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Supreme solace

Supreme solace
Highlights

A landmark judgement by the Supreme Court on Monday put paid to the ignominious harassment and hardships of single mothers, particularly unwed, in the country. The Apex Court did well to hold in no uncertain terms that an unwed Hindu mother is at her liberty to disclose the name of the father of her child and can have the custody of the child, sans any consent of the father.

A landmark judgement by the Supreme Court on Monday put paid to the ignominious harassment and hardships of single mothers, particularly unwed, in the country. The Apex Court did well to hold in no uncertain terms that an unwed Hindu mother is at her liberty to disclose the name of the father of her child and can have the custody of the child, sans any consent of the father.

The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act mandates that a woman is required to get the man's permission before applying for the guardianship of child. The historical ruling upholds the rights of an unwed mother to privacy as allowed under the Article 21 (personal liberty). This has ended the tortuous travails of single and unwed mothers in the country to procure any documents for the child such as birth certificate, passport etc.

The two-judge bench headed by Justice Vikramajit Sen rightly observed that the welfare of the child would not be undermined if the woman is not compelled to disclose the identity of the father. The Court was providing relief to a woman who sought guardianship of her child born to her out of wedlock. Even the High Court, in this case Delhi, insisted that she declare the name of the father or get adoption certificate from a Court.

The SC judgement follows a similar historical ruling it gave in May 2014 when it held that the children born out of a live-in relationship should not be termed illegitimate. Now, as in western countries, how a woman raises her child is entirely her business alone in India, too – naming the father or not is her sole right.

In stigma-ridden India, already looked down upon by the society for living alone and bearing a child out of wedlock, single mothers have been facing harassments from officials as well in regard to any document for the child or for its custody. The Supreme Court’s judgement has now freed them from the shackles of regressive social and legal norms, by making out-of-wedlock children perfectly as legitimate.

Already under the amended Guardians and Wards Act, a mother is also eligible to be the guardian, if the father is unfit. But in out of wedlock cases, this becomes difficult. However, in accordance with latest landmark ruling, the patriarchal and regressive implication of a section in the Indian law, which stipulates that “Father is the natural guardian of his minor legitimate children, sons and daughters," has been turned on its head.

Not only does the judgement allow a single and unwed mother to become the sole legal guardian of her child without the consent of the child’s biological father, but it also permits her to keep the man’s identity under wraps. In ridding the much maligned and harassed single unwed mothers of legal and official harassments, the Apex Court delivered a much progressive judgment, in keeping with equality before the law. Centre and States must, without any delay, take suitable measures to enforce the judgement forthwith.

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