- Dr. A.S. Anand, CJI.
- M. Srinivasan, J.
- U.C. Banerjeee, J.
Facts of the case
The Petitioner, Ms. Githa Hariharan, married Dr. Mohan Ram and they had a son named Rishi born in July 1984. The Petitioner applied for RBI Relief bonds in the name of her son Rishab, a minor at the time of application and she signed off as his guardian. A few days later, RBI rejected the application and asked the petitioner to produce an application signed off by the natural guardian i.e., Rishab’s Father, or in an alternative, RBI asked her to produce a certificate of guardianship declaring her as the natural guardian by the prescribed authority in relevant procedure. RBI also gave the reasoning behind this rejection, which was; Section 6 (a) of The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 does not allow the mother to be a natural guardian if the father is alive and as Rishab’s father is alive, only he can apply for the bonds. After this, Ms. Githa Hariharan decided to take this to the Supreme Court as she thought this provision was discriminatory and needed correction.
- The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of Section 6(a) of the The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Acy, 1956 which says father is the natural guardian of a boy or an unmarried girl and after him the mother will hold guardianship.
- The Petitioner wanted to invoke Article 14 and Article 15 to correct this provision.
SECTION 6 of The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956
6. Natural guardians of a Hindu minor. —The natural guardians of a Hindu minor; in respect of the minor’s person as well as in respect of the minor’s property (excluding his or her undivided interest in the joint family property), are—
(a) in the case of a boy or an unmarried girl—the father, and after him, the mother: provided that the custody of a minor who has not completed the age of five years shall ordinarily be with the mother;
(b) in the case of an illegitimate boy or an illegitimate unmarried girl—the mother, and after her, the father;
(c) in the case of a married girl—the husband: Provided that no person shall be entitled to act as the natural guardian of a minor under the provisions of this section—
(a) if he has ceased to be a Hindu, or
(b) if he has completely and finally renounced the world by becoming a hermit (vanaprastha) or an ascetic (yati or sanyasi).
Explanation. —In this section, the expressions “father” and “mother” do not include a step-father and a step-mother.
The Petitioner, Ms. Githa Hariharan, and her Counsel argued that the RBI’s recommendation is arbitrary as it is discriminating, and Article 14 and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution does not allow this type of discrimination and thereby challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6(a) of The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. She argued that the said section is discriminating against women and put women at a disadvantage concerning guardianship rights related to their own children.
Fundamental Rights holds an important position in the constitution of India and by no means they must be infringed and right to equality provided by Article 14 which talks about equality before the law and equal protection of law and Article 15 which ensures Prohibition of discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Supreme court also took a close look over the issue raised and upheld the constitutional validity of Section 6(a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, but, while interpreting the word “after” in the mentioned section it held that both the father and mother are natural guardians of a minor Hindu child. Mother is not the natural guardian only after the death of the father as that would be discriminatory and also against the welfare of the child. Therefore, the Supreme court once again gave utmost importance to the issue of gender equality.
The intent of the lawmakers was the complete welfare of children and the Supreme court also used this reasoning while interpreting the word “after”. This case marks a landmark judgment in matters of guardianship in India. Fundamental rights give power to gender equality and, in this case, Article 14 and Article 15 save the day.
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