Mumbai: No passport for son, single mother seeks help from Sushma Swaraj
Divorced 8 years ago, authorities keep refusing to issue a passport to the boy for want of dad's signature; man hasn't seen son in 4 years
Zaaria Patni with her son Mohammad
Fashion photographer Zaaria Patni has a flourishing career, which she has managed to balance with single motherhood, raising her 10-year-old son on her own.
It’s the authorities, it seems, who can’t digest that and are forcing her to choose.
After getting divorced eight years ago, Patni has made unsuccessful attempts for four years to get a passport for her son, so that she can take him along when work calls her overseas.
Thanks to an apathetic passport office, it’s yet become a reality for the mother-son duo as authorities have only made her run around for document after document, demanding her ex-husband’s signature on forms, only to reject the application at the last minute.
Patni has now started a petition on Change.org and also tweeted to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, requesting help.
There have been numerous instances from time to time of single mothers being subjected to harassment and asked to submit unnecessary additional papers to procure documents from government bodies, even if they have full legal custody of their children.
Patni’s son Mohammad uses her last name, and his father has not visited him in four years.
“My son stays with me, I take care of him and all his expenses. My ex-husband doesn’t even come to see him. Why then would a government office ask for the signature of his father? Why are single mothers made to struggle like this?” asked Patni.
Every time, she and Mohammad were made to wait at the passport office in Worli for hours, only to be sent back to get more documents.
“I first applied for my son’s passport in 2012. They kept asking me to submit several documents. Then, I dropped it. This year, I reapplied. They asked me to submit forms attested by a magistrate, which I did. Then, they asked me to give an NOC that requires my ex’s signature. But I have no connection with him,” she said.
And, when she said that her husband is in Dubai and she doesn’t know about his exact whereabouts, the passport office asked her to file a missing complaint.
“Do they expect me to keep a tab on him? It’s been eight years,” she said angrily.
Stranded at home
Being a fashion photographer and a businesswoman, Patni said, she often needs to fly abroad for work, but now, she has stopped taking such projects, as she can’t leave her son alone at home.
“Recently, I cancelled a project to London. Before that, I had gone to Dubai, and Mohammad had got very upset. It amazes me that even after all the trauma and harassment my ex-husband holds so much importance that my son can’t get his passport without his signature.”
“I feel bad when my friends go abroad with their mothers. I don’t like to stay alone when she has to fly for work. I haven’t seen my father for years; then, why are they stopping her from getting my passport? I want to go to London, LA, Paris and other places with my mother. I hope that she gets the passport soon,” said Mohammad Zaaria Patni.
No respect for SC guidelines
Several women’s right activists said they get such cases, where women are harassed for not providing divorced husbands’ details in documents. And this in spite of Supreme Court guidelines stating that a single mother can be the legal guardian of her child, and that no authority can forcefully seek the child’s father’s information.
“It’s not only the passport office where single mothers face harassment. It’s the same scene for procuring Aadhaar card or admitting their children in schools. In Githa Hariharan’s case in 1999, the apex court clearly stated that a single mother can be the legal guardian of her child. In fact, there are similar guidelines given by the Bombay High Court. But no one follows them,” said advocate Ujwala Kadrekar, women’s rights advocate and a consultant with United Nations Population Fund.
Repeated calls to the Regional Passport Office in Worli went unanswered.
The bitter fight
As per the divorce documents filed in the HC, Patni, who got married in 2005 alleged that she was physically abused as well as repeatedly harassed. “Her husband refused her entry in the matrimonial house, asking her to stay with her parents. Though she delivered a baby boy, her husband did not visit to see him,” read the judgment copy. Patni got divorced in 2009 and won her son’s custody in 2012. Though her husband was granted visiting rights, he never came. Now, he’s remarried and stays in Dubai. Patni doesn’t get any maintenance nor any alimony from him.
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