IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY
ORDINARY ORIGINAL CIVIL JURISDICTION
GUARDIANSHIP PETITION NO. 25 OF 2012
Angelina Miranda … Minor child
Mr. Rajan Chawla …Petitioner
Mr. Lisbon John Miranda …Respondent
GUARDIANSHIP PETITION(L) NO. 163 OF 2012
Mrs. Louella Fernandes …Petitioner
Mr. Rajan Chawla …Respondent
Mr. Rohaan Cama a/w. Ms. Lata Bachani
i/b. I.R. Joshi & Co., for Petitioner in GP. No.25/2012 and Respondent in GP(L).No.163/12
Mr. Uday P. Warunjikar for Respondent in GP No.25 of 2012 and Petitioner in GP(L) No.163/2012
CORAM : MRS. ROSHAN DALVI, J.
Date of Reserving the Judgment : 27th November, 2012
Date of Pronouncing the Judgment: 6th December, 2012
1. The Petitioner in Guardianship Petition No.25 of 2012 is the maternal grandfather of the minor child, Angelina Miranda who is 3 years 9 months of age (grandfather). The Petitioner in Guardianship Petition (L) No.163 of 2012 is the paternal aunt of the said minor child (aunt).
2 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment
2. The mother of the minor child has expired. She died an unnatural death. The father of the minor child (who is the Respondent in Guardianship Petition. No.25 of 20012) has been accused of murdering the mother of the child. A charge under Sections 302 and Section 498Aof the IPC has been framed against him. The criminal prosecution is pending. His initial bail application was rejected on 27 th June, 2012 pending investigation of the case against him. His second bail application has been rejected on merits. A criminal revision application filed against the said order has been rejected on merits yesterday by the Sessions Court. The father of the child is in jail custody since the incident which took place on 25th May 2012.
3. The grandfather took his granddaughter on the date of the incident itself to his residence. He has since cared for the child.
This aspect has not only been admitted in the affidavit in reply filed by the father, but it has been specifically stated by the father that from 25th May, 2012 the child has been taken in the custody of the grandfather.
4. Neither the father nor the aunt of the child sought to apply for custody of the child until today when the affidavit in reply to the grandfather’s petition has been filed by the father and a separate petition has been filed by the aunt. In fact the father has specifically stated that “there was nobody to take immediate steps to bring back the child” in para 10 of his affidavit in reply to the petition of the grandfather. Though it is alleged by the 3 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment aunt in para 13 of her petition that the grandfather has taken the child along with himself after the death of her mother, it is rightly argued by Mr. Cama that none has filed any criminal complaint of kidnapping also.
5. The child has, therefore, been adjusted to the grandfather and his family since the last about six months whilst her father remained in jail custody and her aunt, who resides separately, had not sought to care for her.
6. The first natural and legal guardian of the child is her father. The aforesaid circumstances show that he is wholly unfit to be given custody of the child. In fact it is impossible to do so. Hence, the grandfather, who has taken the child since the date of the incident itself would be entitled to keep custody of the child and be appointed her guardian unless he is shown to be unfit to be so appointed or unless a more fit person applies for and can be appointed.
7. The aunt of the child has applied as late as today. Her petition shows that her application is made upon instructions received from the father from prison to file a guardianship petition. It is her case that “considering the same” and at his “request” “desire” and “instructions” given to her, her petition is filed. Accordingly it is seen that the aunt has not been self motivated. She has acted at the instance of the father. Aside from her negative act in not applying for or desiring to have the custody of the child or access to the child from May, 2012, her 4 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment application is admittedly only at his instance. She, therefore, has neither any experience yet of living with the child nor any personal desire to do so of her own accord.
8. Between the grandfather and the father the grandfather is the most apt and fit person to be appointed guardian in view of the prior undisturbed custody.
9. Between the grandfather and the aunt also the grandfather is more fit for the above reason.
10. A child is not a chattel. Custody of the child cannot be altered upon the instructions of the person who cannot claim custody in view of his unfitness and cannot be thrust upon another who herself does not desire to have it and has not taken any action in that behalf of her own accord.
