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Making Mother First Guardian Laudable Proposal

Updated: June 9, 2012 11:10 am

Let’s accept it at the outset: Making women the first guardian for all official purposes is truly laudable but should have been done a long time ago. Also, we have to accept the fact that it is the mother who shoulders the major role in not just conceiving the child but also in bringing him/her up and many times says goodbye to her own promising career for taking proper care of the child in his/her upbringing. One is yet to hear of a man who sacrificed his own promising career to nurture and nourish his child which clearly vindicates the paramount role played by women in shaping her child’s future.

It would be significant to mention here that just recently a government panel comprising the Planning Commission’s Working Group has made a laudable proposal that the mother who primarily looks after the children should be listed as first guardian for all official purposes. It has recommended a review of all existing laws, rules and regulations in order to make women equal guardians of their children and to ensure that the mother’s signature as a guardian is universally accepted in all official records which is truly historic and laudable. It also merits elaboration here that in the present circumstances, it is only the fathers who are mentioned solely as the first guardian in all official documents, including birth certificates, school and college admission forms which is highly discriminatory and is totally absurd. If this laudable proposal is accepted by the government, it will ensure among other things that women are brought not only on parity with men but also accorded her first right over her child immaterial of the fact of her being married or divorced.

Most significantly, these recommendations are an integral part of a slew of historic measures which have been suggested by the Planning Commission’s Working group so that our laws can be made more Gender sensitive which in the present circumstances are woefully not and it is the women who has to suffer most from it all. This is exactly what the panel seeks to redress which all progressive citizens must welcome.Further, it is also pertinent to mention here that the panel has also been quite forthright in asking the government to revisit laws related to maintenance and guardianship to ensure that separated women get adequate maintenance and custody rights over their children and are not deprived of the same on one or the other specious ground.

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. A member of the Planning Commission’s Working Group which made these recommendations said quite explicitly: “Once all laws are relooked in light of the recommendations, the women will not be forced by any government or private agencies such as schools or passport offices to mandatorily disclose husband’s names. The suggestion, if accepted, would ensure women’s first right over a child whether she is married or divorced.’’ Undoubtedly, it will go a long way towards saving women from loads and loads of unnecessary mental stress and strain.

Another member had to say on it said: “The existing laws on the issues are archaic and were conceptualised with a patriarchal mindset.’’ 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 minced no words in stating 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 to amend Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, to permit the mother to have the custody of a minor till he/she is 12 years old by saying clearly: “It is necessary to allow the mother the custody of a child till it attains the age of 12 to prevent the father from using the child as a pawn for securing complete submission of the wife.’’

By Sanjeev Sirohi

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