Monday, March 16, 2015

Marital Surnames aren't a legal necessity. Then why hang on to them?

A school friend of mine recently separated from her husband. Her divorce proceedings are on, and it's not long before she will legally cut off all martial ties with him. We used to be fast friends once upon a time, until a silly confusion cropped up between us. We have stayed away from each other since then, although my heart yearns to mend the broken ties with her. But to no avail. 
Recently while dillydallying on facebook, I saw her profile on another of my friend's 'friend list'. And to my astonishment, she was carrying her father's family name as opposed to her husband's, which was a choice she had made after tying the knot. What startled me the most was her attitude towards the surnames of the men in her life. 
She was madly in love with her 'then boyfriend and now husband' and maybe that's why she decided to wear a new surname after getting wedded to him. Which is rightly her decision. 
But then again, her idea to switch back to her father's surname in the midst of personal crisis was proffering allegiance to patriarchy, which rabid feminists like me will never come to terms with.

Are we owned by our father's family names or surnames before marriage and that of a husband's after the martial bliss? Why are we burdened to change it on our legal documents and even on our facebook profiles? 
Let's ask ourselves a very important question before we humbly bow to the idea of switching surnames? Do our brothers change it after getting married to their spouses or do our husbands change it to our surname or first name after being married to us?
By being forced to change our first names, as it happens in some communities in Maharashtra, or our  surnames aren't we being forced to legally cut ties with our birth family? 
As per the Indian laws, it is not mandatory to change our surname and adopt our husband's surname or first name as it happens in south India. It is your sole discretion to keep your father's surname or change it to your husband's. One can stick to their father's surname and indulge in all legal activities like opening a joint bank account. Even then I've heard cases of forceful compulsion, when the marriage was on the rocks, only because the lady in question had refused to budge to a practice that she thought was patriarchal and not legally a requirement. 
In Islamic countries, women retain their maiden surnames after marriage, and no one threatens them with dire consequences or cracks a joke about it.
In India under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, a woman can use any name including her married name, whether she is married or divorced, until of course her husband has no objection.
Then why are we so hung up about the same? Probably because, we are too petrified to make strong choices. Or are we scared of the silly babus in the government offices  like the passport office or in banks? The marriage certificate will ward off all such evil spirits, if you were to ever come across any.

Quoting a few lines from an article I had written for E-feminist, a feminist magazine in early 2013.

" Most Malayali women take on their husbands' surnames, as done throughout south Indian communities, in which the practice is common. They are morally compelled to do so, and few challenge the practice because they do not want to launch a fight for individual identity that could earn them the reputation of rebels. Thus women move from their father's household to their husband's, demonstrating allegiance and surrendering autonomous will to each patriarch. The social identity of these women is recognized in relation to the men of their families, and their first names do not play an important role in identifying them."

Feminists like me have a strong dislike towards the practice since changing our surname to that of our husband's or hyphenating it with our maiden names forces us to hang on to a man, a father or a husband for an identity in the society. Which men do not have to adhere to, before or after marriage.

Recently a blogger friend of mine announced it with great pride and gusto that her fiance would take on her first name after their marriage, and she won't be arm twisted into changing her last name. What a great moment of joy it was. 

On a personal note, I do not like belonging to dad, so I am making up my mind to go through the legality of dropping my dad's first name, and stick to my first name and middle name. I use the same for facebook. And will not fiddle with it if I were to ever get married.



Anita said...

Nicely shared, Rinzu!
Yes, a woman must have the freedom & choice to think, feel and act as per her desire; rather being burdened with 'log kya kahenge?'

rinzu rajan said...

Yes, to keep or drop the family surname is entirely a woman's choice. Although i personally do not subscribe by it, I believe choices of any kind need to be respected!