoulders the major role in not only conceiving the child but also in bringing him/her up and most of the times willingly say adieu to her own promising career. How many men sacrifice their own promising career to nurture and nourish their children which only serves to vindicate the paramount role played by women in shaping their children’s future?
It was way back in 1995 that an eminent author Gita Hariharan had approached the Supreme Court seeking justice for being unfairly denied the right of being recognised as a natural guardian of her minor son under the prevailing guardianship laws which our colonial British rulers had framed titled ‘ Guardian and Wards Act of 1890’ which have now become totally archaic. After fighting a three-year grueling legal battle, the Supreme Court also upheld her claims in a landmark judgment which compelled even our policymakers to take note of. This alone explains why the Working Group of Planning Commission also felt it imperative to moot review of archaic laws to extend to mothers equal rights over kids which is their basic right also.
It is heartwarming to note that this Group has suggested a slew of path-breaking initiatives to make our laws more gender sensitive and has recommended a review of all laws necessary for making mothers equal guardian of their children. It minced no words in categorically asking the government to revisit laws pertaining to maintenance and guardianship to ensure that separated women don’t suffer endlessly and they get adequate maintenance and custody rights over their children and are not deprived of the same on one or the other specious ground. There is no ambiguity that this historic proposal is coming a tad too late in India but it is better to be late than never.
It is not for nothing that the Law Commission in its 83rd report which was submitted in 1980, had very categorically suggested amendment in guardianship laws. It stated emphatically: “Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 was enacted 90 years ago. At the time, women had scarcely any rights: for them there was only social and legal degradation, material insecurity and other manifestations of dominance and false superiority of men.” It also recommended that Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 must be amended to allow the mother the custody of a minor till it is 12 years old to prevent the father from using the child as a pawn for securing complete submission of the wife which is truly laudable.
It goes without saying that when these recommendations made by the panel are implemented in letter and spirit, the status and standing of women will be emancipated to a great extent although still a lot more needs to be done to bring them on a par with men but at least a good beginning will commence and so must be done at the earliest. It certainly will ensure among other things that women are brought not only on parity with men but also accorded her first right over her child under all circumstances whether she is married or divorced.
By Sanjeev Sirohi