11. The grandfather of the child is stated to be 61 years old.
He is in business. That fact is admitted as not specifically denied. He claims to have an income of Rs.50,000/- p.m. That fact is denied. The extent of the income is not shown. The grandfather has one son who is married and in business. That fact is also not denied. The grandfather, therefore, has none other to support except his wife and grandchild. He lives with his wife who is stated to be 52 years old upon the Court’s query. The child, therefore, has a grandmother to care for her in the house. He also lives with his son and daughter-in-law. The child, therefore, has maternal uncle and aunt in the same house 5 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment to care for her. This constitutes a large, even family conducive to the good upbringing of the child away from the child’s father whose conduct is under a cloud pending the criminal trial.
12. The father in his affidavit in reply as also the aunt in her petition have set out the extent of the father’s previous family.
The father claims to have seven sisters. The grandfather has shown six sisters of the father. One is a divorcee and unemployed, one is an Air-hostess living in Delhi, two other sisters being unemployed, another sister being a housewife living separately in Mumbai and two married sisters living in London and Doha. These particulars are admitted except for the fact of their unemployment and income. Whilst denying these aspects no particulars of the employment or income are provided by the father or aunt. In any event reference to six or seven sisters made by all the parties is fully inconsequential. None has cared for the child so far or made any application in that behalf except the Petitioner aunt.
13. The Petitioner aunt, who is stated to be 49 years old is married and has two children. Her son is studying in College and her daughter has married. Her husband has retired. The Petitioner herself was a beautician. She left her job twice to care for her own son when he was in Standards X and XII. She has not stated that she is now employed. Consequently, whilst the aunt of the child is unemployed, her uncle has retired.
14. Though the sufficiency of the income or even the income 6 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment of the grandfather is denied, the aunt has not shown her own income or her husband’s income after his retirement which would be used for the upbringing and education of the child. She has only stated about the time that she and her family members have to devote to the child. She has also not stated about the willingness of her family members to devote the time that they are stated to have for the welfare of the child. She has stated that her six sisters will “also contribute in all sense” for the upbringing of the child. The aunt who is appointed guardian would be required to keep the child in her residence with her own family consisting of her husband and son. It matters little that her other married and unmarried sisters who live elsewhere may contribute anything for the upbringing of the child. The aunt has stated that one of her sisters is a special needs teacher. She claims to be in a better position to protect the interest of the child upon the qualifications of her sisters. The minor child who is the ward of this Court is not in need of a special needs teacher. She needs a home where she can grow without stress or trauma and reflections or memories of her past about the death of her mother and the imprisonment of her father. The maternal grandmother and maternal aunt and uncle of the child living in the same house would be more conducive to contribute to her upbringing than of her aunt, who, at the instance of her father has filed the petition without stating about the consent of her own husband to her act of applying for being appointed guardian of the child.
15. It is not known whether her guardians husband, her uncle, 7 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment would accept her whole heartedly given the fact that her aunt herself has applied only today and at the instance of her brother who is in prison. Of course, even the consent of the paternal grandmother of the child would be equally desirable to be shown to Court. But given the fact that the child has already lived with her maternal grandparents from the date of her mother’s death since she was taken by the grandfather, the consent and even the desire of the maternal grandparents can be more readily accepted. Reading the Petition as filed by the aunt along with the affidavit in reply of the father a whole hearted desire of the family to care for the child is not shown.
