The Supreme Court verdict that an unwed mother can be the sole guardian of her child is a leg up for women’s rights. In the instant case, the woman did not want to reveal the identity of the child’s biological father because he was a married man with a family and did not want to take any additional responsibilities. She also did not want to attach the tag of “father” to the man who had no interest in the welfare of the child. She wanted only the child to be the inheritor of her property and income. She did not want his involvement, when he was not ready to share the burden of bringing up the child. The litigant had a special problem. She was a Christian, a fact that did not allow her to be the guardian of the child by virtue of her maternity. In other words, she suffered on two counts.
As an unwed mother, she suffered from inequities based on social prejudices and as a Christian, she suffered from the inequities of the law. Under the Guardianship and Wards Act, the child’s father’s consent was a must for her to become the guardian. In fact, that was what the High Court also decided. However, the Supreme Court took into consideration the fact that she was “well-educated, gainfully employed and financially secure” to meet the needs of her child. An upshot of the verdict is that an unwed mother can hereafter receive birth certificate of her child by merely submitting an affidavit. Also, the child’s father’s consent will not be necessary for the mother to get the guardianship of her child. In other words, the verdict has great significance for women. As the apex court has pointed out, the petition also highlights the need for a uniform civil code, which the Constitution mandates.
The case had arisen only because the petitioner was a Christian. Had she been a Hindu, she could have been the child’s sole guardian by virtue of her maternity. The Christians face discrimination as they cannot adopt. They can only be guardians. Once the child attains adulthood, the guardianship will also end. They themselves have been demanding reforms in their personal laws. There are many contradictions in the personal laws, as are applicable to various communities. It is time they are sorted out in the larger interests of the country. After all, women have every right to be treated as equal citizens of the country.