In a country where the judiciary often presides over cases that involve brutal crimes carried out in the name of religion and sectarian violence, a Muslim couple recently decided to give home to two Hindu children who had been left orphaned at a very young age in the Indian city of New Delhi. Calling his decision to adopt the two children a noble endeavor, the High Court recently appointed a commercial pilot, Mohammad Shah Nawaz Zaheer, and his wife as the legal guardians of the two twins, Ayush and Prarthna, under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act.
Justice Nazmi Waziri delivered this landmark verdict that allows cross-religion custody while also sanctioning a trust opened in the name of the two children, where the Indian Commercial Pilots Association along with other donors have contributed more than Rs 1 crore. By virtue, the whole estate and remaining wealth of the children’s deceased parents will automatically be transferred to the trust and not the guardians.
When the media visited Zaheer’s home last month, it found that the children were bonding rather well with the entire family. Zaheer said, “The HC order streamlined everything to allow the twins to integrate with us. I have a three-story house and my in-laws and parents live with me. Ayush and Prarthna are the cynosure of their eyes. Since the court appointed me as guardian, now they will get a passport and can travel abroad with us.”
Zaheer also shared how the court had entrusted another person, Arun Saini, a well-wisher in the neighborhood, to ensure that the children have access to Hindu religious instructions and are allowed to visit a temple for prayers. “I don't want them to ever convert. They will be raised as Hindus,” he said.
The children, who lost their parents within a year’s time in 2012, were left at the mercy of their driver, who went to great lengths to take care of their basic needs.
While their father Praveen Dayal, also a commercial pilot, had asked Zaheer to foster the twins, the latter was unsure about taking on their responsibility, as distant relatives of Dayal’s alleged that Zaheer was only interested in the children’s bank accounts and family property. As work kept Zaheer busy, he was stunned to receive a call from the twins one day, when they complained about being abused and treated badly. That is when Zaheer decided to file a suit under the Guardianship Act, requesting the court to approve of him as the legal guardian of the two children.
In his appeal, Zaheer told the court that before succumbing to his illness, Dayal had requested him to take care of his children. He also included a statement from Dayal’s brother, who said that he has complete faith in Zaheer for discharging the duties of a guardian. With their grandmother and maternal uncle both settled abroad, Zaheer pointed out that the children had nobody else to turn to.
“Poets and writers of different literatures have elegantly articulated and eulogized the principle of foster care and guardianship amongst the foremost and finest human duties. The essence of human endeavor is caring for innocent lives,” Waziri observed, quoting poets Nida Fazli and Javed Akhtar to stress that “taking care of orphaned children who are in urgent need of foster care and the protection of their interests is amongst the noblest of human endeavors.”
The court also noted that all the money the children are entitled to would be kept in the Ayush and Prarthna Benevolent Trust until they turn 25 years, which means that all insurance companies, banks and financial institutions would continue to make payments to this trust.
Advocate Yogesh Jagiya, who worked on the case pro-bono, viewed the judge’s ruling as an unprecedented order. “It was a cross-religion matter. There have been cases of adoption but not of guardianship where you only raise the children but have no rights in their property. We worked hard to convince the court,” he said.
Admitted to one of New Delhi’s most renowned public schools, Ayush said he would want to become a pilot and his sister said she would want to become a designer.
Photo Credits: Focus News