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Does the change of surname post marriage play into the acceptance of women as now belonging to a new family, with no responsibilities to her natal family?
Last November, when I was travelling to Delhi from Nagpur, on my way I met a beautiful family of four in the train. It was a couple who had married early, along with their four year old son and the two year old daughter ‘Gudiya’. The family was going to their hometown in Rajasthan from Chennai, the place where the father used to work as a labourer in a marble factory.
Gudiya was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Her beautiful big round eyes full of kajal made her look even more beautiful. The kids happily mingled with me and were enjoying my company. On a two day journey to Delhi the kids spent most of their time with me since the time they met me at Nagpur. The parents were happily freed of their continuously annoying kids at least for some time!
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I was happy to see that the father loved his daughter so much. I realised that my perception that most uneducated poor families from the northern states particularly Rajasthan and Haryana don’t love their daughters and don’t want a girl child per se, was wrong. No! There are people who accept their daughters and love them.
It is not just about loving and accepting daughters. It’s about the pain of a father who has daughters in this society. I got to know about their problems when we started talking to each other. The young man was a labourer and his wife who had studied till class V was a housewife. Gudiya had an elder most sister who was 5 years old and was living with her maternal grandmother. The woman got married at the age of 17. Though the man was a labourer, both of them belonged to quite well-to-do families with a number of cattle at their houses (which is a mark of wealth in their society.) When the woman got to know that I was 26 year old and was still unmarried she was quite surprised. At the same time the couple was proud to know that I was a practising lawyer.
The woman was happy to see me highly educated. And at the same time sad and jealous. She did not have the opportunity to educate herself. She wanted to study.
Most of my conversation was with the woman only, during stops at various stations or when the husband was busy roaming inside the train with his kids. The woman was happy to see me highly educated. At the same time, she felt sad and jealous. She did not have the opportunity to educate herself despite wanting to study. She belonged to a village in Rajasthan where the school had classes only up to 7th standard. They were four sisters and one brother. Of course, like in many Indian families, the lucky chance to go out and get educated was given to her youngest brother. The sisters had to get married. They had to be given dowry. The parents could not spend more on the education of their daughters. Her brilliant brother was now an engineer earning lakhs each month in Delhi and now wanted to marry a girl of a different community who was equally educated and earning as well as him. The sisters were not that fortunate. My new friend was hardly class 7th pass and she had got a husband according to her qualification, she said.
Though the couple was happy with each other, she was not happy getting married early. She said to me that I had a life ahead to explore, I had a lot more to see. But it was not so in her case. According to her, she had nothing left to see in life. At such an early age, she was done with her studies, she had got married, she was done with romance in her life, she had had enough experience of the sexual life and she was a mother of three kids at 23, she kept telling me. Now she just had to take care of her husband, his kids, and her in-laws.
She was worried about arranging dowry for their two daughters
My telling her repeatedly that she had got the most beautiful daughter made her happy but whenever our discussion came around to her daughters, she became anxious. She was worried about arranging dowry for their two daughters. They would have to give a huge amount in dowry, including cattle and land too. Half their life savings go into a dowry for the daughter, so what happens when you have two? You have to start saving for the dowry the moment she is born! Unlike her parents, the couple wanted to educate their daughters. But in the two days I spent with them the woman was repeatedly saying,“Betiyon ko badhane me bohot kharcha aata hain…bohot dahej dena padta hain…..betiya”…(“It’s very expense to raise a girl child…with so much dowry…”).
She could not finish her words but I could understand. Her words saddened me several times. I looked at Gudiya and hardly could imagine parents not wanting the most beautiful girl like her because she was a daughter. My experience with the family showed me the reality which I had encountered only while reading or on television.
Giving preference to educating boys over girls, getting daughters married early giving a huge dowry – all these issues made me think about the problem, the causes of this menace and its solutions.
Lack of education?
I’ve heard that there are standard rates for dowry. The more educated the son is, the higher the dowry amount. (Pardon me if I am wrong!) The dowry system is equally or even more popular in educated and rich families.
Then what can be?
The patriarchal society?
Betiya parayi hoti hain. Ek din to usne apne ghar jana hain. (The girl belong to another family)
Beta ghar ka chirag hota hain. Ek din baap ka naam roshan karega. (The boy is the light of the family. One day he will bring honour to his father/family).
Why? Women can’t hail their name?
