Hariharan v. Reserve Bank of India

The petitioner, who was married with a son, applied to the respondent, the Reserve Bank of India ("RBI"), for bonds to be held in the name of their minor son and had signed off as his guardian. The respondent sent back the application to the petitioner, advising her to either produce the application signed by her son's father or produce a certificate of guardianship from a competent authority in her favor. The respondent was of the opinion that the petitioner's husband was the natural guardian on the basis of Section 6(a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (HMGA). That provision stated that the father is the natural guardian of a Hindu minor child and the mother is the guardian “after” the father. The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of this provision in the Supreme Court on grounds that it violated the right to equality guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court, relying on gender equality principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution, CEDAW and UDHR, widely interpreted the word “after” in the provision and upheld the constitutional validity of Section 6(a) HMGA, 1956. It held that both the father and mother are natural guardians of a minor Hindu child, and the mother cannot be said to be natural guardian only after the death of the father as that would not only be discriminatory but also against the welfare of the child, which is legislative intent of HMGA, 1956. This case is important because it established for the first time that a natural guardian referred to in the HMGA, 1956 can be a father or a mother: whoever is capable of and available for taking care of the child and is deeply interested in the welfare of the child, and that need not necessarily be the father.



Avon Center work product