16. It is argued on behalf of the aunt that Section 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 enjoins the Court to consider the welfare of the minor having regard to the age, sex and religion of the minor. Not only that, the character and capacity of the proposed guardian and his nearness of kin to the minor, the wishes of her deceased parent and the relations of the proposed guardian with the minor an equally aspects to be statutorily considered. The relevant part of Section 17 runs thus:
“17. Matters to be considered by the Court in appointing guardian. – (1) In appointing or declaring the guardian of a minor, the Court shall, subject to the provisions of this section, be guided by what, consistently with the law to which the minor is subject, appears in the circumstances to be for the welfare of the minor. (2) In considering what will be for the welfare of the minor, the Court shall have regard to the age, sex and religion of the minor, the character and capacity of the proposed guardian and his nearness of kin to the minor, the wishes, if any, of a deceased parent, and any existing or previous relations of the 8 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment proposed guardian with the minor or his property. (3) If minor is old enough to form an intelligent preference, the Court may consider that preference.”
17. It cannot be gainsaid that the welfare of a child is the prime concern of any Court in passing any order for the child’s guardianship and custody. The appointment of a guardian under a Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 would entail the guardian to be put in the position of her parent. It would be akin to adoption. Hence all the aforesaid aspects may be separately considered:
The child is less than 4 years of age. At such tender age she must be left to grow where she is accustomed. Appointing the aunt as a guardian would require the child to be uprooted from her present environment and abode.
It is argued on behalf of the aunt that the child is a female and the aunt is a female and the sex must be accordingly considered. The argument is absurd. The first legal and natural guardian of any female child is the father and he is not of the same sex. What is understood by the concept of sex in para 2 is more profound. If in a given case a female child would be exposed to a single male guardian having no females in the residence, it may not be an appropriate relationship for the Court to sanction. It is in such cases that the sex of the parties would be a determinative factor. In a close-knit, healthy, happy family, which is the norm in our Society, sex is not intended to 9 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment be made a barrier to the appointment of the guardian.
It is also argued that religion is an important factor. The father is a Roman Catholic; the mother of the child was a Hindu (Sindhi). It is argued that the child must be brought up as a Roman Catholic. Catholic Rituals must be performed and she must attend a Convent School where the ideals of the Christianity would be taught.
It would be insulting to Christianity to see the father of the child who is a Christian being convicted of murder of his wife. The child would not get the idealism of Christianity from a father who has been imprisoned during her minority having been charged with murder of her mother and cruelty towards her. Be that as it may, that aspect has yet only been prima facie seen in his applications for bail which has been rejected, but has not been conclusively proved upon his conviction in the criminal trial.
It is surprising to note that neither the father nor the aunt deemed it fit to put values of Christianity into the upbringing of the child until now. It is stated in para 19 of the petition of the aunt that religious ceremonies in respect of the child are required to be performed as she is 3½ years old. Mr. Warunjikar argued that that is a Baptism ceremony. It is a well-known fact of which judicial notice is required to be taken that a child is baptised within a few days of birth. If Baptism ceremony is now required to be performed, it is not shown why that ceremony has not been performed for the first 3 years when the child lived 10 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment with the father before the death of her mother and why it was not sought to be done even thereafter until today when the petition has been filed.
21. It is argued on behalf of the father that the parties had contracted a marriage under the Special Marriage Act. This is fortified by the facts stated by the aunt in para 3 of the petition. It shows that the mother of the child was requested by the father of the child to convert to Christianity, but she avoided the conversion and refused to convert to the Christian religion.
22. The concept of religion in Section 17(2) has also been misinterpreted by the aunt. It does not contemplate, as has been argued by Mr. Warunjikar that in our patriarchal Society only the religion of the husband must prevail. That argument and such interpretation is directly contrary to the freedom of religion under the Constitution of India and will be gender discriminatory where each individual is allowed to profess and practice the religion of his or her choice and respect for all religions is enjoined. There is no greater religion amongest the great religions. What is to be understood in consideration of the religion of the minor is that a minor who has been brought up upon the tenets of any of the great religions be not disturbed by thrusting upon the minor the tenets or traditions of another religion which would cause stress and trauma upon the minor during the delicate years of his/her growth. Admittedly in this case the mother of the minor child who was a born Hindu refused to convert to Christianity. She has died a Hindu. The 11 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment child was, therefore, cared for by a Hindu mother and a Christian father. It would have been an ideal situation if both the parents had impressed and bestowed upon the child the best of both their religions. Whatever may have been the upbringing of the child until the death of her mother, she has been cared for in a Hindu family since her death. There is no reason for any upheaval by any disturbance of that state of affairs. Consequently, in fact considering that the minor has been exposed to the Hindu religion, which none can fault, the application of the aunt that certain ceremonies of Christianity, hitherto not performed are now required to be performed demonstrates the desire to disrupt the peaceful environment and surroundings of the child. This must be seen along with the immediate fact that the father of the child had requested the mother of the child to convert to Christianity which she refused and avoided until her death. It would be in the interest of the child that the child is kept away from any religious dogma to which she has not been exposed in her infancy so as to leave her childhood carefree and stress-free.
