Aiku & Akbar: Two religions, one family, and a court approval

Fourteen-year-old Akbar's appeal to the judge to let him remain with his Hindu guardian instead of transferring him to his Muslim mother has shot Aiku Lal Sandil to national headlines. However, for the tea vendor from Baradari, Lucknow, taking in Akbar wasn't something he thought twice about. Having been raised by a Muslim man himself, Sandil couldn't just look away when he found the six-year-old lost boy in a Lucknow park eight years ago.

"I am a Hindu brought up by a kind Muslim man. When I found Akbar, it was like God telling me that it is time to return the love and care I got from His people. I was never forced to change my religion and, having got that education from my guardian, it was my duty to take care of the child and bring him up as per his own religion," Sandil says.

The bond the two share was acknowledged by the Allahabad High Court in January 2008 when it turned down Akbar's biological mother Shahnaz Begum's habeas corpus petition. Shahnaz had argued that since Akbar was a Muslim, if Sandil raised him, it would "create dichotomy and disharmony in the social sphere and in their relationship".

Dismissing her petition, after Akbar said he wanted to live with Sandil rather than his parents, Justice Barkat Ali Zaidi said India is a secular country where the consideration of caste and creed should not be allowed to prevail. "...If there can be inter-caste marriages... there can also be an inter-caste 'father and son' relationship and that need not raise eyebrows," the judge said.

Shahnaz has now moved the Supreme Court, and last week it asked her to file an affidavit on her monthly income, the property she owns and the school where her other two children study.

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