M.P. Mehrotra, J.
1. This appeal is directed against the order of the District Judge allowing an application under Section 25 of the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890. The respondent No. 1, Mukhtar Ahmad, claiming to be the real father of a male minor named, Mohd. Yusuf, sought for the return of his custody as the guardian of the said minor,
2. The brief facts are these: The appellant, Smt. Ainun Nisa, is the daughter of the respondent No. 2, Mohd. Munir. The appellant was married to the respondent No. 1, Mukhtar Ahmad. In 1962 she was divorced by her said husband and after that divorce the latter remarried another woman from whom he has several children. Smt. Ainun Nisa also remarried one Sheikh Bhullan. There is a minor son of Smt. Ainun Nisa whose name, according to Mukhtar Ahmed, respondent No. 1, is Mohd. Yusuf but according to Smt. Ainun Nisa, the appellant, and Mohd. Munir, the respondent No. 2, his name is Ghani. Mukhtar Ahmad claimed that the said son of Smt. Ainun Nisa was begotten by him. However, the lady denies this allegation and says that the said son is from her second marriage with Sheikh Bhullan and his real name is Ghani and not Mohd. Yusuf as alleged by Mukhtar Ahmad. In fact, Ainun Nisa has denied that she ever lived with Mukhtar Ahmad as husband and wife and, therefore, there was no question of any issue being begotten by Mukhtar Ahmad. It has been further pleaded by the lady and by her father, Mohd. Munir, that in any case, the welfare of the said minor demands that he should continue to reside with his mother and should not be transferred to the custody, of Mukhtar Ahmad who has a second wife with him and from whom he has several children. The District Judge, before whom the application under Section 25 was made has held that the minor in question, is the son of Smt. Ainun Nisa from Mukhtar Ahmad and not from her second marriage with Sheikh Bhullan. The trial Court reached the said conclusion on the basis of its examination of the oral and documentary evidence. So far as the documentary evidence is concerned, the trial Court has placed its principal reliance upon a notice dated 19-7-1962 which was allegedly, issued by Smt. Ainun Nisa to Mukhtar Ahmad applicant. In this notice, there is a statement to the effect that she had gone to her Maika along with her son. The trial Court has said that the document in question had been duly proved on behalf of the respondent No. 1. Mukhtar Ahmad. I do not think that the said finding is correct. The notice dated 19th July, 1962, has not been exhibited. No one has proved the handwriting of the said notice. Mukhtar Ahmad appeared as A. W. 4 and he has only said:
'Uske bad Ainun Nisa ki taraf se notice mujhko mili jo kagaz No. 1 fihriest 12 Ga 1 ka hai.'
This is not proving the handwriting. The notice is in Hindi whereas it has not even been proved that the lady could read and write. Her disputed thumb impressions have been proved and the handwriting expert has been believed on that point. If the lady was affixing her thumb impression on the postal acknowledgment it is not clear how she could pen the notice dated 19-7-1962 in Hindi. This notice has not been sent on her behalf by any counsel but purports to be by the lady herself. It is to be remembered that we are dealing with a case of a Mohammedan lady and the alleged reply is in Hindi. Therefore, I do not think that the trial Court's finding on the question of the paternity of the minor can be said to be completely beyond the pale of doubt. However, I will not discuss this aspect of the matter in detail as I do not propose to base my judgment on this aspect of the controversy, I am basing it on other considerations which I state hereinafter.
3. Even if the minor be held to be the real son of Mukhtar Ahmad, still, in the circumstances of the case, I do not think the trial court was justified in directing that he should be taken away from the custody of the real mother and should be sent to the custody of the father. It is true that the father is a natural guardian of his minor son under the Mohammedan Law. But still, as Is too well established to be disputed, in proceedings under Section 25 it is not the guardianship of the minor which is of importance but the welfare of the minor which has to be taken into consideration while deciding about the custody of the minor. In the instant case, the important admitted facts are these:--
(1) The minor has, admittedly almost from his birth, lived either with his mother or at the place of the mother's mother and not with the father.
