SHIMLA: For them, International Father’s Day has no relevance. They are a group of “harassed” men who have been denied their parenting rights. These are divorced fathers who have been demanding equal access to their children.
These fathers are keen to take care of their children as a practice and make this law mandatory through legislation.
“This Father’s Day (June 19), we are seeking parenting rights and joint custody of children in case of divorce or separation,” Shimla-based software engineer Atul Sood (name changed) said.
Sood, who has been facing a divorce case, said: “Despite a court order, my wife and her family is not allowing me to meet my kid. For more than three years, I have not met her and even not seen her.”
Added Ramandeep Bajwa of Chandigarh, “In spite of the court giving me the permission to meet my child, the mother tutors the kid not to speak to me when the meeting takes place. So when I go to meet my child, she doesn’t speak to me at all.”
“It’s really shameful that I have fathered the child but I can’t speak to her,” he added.
Bangalore-based NGO Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), with more than 2,500 members across the country, said shared parenting and joint custody of children should be implemented as a rule in divorce or separation cases.
“On Father’s Day, we demand the basic rights of children to access both biological parents. For this, there is a need for implementing shared parenting and joint custody as a rule in separation and divorce cases,”
CRISP Founder and President Kumar V. Jahgirdar said from Bangalore. “It’s not fair on the part of the court to interview the child for selecting a parent (in divorce case). There should be no interview of the child up to the age of 12,” he said.
CRISP, with its regional chapters in Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow, has been fighting to set up special courts to deal with child custody cases.
“We are demanding special courts to deal with child custody cases and address the problems faced by the parents who have been deprived of the joint custody,” said Jahgirdar, who is fighting for shared parenting of his daughter with his ex-wife.
“Moreover, all child custody cases should be settled within three months of application in the family courts,” he added. Bajwa said the courts have a more favourable approach towards mothers.
“Indian matrimonial and child custody laws are biased against men,” he added. CRISP is demanding punishment for people who misuse the Indian Penal Code as a tool to deprive the father and his family members of access to their children.
S P Sidhu, a leading lawyer based in Chandigarh, said: “As per law, a child below the age of five always remains in the custody of the mother and the father doesn’t have the right to bring him or her up.” “Even if the child is more than five years old, the court generally favours the mother for custody. However, only in exceptional cases the court gives custody to a father, that too after he convinces the court that the mother is not taking care of the child well,” he said.
Delhi-based child counsellor Ekta Singh said: “For a child, both the parents are equally important and isolation of one of them in most cases leads to mental distress and trauma in the child.”
According to CRISP, during 2008, 9,000 divorce cases were filed in Delhi, 7,500 in Mumbai and 5,000 in Bangalore. The figures were collected from family courts in the three cities.