In India most girls are married early. By early, here I mean around the age group between 18 to 25. This is the age when most people struggle to make their career
In India, most girls are married early. By early, I mean around the age group between 18 to 25. This is the age when most people struggle to make their career. What if a married woman makes her career after her marriage? Whatever she earns is actually because of what was invested in her by her parents but the credit and benefits go to her in laws. However, the son gives back what he gets from his parents; he continues the family name and takes care of his parents at old age. Then why should parents even think of spending more on a girl’s education? I guess this is what most parents think even today – maybe not in India but of course in Bharat.
The personal laws now have given equal rights in family property but I see that it has still not worked. This right gives her only security after birth. What about her security before birth? What about her right to be born as an individual and not as a member of a particular unwanted gender? A women who gets married in India has to do everything she can to show the society that she is married. Putting Sindoor, wearing Mangalsutra, dozens of Chudis and everything else that her community requires her to do.
She even changes her name/surname and also changes her status, she becomes Mrs. She does all this to show her affection and dedication towards her husband. What does she get in return? Mr. ABC remains Mr. ABC and the rest we know. What I mean is that a woman changes her identity as an individual here. When women were really a vulnerable class of society and needed the protection of some man, they had to declare that they belonged to a particular man or family.
If I’m not wrong, women today are still a vulnerable class in society. But there is a remarkable elevation in their status as well. Then why does such a class have to follow such traditions which nonetheless still dominate them in a patriarchy? Do women really need to change their identity given by their parents? Is replacing the father’s naming with their husbands name still of so much importance in our society?
People will consider this as a very minor issue. “What is there in a name?”
People will consider this as a very minor issue. “What is in a name?” Shakespeare once said. But it’s about your identity. It is about what you take from your parents. Can’t two people with two different names live together as husband and wife? Is it so important to be called as someone’s wife? It is ridiculous when I see in most official forms there are options to indicate your gender (not status, because there is separate column for status) as Mr./Miss/Mrs then in next column you’re even asked to indicate your status as single or married. This may be a neglected technical error but my point is, do women have to call themselves as Mrs. while filling up the official forms when they can indicate their status? I see no point in changing names after marriage or status as Miss to Mrs.
If the woman’s last name indicates who she is dependent off then at least a modern woman doesn’t require to change her name. She earns as much as her husband and is independent as much as her husband is. I think the surname system only indicates what clan, family tree or blood you inherit. Accepting the husband’s surname after a social ceremony does not make her the clan or blood member of that family.
One interesting question is asked, what will be the last name of a kid who’s born from people with two different names? Is it that important to have the surname? What if the child is named after the initials or names of his parents? The better answer to this question lies in our own country. If we go South of the Vindhyas, in many cases, we don’t get to know the surnames of many people we meet. Their name starts with the initials of their father’s name.
What if instead of naming people with a surname, we name them with both parents’ names? I see one important benefit of this system as the end of recognizing people’s caste by their surnames. This can be a small step to stop caste based disparity in our society. Marriage is the union of two souls and two different families and for this holy union I don’t think we need to change the original identity of one person. Let the women be a daughter of her parents always even after she gets married. A woman is blessed best with her duties to perform towards both her families whether you change her name or not! What say?
Indian marriage image via Shutterstock
A lawyer by education. After an unsuccessful attempt to practice, Nilona has happily shifted to
Very nicely articulated and the feelings of a women expressed with simplicity. But women still shy away in coming forward and raising their voice.
These views should force every awakened mind to think whether the current atrocities and harms done to the women has been due to the notion of considering women as a commodity which is in turn consolidated by the rituals (like applying Sindoor,wearing Mangal sutra which although are disguised as instruments to decorate women but are in fact tools to commodify them-by showing that the belong to someone or more appropriately to say that someone holds their possession;also the changing of her surname and moving from paternal home to husband’s home strengthen this idea.)
The end to these problems thus require a radical change in our social and cultural make up which requires the sincere efforts of someone like Raja Ram Mohan Roy once again.
Very well written and thought provoking!!
Great post and I agree with you!
This March, Women’s Web had published my article on the married name and surname debate. Have a look to know what other countries practice – http://www.womensweb.in/2015/03/which-name-would-you-choose-maiden-or-married-surname/
Thank you very much Parul! while writing I wanted to make my article universal but limited it to India due to lack of research and knowledge about the international position. your article is very much informative; probably it may help me for my next write ups…
Very well written. Totally heart touching post
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