(2) The minor was aged about 10 or 11 years when he was examined as a witness in the case and the trial court has clearly recorded that he was intelligent enough to be administered the oath. He clearly expressed his preference to remain in the custody of the mother and refused even to recognise Mukhtar Ahmad as his real father. The boy seems to be fairly intelligent and seems to have an acquaintance with the Kuran from which he recited certain quotations. The trial Court in its judgment says that the boy must have been tutored by the mother, Smt. Ainun Nisa and her present husband, Sheikh Bhullan, Now, this is a pure surmise for which there is no basis. The said Court at another place in the judgment has put the entire blame on Smt. Ainun Nisa. In the impugned judgment it is observed:'She has even tutored the boy to disown his real father, She has again persuaded Sheikh Bullan, namely her second husband, to obviously claim the paternity of the boy.'
I have not been shown any basis for these conclusions which seem to be pure surmise. Even though the boy may not be believed in regard to his statement that Mukhtar Ahmad is not the father, and even similarly Sheikh Bhullan may be disbelieved in regard to the paternity of the boy, still, I do not think that all these acts of commission and omission can be laid at the door of the lady in question. In my view, in the circumstances in which the boy was placed and brought up, could ordinarily lead him to exercise the preference in the manner in which he did. Even if Mukhtar Ahmad as his father, still the minor never lived with him and lived in the custody of the mother or mother's mother. He could not recognise his father in such a situation and it seems to me somewhat odd that a court of law should direct a minor, who has been living with his mother or mother's mother since his birth, to be taken away from the said custody and to be given to one who is basically a stranger from him even though he may be a real father. I do not think that in such circumstances the welfare of minor is likely to be better served by disturbing the custody of the minor. To me, it seems somewhat cruel that a boy of tender years should be directed to leave the place where he has passed all his years and go over to the custody of an unfamiliar person even though the person may be the father. In my view, a mere claim to legal guardianship in such a situation will not stand on a higher footing than the claim of the real mother to continue to have the custody of the minor who has remained in her custody or in the custody of her mother since the birth of the child.
4. Even though I have said that it is not necessary for me to examine the merits of the finding recorded by the trial Court to the effect that the minor is the son of Mukhtar Ahmad, still, I can draw attention to one aspect of the matter. The said finding is at least debatable and it cannot be said to be an impossibility that factually the finding may not be a correct one. There is at least an off chance that the reality in question may be different from the finding of fact recorded by the court below. The mere fact that there may be such a possibility is sufficient to be taken into consideration in disturbing the custody of the boy. It will be a frightening thing if a person, who is really not the father, succeeds in getting the custody of the minor particularly when the minor is admittedly in the custody of the real mother and has been in such custody since his birth.
5. The trial Court has tried to suggest that Mukhtar Ahmad had a justification not to file the application under Section 25 before the boy attained the age of 7 years, as according to the said court under the Mohammedan law, the father could in the normal course, claim custody of the boy after he had attained the age of 7 years, I do not agree with this approach. Even before a minor attains the age of 7 years if his mother remarries the real father can file an application under Section 25 and claim custody on the ground of remarriage of the mother of the minor. Hence, in the instant case if Mukhtar Ahmad really wanted the custody of the boy then there was nothing to prevent him from making the application under Section 25 even before the boy attained the age of 7 years. I do not suggest that if such an application had been moved earlier it should have been allowed but the failure of Mukhtar Ahmad to move earlier is a circumstance which I can interpret against him. Moreover, Mukhtar Ahmad has not said anything to the effect, in his statement, that he did not file the application earlier because under the Mohammedan law he had to wait till the minor attained the age of 7 years. The trial Court has brought out this explanation on its own. Thus, taking the entire circumstances into consideration, particularly the psychological aspect of the matter also, (which I think is very relevant while considering the welfare of the minor). I am of the view that his welfare will not be served by disturbing his present custody as sought to be done by the judgment of the trial Court.
