From the Viewsroom

A blow to patriarchy

Venky Vembu | Updated on December 24, 2018

A recent court directive advances the rights of single women

A recent directive of the Madras High Court in an unusual paternity case advances the progressive spirit of earlier rulings by other courts, including the Supreme Court, in related matters of gender justice. In the most recent instance, the petitioner, Mathumitha Ramesh, who had been legally separated from her husband, had subsequently conceived a child through artificial insemination. But her efforts to get authorities to leave the father’s name blank in the child’s birth certificate were repeatedly rejected, partly due to bureaucratic cussedness but largely because notions of patriarchy are hard-wired into the DNA of officialdom.

Even given the complexities of the case — the name of a male friend of the petitioner’s had been erroneously entered as the child’s father — the officials’ unwillingness to accommodate the petitioner’s repeated requests for name deletion and leaving the ‘father’s name’ column blank betrayed an excessive preoccupation with rules and regulations, unmindful of the human dimension. However, the judge’s directive in the case — directing authorities to leave the father’s name blank — sends out a sterling signal against regressive notions centred around paternity. The Madras High Court directive advances the spirit of other similar rulings, including, famously, by the Supreme Court in a 1999 case. That case, in which author Githa Hariharan was the petitioner, challenged the RBI’s rejection of an application for investments in her son’s name (with her as the “natural guardian”), on the grounds that under Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, the “natural guardian” was the father. In her petition, Hariharan argued that the provision discriminated against women in the matter of guardianship rights over their own children. In its ruling, the Court asserted the pre-eminence of the child’s welfare in all considerations, and held that in this instance the mother was the “natural guardian”.

When all else fails, it is courts that have steered bureaucratic rules away from the rigidities of a patriarchal system.

Venky Vembu Associate Editor

Published on May 20, 2018

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