23. Character and capacity of the guardian:
Though the character of the father cannot be vouched for, the character of the aunt as well as grandfather is not in dispute. The grandfather has demonstrated his capacity and intention by his action; the aunt has not.
24. Nearness of kinship:
The grandfather would be closer as a kin of the minor than 12 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment the married aunt. The existing relations of the child with the grandfather is unquestionably better than with her aunt who has herself not shown any relationship with the child prior to the filing of the petition today.
25. Wish of the deceased parent:
In view of the admitted fact that the mother of the child consistently resisted conversion to Christianity, she would have also wished her child to follow the Hindu religion. Such wish of the deceased parent is demonstrated upon the admitted fact of the father requesting her to convert which she refused. The minor being less than 4 years old is herself not eligible to make an intelligent preference with enjoins the Court alone to pass the order based upon the facts shown to Court.
26. The grandfather admittedly had custody of the child since 25th May, 2012 when her mother died and he brought her to his house. The grandfather has applied for being appointed guardian of the child in the absence of her own natural parents, since 12th July, 2012. The Petition came up on board for hearing since 9th October 2012 when the father was represented by his Advocate upon service having been effected since 12 th September, 2012. Time was granted to the father to file his affidavit in reply on 9th October, 2012. The Petition was adjourned to 23rd October, 2012. The affidavit in reply was not filed on the adjourned date. An interim order for protection of the fixed deposit receipt standing in the name of the mother was passed and the petition was adjourned to 26 th November, 2012.
13 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment The affidavit in reply has been filed today by the father along with a separate petition by the aunt. The facts taken up by the father and the aunt and the contentions of the father and the aunt have been considered. The petition is amenable to disposal upon the aforesaid admitted facts. The grandfather is allowed to proceed on the basis of denial of the statements in the affidavit in reply of the father and the similar petition of the aunt. The only aspect which is simplicitor denied by the father is the income of the grandfather. The income of the aunt is not even stated. The precise extent of the income is not a determinative factor either under the aforesaid statutory provision or under the principles of equity that must guide the Court to see only that the minor child is reasonably well provided materially, but cared for emotionally.
27. It would be unnecessary to call upon parties to lead evidence in view of largely admitted facts which are required to be considered in terms of the law under Section 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.
28. My attention has been drawn to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Nil Ratan Kundu & Anr. Vs. Abhijit Kundu AIR 2009 SC (Supp) 732 and in the case of Bimla Devi Vs. Subhas Chandra Yadav ‘Nirala’ AIR 1992 Patna 76 in which also upon the unnatural death of the mother and the father facing the charge under Section 498A the Court preferred the child to remain with the maternal uncle to the father. Upon seeing the wishes of the children in that case, the 14 GP. 25/2012 & GP(L). 163/2012-Judgment Supreme Court held that the moral and ethical values were even more important and essential considerations over physical comforts. Consequently, in this case the father would be a wholly unfit guardian at least before he is acquitted of the charge against him and since the aunt has filed the petition only at the instance of the father she would not be clothed with the required essential fitness to be the guardian.
29. Consequently the petition of the grandfather is granted and the petition of the aunt is dismissed.
30. The grandfather is appointed guardian in respect of the person and properties of the minor child Angelina Miranda.
(MRS. ROSHAN DALVI, J.)