6. Some cases have also been cited before me and I now proceed to consider them. Learned Counsel for the appellant placed reliance on the following cases:--
Sultan Ahmed v. Smt. Sabira Bibi, 1969 All LJ 799, Gangarapu Chinna Sambayya v. Polepalli Rudrappa AIR 1935 Mad 568, Balram Mandal v. Rajani Mandalain : AIR1964Pat505 , Samuel Stephen Richard v. Stella Richard : AIR1955Mad451 , Mrs. Annie Besant v. Narayaniah AIR 1914 PC 41.
7. On the other hand, learned Counsel for the respondent placed reliance on the following cases:--
Venkatarama Ayyangar v. Thulasi Ammal : AIR1950Mad320 ; Mt. Ulfat Bibi v Bafati : AIR1927All581 and Abdul Aziz Khan v. Nanhe Khan : AIR1927All458 ; : AIR1955Mad451 (supra); Baddi Reddi Bulliraju v. Kedam Surya Rao, AIR 1959 Andh Pra 670.
8. Besides the above cases a reference may be made to the following cases:--
Shyama v. Shanker, 1935 All LJ 1014 : : AIR1935All840 ; Smt. Shanti Devi v. Rattan Chand AIR 1962 Punj 367. In 1969 All LJ 799 (supra) it has been laid down:--
'A careful analysis of the personal law relating to guardianship and Section 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act lead to the following conclusions:
(1) The Court while deciding the question of guardianship of a minor must, as far as possible do so consistently with the personal law to which the minor is subject.
(2) Where the dictates of personal law indicate one course of action and consideration of the welfare of the minor indicate another, the former must be subordinated to the latter. The words that furnish a key to the correct legal position are to be found in Section 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act. Principles of personal law must be applied 'subject to the provisions of this section'. In other words, if there is a conflict between _the personal law to which the minor is subject and considerations of his or her welfare the latter must prevail.'
In AIR 1935 Mad 568 (supra) it has been laid down as under:--
'The father is the natural guardian of his minor children and he has a right to claim the custody of those children, but that right can be defeated if the Court is of the opinion that it is better in the interests of the minor that the minor should remain in its present custody and not be returned to -- that of the father. In considering the question of the minor's welfare the question as to whether or not the petition asking for the custody of the minor is bona fide, that is a reason for not disturbing the custody of the minor, What has to be considered in all these cases is the failure on the part of the father or the person who is prima facie entitled to the custody of the minor to take steps over a long period to get custody of the minor. Another matter which has to be taken into consideration is whether he is a fit person for the minor to be returned to him. Should the father be proved to have been guilty of bad treatment to his wife, the minor child's mother, he would not be a desirable person to have the custody of the child.'
In : AIR1964Pat505 (supra) it has been laid down as under:--
'In appointing a guardian for a minor under the Act the interest and welfare of the minor is the first and main consideration and in such consideration the court should have regard to the age, sex and religion of the minor, the character and capacity of the proposed guardian and his nearness of kin to the minor.
Where the mother is not otherwise unfit to be the guardian and by keeping the boy under the guardianship of the father the step-mother of the boy who has been ill-treating him would for all practical purposes be in control of the boy then the mother should be appointed guardian of the boy in preference to father as she will be a much better guardian than the step-mother.
The same result will follow even under the provisions of Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 as Sections 6 and 13 of that Act read together only reaffirm the provisions of Sections 7 and 17 of the Guardians and Wards Act that in appointing a guardian of a minor the welfare of the minor is the main consideration.'
9. In : AIR1955Mad451 it has been laid down as under;--
'In deciding the question of custody, the welfare of the minor is the paramount consideration and the fact that the father is the natural guardian would not ipso facto entitle him to custody. The principal considerations or tests which have been laid down under Section 17 in order to secure his welfare, are equally applicable in considering the welfare of the minor under Section 25.
The application of these tests casts an arduous duty on the court. Amongst the many and multifarious duties that a Judge in Chambers performs by far most onerous duties are those cast upon him by the Guardians and Wards Act. He should place himself in the position of a wise father and be not tired of the worries which may be occasioned to him in selecting a guardian best fitted to assure the welfare of a minor and thereafter guide and control the guardian to ensure the welfare of the ward a no mean task but the highest fulfilment of the dharmasastra of his own country.'
