Tuesday 27 September 2011

A Feminist ‘Beyond Repair’!

‘What is in a name? Very much if the wit of man could find it out,’ says a well known saying. But very often we have seen how women change their surnames after their wedding. This issue was raked up by a friend whom I met online after 16 years, thanks to the Facebook.

“You haven’t changed your name?!” pinged one of my classmates the other day.

I was surprised by the question. I asked: “Sorry?”

She replied: “You haven’t changed your surname. It still says ‘Arjunpuri’!”

“What do you mean? Why should I change my surname?” I asked with a small doubt what she wants to know.

“You are married and you should change your surname now. Why are you using your maiden surname?” I could not understand if it was a concern or a complaint. She continued: “You should use your husband’s surname or his name along with yours. If you don’t, it’s bad for him.”

I was completely taken aback and tried to cut her short, but the dentist friend continued, “See, I have changed my surname after the wedding. I’m proud to use my honey’s surname,” she went on insisting. I lost my temper now, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“But I don’t like to change my surname, I’m happy with my name. Even my husband is fine with it. If you have changed it, it’s your wish dear. Don’t insist on me to do what you have done,” I said politely.

“I have changed it in my passport as well. Otherwise it’s difficult to travel with him, visa problem you see. You will know when you travel abroad,” she blurted.

Did she forget I’ve also travelled and I’m not living in India anymore? I wanted to remind her of that, “I never faced any problem, I have travelled with my husband and we have never faced any such problem.” 

“How are they giving the visa to you? Don’t they check for similar surnames? Didn’t the guys in the passport office tell you that you need to change the surname after your wedding?” her questions came up one after another.

“Just to get a visa, you need not change the surname after the wedding. Provide your marriage certificate with your original surname and then who can make any problem anyways?” I wondered, continuing, “A woman has all the rights to retain her surname even after her marriage. You were born in a nice family, your parents have raised you, given you good culture, values, education and what not? You are a dentist, rather say an individual, today because of your parents (I have not forgotten the fact that her father had to sell his ancestral property for her education and her parents are today living in a rented house). They have given you all that can make somebody’s life more beautiful. They have shared your joys and sorrows for nearly 25 years till you got married and still they continue to share all emotions with you. And suddenly a prince charming appears from nowhere and you forget everything about your parents? Forget your surname? Why?”

Thank god, she allowed me to say that much. Even before I could say anything further, her reply popped up (should admire her typing speed though): “Society has put certain rules and it accepts only those who follow them in life… I believe in that and every woman should believe in that…”

“Hello, stop, stop…” I had to check her before she could continue: “My mom hasn’t changed her surname even after 39 years of her marriage. My dad never asked her to do so. He respects her as an individual and she’s free to retain her name intact.”

“But having your husband’s name gets you more respect in society,” she said, making me to feel like screaming at her. “Do you mean to say you are not respected if you use your parents’ surname? That’s an insult. Don’t demean your parents and their surname after the wedding please.”

I think she felt offended. Her next few lines became little too harsh. Her lines said: “I knew you were different, you were a rebel during school days, but I never understood to this extent. From a mere rebel, you have become a feminist beyond repair!”

I had no chance to tell anything further because, immediately she went offline and here I look at myself and wonder am I a feminist beyond repair? It’s been a week since she raked up the issue and I’m thinking all possible reasons behind why I didn’t change my surname.

Yes, quite often women change their surnames post wedding. Some feel that they have entered a new and permanent family and it’s their duty to have their husband’s surname. But I have also seen many women who continue to retain their surnames after the wedding and some women adding husband’s surname along with theirs making the name much longer! But will that sound better? Depends, some names gel very well and some may sound too odd, but again choice is all yours!

Now, there was this classmate who willingly changed her surname soon after the wedding, thanks to the caste system. Coming from a backward class community, she readily accepted the surname of her husband who came from an upper caste (No need to tell that it was a love marriage and they had married against the will and blessings of their parents). I still remember the day when she got wild in a friend’s wedding when she was introduced with her old surname. The very mention of her old surname made her to scream at other friends and she reiterated her new surname which put her of course in the upper caste ladder! So for some, it’s also a matter of convenience and prestige in India.

Another friend of mine told me a few days back that Shariah (Islamic law) gives all rights to women to retain their original surname and they cannot be forced to change it. “In fact, Islam upholds the rights of women like no other religion has ever done, but people are unaware about it and there’s always a wrong conception that Islam suppresses women,” she said. And I wonder why women of other religions in India are forced to change their surnames after wedding. Is it a way of suppressing women’s voice by patriarchal society? But why is it that women also cooperate with men in this act? Do they suffer from identity crisis? Then, I was curious to know how did the use of surname began and realized that the use of a surname is relatively new in history and was adopted in order to legally distinguish two individuals with the same first name. At first, these last names were not passed down to the next generation. The Chinese were among the very first cultures to adopt the use of hereditary surnames about 5000 years ago. In Europe, surnames weren’t used until the 10th or 11th century AD in Venice. Gradually throughout Europe, all nobility and gentry adopted surnames until eventually surnames were used by all Europeans of all classes.

Now, coming back to the point, there was a time when girls were considered to be a burden on the part of parents. There have been many instances of female infanticide and female feticide in India. There were reports in media on female fetuses found in drains or dug from dry wells or even floating in lakes or eaten by dogs. People used to think why to have a daughter, spend on her education when at the end of the day she gets married and goes to another family. There started the discrimination in education and the urge to have a male issue. Gone are the days when parents wanted only baby boys, now most of them want baby girls. They don’t discriminate between boys and girls, they give equal opportunities and good education. They know one day or the other their daughter gets married and goes away from them, but at the end of the day, they feel that she makes them proud by her achievements.

As a girl, what else can I do other than retaining my surname and making my parents proud every time I achieve something in my field? That’s the love and respect I show towards them. My children will have my husband’s surname, they will make us proud of them one day like how we have made our parents proud of us. Even if it means to be labeled as a feminist beyond repair, I don’t care, I’m proud to use and keep my surname intact!

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