New Delhi: A legal battle for the custody of a four-year-old Pakistani girl has reached the Delhi High Court, which on Friday issued notice to the Pakistan High Commission seeking its assistance in resolving the issue involving the child`s paternal aunt and maternal uncle.
The child had lost her Pakistani mother and Indian step father in June this year in an accident while they were on way to Srinagar from Delhi.
An advocate in Lahore, her paternal aunt, sister of the child`s Pakistani biological father who expired in 2012, sought her custody shortly after she was informed about the mishap.
The aunt, Shazia Naz, thereafter filed a habeas corpus plea saying she was in touch with her niece till July 17 after which whereabouts of the child were unknown and wanted that the girl be handed over to her.
The situation today, however, took a surprising turn after the child`s maternal uncle, also a Pakistani national, appeared before a bench of justices Reva Khetrapal and SP Garg, which is hearing the matter, and submitted that he and his wife have custody of the girl.
He also said that he cannot bring the child to Delhi from Srinagar as she is not medically fit to travel due to injuries suffered in the accident.
On the other hand, counsel for Naz said her client be given custody of the child or in the alternative the girl be sent back to Pakistan as she hails from there.
The bench refused to pass any such orders, saying the issue involves Pakistani nationals and the courts in Pakistan are the competent authority.
"If these people are Pakistani nationals, what business do Indian courts have to interfere in the matter. Let the courts in Pakistan settle the issue," the bench said, adding "It appears to be a custodial dispute".
It sought assistance of the Pakistan High Commission to ascertain whether the girl is a national of that country and whether her maternal uncle, John Barkat, resides there, as Naz contended that he resides in Japan, even though he is a Pakistan national.
The court also directed Delhi police to verify the passport and present residential address of Barkat and listed the matter for further hearing on August 25, as the child`s visa is about to expire.
The court, in its order, said, "Status report (of Delhi police) has been perused. As per the report, child is stated to be presently in the custody of maternal uncle, John Barkat, who is present in court and states that he is a Pakistani national.
"The SHO of police station concerned is directed to verify the passport and present residential address of John Barkat. Notice is also issued to Pakistan High Commission. It shall be mentioned in the notice that issue sought to be resolved is that of a Pakistani national, who has lost both her parents, and the Commission`s assistance is required."
The Delhi police, in its status report, has said the child, her mother Shabnam Barkat and the woman`s second husband Shabir Ahmed had met with an accident on June 14 on the Srinagar-Jammu highway near Awantipora in Anantnag district of South Kashmir.
While Ahmed died on the spot, Shabnam succumbed to her injuries later in the last week of June. The child, who had suffered serious injuries, is currently staying with a relative of Shabir, the report filed through advocates Saleem Ahmed and Charu Dalal said.
It also said that Shabnam`s first husband had died in 2012 and she had remarried in 2013.
The police said it had found out these details from one Manzoor Ahmed, who was found to be the owner of a mobile number used to inform Naz, in Pakistan, about her sister-in-law Shabnam`s accident. Manzoor was found to be a relative of Shabir.
Meanwhile, state of Jammu and Kashmir submitted its status report stating that Shabnam and her daughter had violated visa conditions by entering the state as their business visa was valid only for Delhi, Mumbai and Pune.
The state has also said that Shabnam had remarried in 2013 after her first husband, Azeem Sheraz, died in 2012 and that the child was born to Shabnam and Azeem.
The state also said that the girl is currently staying with her maternal aunt and uncle in Srinagar.
On August 14, the court had sought status reports from Delhi police and state of Jammu and Kashmir, on Naz` plea for custody of her minor niece.
Naz, in her plea, has claimed that she received calls on her Lahore number from two persons one of whom claimed to be a travel agent based in Delhi.
These numbers had been provided to Delhi Police which had said it will try to trace the persons who called from those numbers.
The petition also said these persons had informed Naz on July 17 that her niece has been discharged from hospital and they are bringing her to Delhi for further medical care.
However, since July 17 there has been no contact with those two persons, the petition said, adding that subsequently, Naz had reached Delhi on August 1.
According to the petition, the girl and her mother had entered India through Wagah border on June 13 on a business visa.