10. In AIR 1914 PC 41 (supra) their Lordships at page 44 have observed:--
'It is and always open to the respondent to apply to His Majesty's High Court of Justice in England for that purpose. If he does so the interests of the infants will be considered, and care will be taken to ascertain their own wishes on all material points.''
11. In : AIR1950Mad320 (supra) it has been laid down:--
'Preference expressed by a boy or girl of 13 or 14 is not entitled to much or any weight at all especially where the minor's attitude is not natural, bona fide or intelligent one.'
This is a single judgment pronounced of the said Court.
12. : AIR1927All581 (supra) has been principally relied upon by the trial Court in its judgment and again reliance has been placed upon the said authority before me also. In the trial Court's judgment the passage relied upon from the judgment of this Court has been extracted and I do not think it is necessary that I should again reproduce the same. However, the case is distinguishable on many grounds. The observations which have been relied upon in the judgment of the trial Court were made in the particular facts and circumstances of the case. At another place in the said case the Division Bench has observed:--
'We have no doubt whether that it is in the interests of the minor prima facie and upon the facts as they are known to us, that the father should have the custody. We know nothing against him; nothing has been alleged against him.'
13. It was further emphasised by the Bench that the mother in the said case had 'abandoned her home and husband by her own free will or as the result of her conduct and in the eyes of the law she has lost the right to assert a claim against the father for the child and probably the right to assert this appeal.'
14. In the said case no preference was exercised by the minor and I, therefore, hold that the pronouncement made by the Division Bench and relied upon by the trial Court cannot be said to be applicable to every set of facts and circumstances however different they may be from the facts involved in the said case before the Division Bench. How the welfare of the minor will be better served, will depend upon the circumstances of each case and, therefore, the guidelines cannot be laid down in a rigid manner.
15 : AIR1955Mad451 has already been noticed.
16. In : AIR1959AP670 (supra), it has been laid down as under:--
'The paramount consideration in the decision of the question arising under Section 25 is the welfare of the child. It is true that a father is the legal guardian of the child under Hindu Law, but in deciding whether a child should be entrusted to the care of a particular person, it is not so much the rights of the individuals that should be taken into consideration as the interest of the minor child.'
17. In : AIR1935All840 , it has been laid down as under:--
'Where a minor was very nearly of full age and she stated quite definitely that she did not wish to live with her husband, who ill-treated her; and her welfare was safe in the hands of her father in whose custody she was at the moment; held, on the application of the husband that his minor wife be delivered into his custody, that in the circumstances it was not for the welfare of the minor to return, to the custody of the husband and an order under Section 25, Guardians and Wards Act, for the return of the minor to her husband should not be made.'
18. In it has been laid down as under;--
'The provisions of Section 25 confer on the Guardian Court a discretion to be exercised in the interest of the welfare of the Minor which is the dominant factor in considering the question of the return of the minor to the custody of his or her guardian. The Court is not bound necessarily to hand over the minor's custody to the guardian merely because the latter applies for it. The Court has to consider and weigh all the circumstances and then come to a determination of the question.'
19 : AIR1927All458 is a pronouncement under Section 7 of the Guardians and Wards Act and deals more with the right of a father as a natural guardian. Actually, it has been repeatedly laid down in cases under Section 25 that it is not so much the right of the guardian with which the Court is concerned as the welfare of the minor. The said pronouncement is not an authority for deciding the controversy under Section 25.
20. In my view the trend of the recent decisions is clear, namely, that in these matters the welfare of the minors is of supreme importance and not much weight is to be attached tp the rights of the natural guardian. The cases also have laid down that if an intelligent preference is exercised by the minor then that should be given due recognition. I have already stated that the trial Court itself opined that the minor was intelligent enough to be administered the oath and his statement has been intelligently made. In my view it was a natural statement which he made in the circumstances in which he was placed and, therefore, taking into account the totality, of the facts and circumstances, I think I must allow this appeal and set aside the judgment of the trial Court.
21. The appeal is hereby allowed. The judgment of the court below is set aside. The application of the respondent No. 1. Mukhtar Ahmad, under Section 25 shall stand dismissed. The parties shall bear their costs throughout.