The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mother-role glare on school

Calcutta, Oct. 8: At 25, Namita Hira has known life only as a struggle. Living in remote Duttapulia village in Nadia district with a husband struck down by a crippling ailment was not easy. Neither was bringing up her son single-handed.

A fresh ordeal began for Namita last June when she took her 11-year-old son for admission to Class V in the Duttapulia Union Academy, a state-aided higher secondary institution. She had one request: she be accepted as the boy’s guardian as her crippled husband, Atin, would not be able to fulfil his duties because of his physical inabilities.

Her request was turned down, but Namita refused to give up. She took her fight to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, whose chairman Mukul Gopal Mukherjee today said he has ordered a probe and sought a report from headmaster, Nirmal Nandy.

Speaking to The Telegraph from the office of the Sreema Mahila Samity, a district-based NGO working for the betterment of women, Namita said: “When I requested Nirmalbabu to admit my son by recognising me as his guardian in consideration of my husband’s condition, he insulted me and asked me to get a certificate from the panchayat pradhan.”

Stung by the humiliation, Namita had approached a school managing committee member, who arranged for the boy’s admission and also helped her take on the school authorities. “I am still unable to understand why mothers are denied guardianship of their wards in educational institutions,” she said.

The samity also took up her case and wrote to Mukherjee on July 11, seeking his intervention. “We have been fighting Namita’s case since we feel that the school authorities have acted wrongly by not acknowledging her guardianship,” said samity secretary Bani Saraswati.

Saraswati added that Namita’s was not an isolated case: the school had meted out the same treatment to six other women in the locality.

Taking strong exception to the manner in which Namita and the others were denied guardianship of their wards, Mukherjee said: “This is injustice on the part the school authorities not to accept mothers as guardians. I have sought an explanation from the school headmaster and secretary respectively.” He cited a Supreme Court ruling in 1999 in the case of Gita Hariharan versus the Reserve Bank of India, in which the apex court had said “…mothers can act as a natural guardian during the lifetime of the father…”.

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